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Uptown: Closed Temporarily

City’s second closure of key Hennepin Avenue retail block causes new frustrations

Uptown: Closed Temporarily
Columbia Sportswear and North Face left Uptown earlier this year. It’s not clear if the construction was a factor for retailers leaving the neighborhood. (Photo by Burl Gilyard)

The city of Minneapolis wrapped up reconstruction of Hennepin Avenue between Lake Street and 31st Street West last November to the great relief of Uptown retailers who said that the project hurt sales. The overhaul of the street seemed to be largely complete, but the city closed the one-block stretch again on May 6. After being closed for another month, the latest round of work is slated to be finished this Friday, June 7.

Doug Huemoeller, owner of the Kitchen Window store in the Calhoun Square mall, says that city officials did not let people know that the block would be completely closed again this year. He says that city staffers previously indicated that only small items remained for 2019: “They said they had a punch list they had to complete – trees and minor electrical,” recalled Huemoeller.

He says that he received notice of the new plans only about a week before the shutdown. Huemoeller’s store is in the middle of the block that has been closed.

“We got that substantially completed in 2018 but we knew we’d have to come back in 2019,” said Don Elwood, the city’s director of transportation, engineering and design, of the one block stretch on Hennepin Avenue. “We needed to do more work in that block.”

Elwood said that remaining items included installing streetlights, getting trees planted, and removing temporary asphalt.

“I thought we had done a fairly good job of notification,” said Elwood. “I understand that construction is inconvenient and it’s a challenge.”

Huemoeller said that he had to place numerous calls to the office of Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender before getting a response from her staff. Bender’s ward includes the Uptown area.

Bender’s office issued a brief statement in response to inquiries from Twin Cities Business: “The Ward 10 office has been in contact with Kitchen Window on multiple occasions. Throughout this large project we have been working with city staff to address the questions and concerns of our residents and business owners.”

At the same time the Uptown area has been losing some big retail names. The North Face and Columbia Sportswear both exited their Uptown stores earlier this year. Both stores were located on the block that the city closed last year, but it’s not clear if the construction was a factor for retailers leaving the neighborhood.

The city’s project eliminated street parking between Lake and 31st on Hennepin last year while widening the sidewalks and adding a bike lane. But Huemoeller said it became routine for drivers to still pull over and park on the street, which then affected traffic flow.

“They weren’t managing the cars that were parking on the street. They didn’t have a plan,” said Huemoeller. “It was nonstop…Cars would just pull over.”

But Huemoeller credits the city with stepping up enforcement in response to his complaints on that issue.

Huemoeller also credits the city for working steadily on this year’s project. Last year he says there was often no one on site as he watched the project timetable grow from two months to more than three months.

But he says that he’s still feeling the sting of lower sales.

“The first three weeks aren’t so bad but then it continues to have an impact,” said Huemoeller. “The street’s not really open and the sidewalk’s not really open so there’s no pedestrian traffic coming through.”

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