Businesses along the Central Corridor’s University Avenue route overwhelmingly say that their voices have not been heard and that light rail will not help them, according to preliminary study results from the University Avenue Business Association (UABA) survey on construction mitigation. “Parking, parking, parking” wrote one business owner in response to the request to list top three issues for the next two years. “How my customers will park. Whether my sales will drop. Access to my business and parking lot.” wrote another.
The preliminary results were announced at a January 15 construction meeting, attended by University Avenue business owners, who heard from Senators Patricia Torres Ray and Ellen Anderson, Representatives Erin Murphy and Alice Hausman, St. Paul council members Russ Stark and Melvin Carter, Minneapolis council member Cam Gordon, and Ramsey County commissioners Toni Carter and Peter McLaughlin.
Betty Charles, owner of the Shear Pleasure salon, has been in business on University Avenue for 30 years in business. After the meeting, she said her salon needs on-street parking–not a lot, but it needs to be there for her customers.
The Central Corridor plan calls for an 83 percent reduction in on-street parking on University Avenue between 29th Street and Rice, leaving an average of only 2.5 parking spaces per block, according to analyses and maps prepared by U-Plan.
At the meeting, UABA staff and officers repeatedly warned that the meeting was “not a referendum on light rail,” which was seen as inevitably coming. Rather, the meeting was billed as an opportunity to hear from assembled public officials, all of whom expressed deep concern and empathy for the struggles of small businesses and a commitment to mitigating the negative impact that construction of the Central Corridor will have. What was missing was any concrete proposal or plan. A Met Council document sets out “parking management strategies” that focus heavily on limiting side-street parking to two hours and strengthening parking enforcement.
State Representative Alice Hausman echoed the frustration that business owners expressed in the UABA survey:
What you are experiencing is … entities that plan these projects often do not do well.
When I look at the survey results, you feel remote from the Metropolitan Council. I think that, too, on all the problems we face, the biggest problem is getting the attention of anyone who can do anything about it.
There is a sense in which governance has been a stumbling bloc – an appointed Met Council that seems remote. There will be discussion this year [in the legislature] about governance models that are more grounded in local officials that have to make it work.