Neighbors organizing against new St. Paul sports bar

The old Cheapo Records store on Snelling Avenue is being retooled for Buffalo Wild Wings.

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Brenda Natala, right, and Gretchen Robertson are both neighbors to what will become St. Paul’s first Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant on Snelling Avenue N. near Summit Avenue. Both say they are supporters of business in the neighborhood, but say the late-night sports bar will not be a good fit with its “garish facade.”

Photo: DAVID JOLES , Star Tribune

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Neighbors call it “the liquor walk” — the stretch traversed by college students and others visiting establishments along Snelling Avenue north of Summit in St. Paul’s Snelling-Hamline district.

Now they’re concerned that St. Paul’s first Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant, slated to open in a strip mall space recently vacated by Cheapo Records, will only make things worse.

“We’re not anti-development,” said Brenda Natala, a charter school administrator who lives across Ashland Avenue from the new site for the popular wings-and-beer chain. “We just want smart development that fits the neighborhood.”

News that Buffalo Wild Wings had leased space in the Snelling Avenue mall — news that many residents feel reached them too late — has fueled a growing neighborhood movement that seeks not only to limit the restaurant’s impact but also play an ongoing role in Snelling’s development. It’s the latest skirmish between neighborhoods and businesses trying to establish a presence in St. Paul. The city has a reputation for being particularly responsive to a neighborhood’s concerns. But in this case, it’s not clear what, if anything, the group can do to stop Buffalo Wild Wings from serving up its Caribbean jerk or sweet barbecue wings on Snelling Avenue.

Still, some of the residents around the new restaurant have launched a Facebook Web page, “Citizens for a Better Snelling Avenue,” to trade information and chatter about the restaurant’s progress.

They’re flagging the latest bulletins, whether hopeful (“We heard today that BWW has agreed to put no sign on the Ashland side of the building. Hurray!”) or uncomplimentary (“BWW is a corporation and is not willing to adjust their hours of operation.”).

In a statement, Minneapolis-based Buffalo Wild Wings noted that the Snelling location will bring “at least 75 new jobs” to the neighborhood.

“We will continue to listen to and, as appropriate, work with our neighbors on Snelling to ensure that we’re considering their concerns as we develop a new restaurant in the neighborhood,” the statement said.

The company has more than 890 restaurants, including at the University of Minnesota and eight suburban locations in the metro area.

With sales topping $1 billion last year, the chain expects to open about 100 restaurants in 2013, including the one on Snelling.

The neighbors plan to challenge the restaurant’s liquor license request and will ask for a zoning study, but they know they’re fighting an uphill battle.

The restaurant site is zoned for commercial use, and it has more than adequate parking with 94 spaces. It has pulled remodeling permits, and the work has been inspected at least once by the city.

Last year two businesses that had the requisite building permits got a red light from the City Council after neighbors strenuously objected. Cupcake bakery went to the Mall of America instead.

Pizza Luce got a parking lot, but only after making a number of tweaks requested by neighbors.

Concessions acknowledged

Natala gave Buffalo Wild Wings representatives credit for listening to neighbors’ concerns and acting on some of them.

The company has agreed to forgo an outdoor patio, soundproof the building, use a quiet ventilation system that controls odors, and schedule trash pickup for weekdays after 8 a.m.

But neighbors have concerns about it staying open until 1 a.m. most nights, clogged street parking, lighting and Buffalo’s eye-catching yellow and black design.

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