Lake Street businesses look for end of construction

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You’d have to be living under a rock not to know that Lake Street has been under construction all summer. The roadwork from Dupont Avenue to Bryant Avenue and at the LynLake intersection has snarled traffic, frustrated pedestrians and made it generally difficult to get anywhere in the neighborhood.

The traffic problems have been especially hard on area businesses, which have spent the summer and early fall hoping that shoppers and eaters would come back soon. A recent evening at the LynLake intersection was free of pedestrians, and the only traffic was stuck in line at the stoplight. For restaurants in the area, the construction has been particularly hard. Lee Brooks, manager of Caffrey’s Sandwich Shop, notes that their business has definitely slowed especially during key times. “At first it wasn’t so noticeable because it was the summer. Not everyone is ordering sandwiches and its generally a slower time but – the key times that we did have traffic – like after the bar rush hour, the construction made it so difficult to have a lot of people in the store or on the sidewalk because there was such a smaller space. It led to a lot of chaos and trouble for the most part,” Brooks said. To combat slowness Caffrey’s has offered some coupons and has been putting out a lot of flyers in their delivery areas. Some other restaurants have responded by cutting lunch hours and offering cheaper happy hour specials to lure in patrons.

Because many of the retail shops in the area fill a certain niche, the hit hasn’t been as hard; in fact, Molly Bondhus, a manager at Lava Lounge, had so many customers in the store one Wednesday afternoon she was too busy to talk. She responded in an email saying, “We have been very fortunate that we have incredibly loyal customers who have made a point of shopping even when the bulldozers were ripping out our sidewalks. During the early construction, when the stop-and-go traffic was restricted to the south side of the street, we even added new customers who fell in love with dresses and shirts in our front display while gazing out of their car window.”

Nevertheless, Bondhus does acknowledge some worries about the effects of the construction. She went on to comment, “Our biggest concern going forward will be the impact of the assessments for the project. Many people do not realize that on a typical triple-net commercial lease, the tenant (not the landlord) is responsible for the property taxes and the assessments. We have already been hit with triple-digit property tax increases in recent years, and additional assessments may make the neighborhood cost-prohibitive for many small businesses.

Despite the crowd observed at Lava Lounge, most still feel like traffic is down. All businesses along the construction route are open and ask that neighbors and residents support them as they can.

One business taking a particularly hard hit is the ever popular Tatters. General Manager Doug Denham says, “Yes we have been greatly negatively affected but we really haven’t done too much of anything to combat it. Mainly we are just trying to maintain some kind of normalcy – we can’t do more ads because we’re making less money – we’ve been cutting hours, not ordering as much inventory – no added sales, just regular mark downs.”

According to releases from the county, which owns the road, construction is progressing. One lane of traffic remains open in the work zones, as do most major intersections. Although schedules are seemingly on track, Denham doesn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. “If I saw an end to it, I would get excited – but construction started the first week in May. While I know things have their schedules, I’m looking out the window day after day, and not seeing anything done –I just don’t think they will be done any time soon,” Denham remarked.

One unexpected change to the construction occurred as a result of the I35W collapse. The county and city have directed the contractor to complete roadway construction from West River Parkway west to 46th Avenue as soon as possible in anticipation of the increased traffic on Lake Street. The recent rain has made this challenging, and the project was not completed by the end of August as planned.

Construction on the west segment of Lake Street, from Dupont to Bryant Avenues and Lyndale Avenue from 29th to 31st Streets began in May. The work is not progressing as fast as was planned due to scheduling issues with the utility departments. Specifically, the space under construction did not accommodate the number of workers that needed to be there at the same time, leading to delays. A gas line rupture at the end of the summer stalled work again, also resulting in business evacuations.

Work on Lake Street in Uptown includes removing sidewalk and pavement, installing storm sewers, reinstalling new sidewalks, and setting up conduits for new street lights and signal lights. By the end of 2008, Lake Street between Dupont Avenue and the Mississippi River will have an entirely new roadway, sidewalks and streetscape amenities. This is the first major reconstruction on Lake Street in 50 years.

For businesses and restaurants in the area, the construction can’t end early enough—provided that the end of construction brings consumers and their pocketbooks back to the area. “Once I see that street finished, then I’ll be excited,” said Denham.