Reconstruction Plans Continue but Lake Street Latinos Wary of Future

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The mile and a half length of Lake Street between Hiawatha Avenue and Interstate 35-W, a stretch rife with Latino-owned businesses, is at once unfriendly to vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian traffic. Developers and volunteer advisors hope that construction beginning next year will change that Next spring, this section will be the first to be reconstructed as part of a $25 million, three-year project to entirely rebuild four miles of the roadway.

And while some business owners are anxiously awaiting the construction they hope will revitalize the area, others fear that traffic congestion and lack of parking may cause their customers to take a detour.

“We stand to lose a lot of business,” said Manuel Gonzalez, President of Mercado Central and owner of Manny’s Tortas. “It will be hard for our customers to get to the stores and hard for them to park.”

During construction only one lane in each direction will be kept open and almost all on-street parking will be eliminated.

Gonzalez, who also serves on the 30-member Project Advisory Committee (PAC) said the city of Minneapolis has offered to arrange loans for business owners who may suffer from the construction.

“The need for loans has been raised as an issue,” said PAC chair Paula Gilbertson. “There is a desire to make sure we don’t do any damage to the businesses.”

But loans alone may not be enough. “We have loans already,” said Gonzalez. “It will be hard to pay that money back, especially when a lot of the business owners are living day by day.” Instead, Gonzalez is seeking a grant to support cash-strapped owners. Grants, as opposed to loans, would not need to be repaid.

The Mercado is taking its own measures to help alleviate the stress on its tenants, said Gonzalez. “We will work with them and let them pay rent a little later if needed. Many owners are having a hard time making payments right now.”

In addition to potential lost income, business owners will likely see an increase in their rent payments to help pay the costs of construction. Area property owners will be taxed based on their proximity to Lake Street. Both Gilbertson and Gonzalez said that while most business owners lease, rather than own, their commercial space they will see a “trickle down” effect of the costs.

But the project will create a more functional roadway that is better for businesses, said Gilbertson. The decided design “will preserve as much parking as possible and make life easier for pedestrians.” Plans are also being made for increased off-street parking to offset loses of on-street parking.

Gonzalez agrees that the long-term benefits will outweigh temporary hassles. “We want the accessories, the nice lighting and bus stops. We want our block to look a little different, like you are going to a real Latino market.”

For more information on the project, including a list of PAC members, visit the project’s website at www.lakestreet.info.