Last chance to save parking for businesses facing Hennepin Ave. green makeover

The plan for reconstructing Hennepin Avenue in Uptown Minneapolis calls for sacrificing virtually all on-street parking to make room for bike lanes, bigger sidewalks and 24/7 dedicated rapid transit bus lanes. Or does it?

Businesses along the heavily traveled commercial corridor have warned removing most parking spots would turn away shoppers and threaten their viability. But it appeared to be a done deal until city hall hired the former MnDOT commissioner a few weeks ago, according to the Star Tribune.

But then city officials and new Public Works Director Margaret Anderson Kelliher proposed the transit lanes be used only during part of the day and be available for on-street parking when buses are not running or don’t run frequently.

In the works for more than three years, the Hennepin Avenue redo has been one of the city’s most challenging. As transit advocates push for increased access, many businesses along the stretch between Uptown and downtown say they would lose customers if most of the parking spaces on the street were removed.

The potential change in plans, however, has angered advocates of squeezing out motorists as part of the city’s plan to save the planet. They have no interest in a compromise, remaining adamantly opposed to freeing up curb space to accommodate cars during the downtime for rapid transit busses.

The latest change by Anderson Kelliher drew the ire of those who have lobbied for 24-hour transit lanes. Supporters for all-day bus lanes filled council chambers in May holding signs reading “Don’t Delay the Bus” and “No Equity Without Full Time Bus Lanes.”

A grassroots group from the Uptown neighborhood called Hennepin for People have staged a rally, and members and supporters have sent more than 20,000 e-mails to city officials urging them to keep all-day bus lanes.

The group said it believes enough council members will vote to keep the lanes exclusively for buses around the clock.

For their part, business owners view the last-minute opening as an unanticipated, but welcome potential lifeline. Until now the city has insisted there’s ample parking capacity for customers and delivery trucks at nearby ramps and streets paralleling Hennepin Avenue. Yet fear of crime continues to be a factor, particularly if shoppers have to walk some distance to their cars.

Shawn Phelps, who has owned Brass Knuckle Tattoo Studio at 2817 Hennepin Av. for 11 years, said he would like to see parking available during part of the day.

“People usually have appointments, and they’re willing to park a little ways away,” he said. “But if every business is fighting for parking, it’s just going to make our clientele park further and further away.”

Phelps also raised concerns about safety of customers who would have to park at a distance.

“We already have people that are being carjacked daily … in Minneapolis, which is already a scary place for some people, and now you’re forcing them to park far away,” he said. “Why not go to a shop in the suburbs? It’s a little safer and that has a parking lot.”

The compromise parking plan may be a long shot with the city council on Thursday, but it may be the only shot for some businesses hoping to keep their doors open on Hennepin Avenue.

[Janise Johnson, owner of Bodyology Mpls] said she fears that City Council’s failure to heed business owners’ concerns would hasten the commercial hub’s decline.

“There needs to be somewhere to park my clients’ vehicles, because I don’t know how else I’m going to stay in the Uptown area,” Johnson said.