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Restaurant Parking Woes Continue in St. Paul

Be it at downtown St. Paul’s child magnet Candyland store or Cathedral Hill’s upscale and trendy restaurants, on-street parking and business needs are set to dominate conversation in St. Paul neighborhoods and at city hall in 2015. 

Parking skirmishes between restaurants and other foodservice businesses and their neighbors are nothing new in the Twin Cities, with most debate in Minneapolis and St. Paul neighborhoods and in first-ring, denser suburbs. Both cities and a handful of suburban communities have relaxed off-street parking requirements in the past decade, in part to accommodate demand for restaurants, coffee shops and other venues walkable for neighborhood residents. Further parking changes along Green Line light rail in St. Paul are being considered by the city council.

But success can bring parking pressures for immediate neighbors. While advocacy groups and some websites track the trends, there’s no one consistent source of information for the entire metro area. That lack of regional information can pose a challenge as new groups study the issue and want to draw from each other’s experiences.

Two high-profile fights are landing in the laps of St. Paul neighborhood leaders and policy makers. One is the downtown St. Paul Bicycle Loop and Spur system, a 1.7-mile, $18 million plan to put bike and pedestrian trails on downtown streets and connect them with trails and lanes leading to and from downtown. A skirmish over putting a leg of the system on Wabasha Street and the potential loss of more than 150 parking is one reason downtown bike improvements weren’t considered when the St. Paul Planning Commission voted February 27 to send the rest of the plan on for city council review. 

Instead, the downtown issues are under further study. Only a leg of the bike and pedestrian trail on Jackson Street will be built in 2015, according to Mayor Chris Coleman’s Policy Advisory Anne Hunt. 

The study will focus on business and property owners on Wabasha and St. Peter streets, Hunt said. “We know there’s concerns as well as support for moving part of the trail system from St. Peter to Wabasha and that will be looked at in the months ahead,” Hunt said.

The bike plans will be looked at in conjunction with a greater downtown parking study, to be released in late March, said City Planner Hilary Holmes.

The Wabasha Street dilemma has led to the splintering of an advocacy group for that street and a sharp division among businesses and property owners. Candyland owners Doug and Brenda Lamb are among those raising red flags about loss of parking. But the newly formed Wabasha Action Group sees the bike and pedestrian trail as an amenity that would boost business clientele.

Doug Lamb said loss of on-street parking, including a coveted 15-minute space, would hurt the business, which has sold candy and treats for 80-plus years. “I don’t know what we’d do” if we lost parking, he told the Planning Commission.

In Cathedral Hill, the December opening of The Salt Cellar was seen by several neighboring restaurant owners and residents to push an already tight parking situation past the tipping point. 

The Salt Cellar, which has space for more than 150 diners, has just 13 off-street parking spaces. Grandfathered in regulations and a city move a few years ago to relax off-street parking standards sparked an outcry among restaurant owners and residents. The fight made to the St. Paul City Council, which denied a community appeal in December and allowed the Salt Cellar to open.

A neighborhood task force recently completed a review of parking problems. While restaurant and other business patrons add to parking demand, noted task force co-chairman Carl Nelson, other issues also come into play. These range from the growing popularity of the St. Paul Curling Club, more spillover parking from St. Paul College, and more downtown employees parking in neighborhoods and taking reduced fare buses downtown. 

While residents are petitioning for more residential permit parking in the area, businesses are also taking steps. Hill Plaza Management, home of Fabulous Fern’s restaurant, has hired a parking monitor, and W.A. Frost restaurant is considering similar steps. Some businesses leasing lots shared with restaurants have had their number of reserved spaces reduced.

The most high profile and potentially controversial measure is to remove a longstanding one-sided parking ban on neighborhood streets south of Selby Avenue. W.A. Frost and University Club owner John Rupp has been leading the charge for this change. He said it doesn’t make sense for those streets to sit empty. “It’s just ridiculous to have those blocks sitting empty,” Rupp said. “Allowing parking would solve many of the problems we face.”

Rupp said political pressures from decades ago led to the parking ban. A request to drop it went to Ward One Council Member Dai Thao earlier in February.

But a number of residents have already organized, saying their streets are too narrow to have parking on both sides. Neighborhood spokesperson Daniel Duddingston said two-sided parking would hamper emergency vehicle access and snow removal.

St. Paul Roundup 

The highest-profile restaurant news in St. Paul is the abrupt closing of the Daily Diner, Union Gospel Mission’s ambitious restaurant/job training program at University Avenue and Dale Street. The nonprofit agency cited high per-client costs as a key reason why the doors closed. Business at the restaurant had been uneven, as were social media comments about the food.

An old-fashioned ice cream and soda shop in the Highland Park neighborhood is changing hands and reopening soon. The shuttered Lynden’s has new owners: Steven Willis, Laurie Drake, Matthew Drake and Ho Key. The business will be known as Cold Front Ice Cream. Egg creams and fountain drinks will remain, and the owners promise new additions and flavors as well. The shop is on Hamline Avenue near Cretin-Derham Hall High School.

The owners of Minneapolis’s 331 Club and the Amsterdam in downtown St. Paul are preparing to open Dockside at St. Paul’s Como Park Pavilion. Dockside was chosen last year after the city ended its contract with the Glass family and Black Bear Crossing. That acrimonious parting of ways led to an $800,000 legal settlement for the Glasses. Expect a May 1 opening.

The folks who brought you Dixie’s on Grand are preparing to open an Irish pub and restaurant, Emmett’s Public House, in what had been a Dixie’s party room and event space. Customers got a sneak preview recently. The space is expected to open soon.

Colossal Cafe is about to open its third location, having taken over the Twisted Fork space (part of Green Mill Restaurants) on Grand and Hamline avenues.  

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