Turning the corner on Payne Avenue

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 13, 2012 - 10:25 PM

A new hardware store, cafe and trail connection will help redefine the avenue's southern end.

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Payne Avenue in St. Paul

Photo: David Brewster, Star Tribune

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Kendall Crosby could have taken the money he got for closing his Payne Avenue hardware store and run.

Instead, he moved down the street and installed himself in an environmentally state-of-the-art building on a high-traffic corner. He is now poised to be the southern bookend for the hoped-for renewal of a prominent commercial corridor on St. Paul's East Side.

"It's like being home," Crosby said of his location. "I like the neighborhood. I like the people. ... They treat that store like it's their store."

A celebration Sunday of the opening of Kendall's new Ace Hardware store at 840 Payne Av. will incorporate a ceremonial groundbreaking for another coup: a bike trail connecting Payne to the Bruce Vento Regional Trail behind the store. The 40-foot trail is funded by $40,000 in city money.

"It's really small but it's going to have a lot of implications," said Sarah Clark, director of the Lower Phalen Creek Project that works in part to connect natural trails to residents and commercial areas.

The bike trail sits 100 feet below street level, a hurdle that the connector off Aguirre Street will overcome.

Another new neighboring business will be the Ward 6 Cafe, an eatery harkening back to history with a long wooden bar from the previous occupant, the Hamm's Brewery.

The developments mark what many activists see as a major moment of mojo for the East Side.

On the northern end of Payne, work has begun on the construction of the Payne-Maryland project, a library and recreation center that will someday include a funeral home and church. That project forms the northern bookend for the area's revival.

"We have persevered for 15 years to achieve the vision of a Main Street program," which aims for preservation-based revitalization of urban corridors, said John Vaughn, executive director of the nonprofit East Side Neighborhood Development Co.

A change in Payne

Goals for the corridor include jobs, affordable housing and commercial revitalization that draws patrons from outside the area.

"We have not been able to do that in the past," Vaughn said.

Payne Avenue was once a well-heeled address serving 3M and Hamm's employees. In recent decades, the avenue fell into ignominy in no small part because of a former strip joint with a catchy name -- the Payne Reliever.

"Payne Avenue is no longer that roustabout, brawling, liquor-soaked avenue," Vaughn said. "The character has changed and I think we're past the stigma."

City Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hahm said the new developments rising on the street reflect the past and the future.

"These projects are tremendous investments and will provide valuable services for this area, and an illustration of the commitment by both the public and private sector in Payne Avenue and the East Side," Hahm said.

Crosby received more than $1 million in federal urban revitalization money for his project, as well as funding from the city for moving his business near the Payne-Maryland project.

Initially, he wasn't interested in moving. Then he realized that traffic at the southern end of the street will soar as the state upgrades Interstate 35E.

The new $2.1 million building hugs the corner, with large windows lining the sidewalk. It's LEED-certified as an energy-efficient structure with low-voltage outlets, computer-run heating and cooling and extra thick insulation on the walls and floors.

Crosby said his heating bill will be $210 a month; at his old store, it was $1,200 a month.

Outside the back of the store, he installed an oversized ornamental bolt that he said exemplifies his attitude.

"It's about going in to work and having a good time," Crosby said.

Rochelle Olson • 651-925-5035 Twitter: @rochelleolson

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