Parking ramps at 50th and France will get face-lift first, possible expansion later

  • Article by: MARY JANE SMETANKA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 25, 2014 - 10:00 PM

Edina’s $5.7 million plan would upgrade three parking ramps – but wouldn’t reduce tension with its big-city neighbor, Minneapolis.

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One of three parking ramps at the storied shopping area of 50th & France. Edina’s plan is to upgrade the ramps at a cost of $5.7 million.

Photo: JOEL KOYAMA • jkoyama@startribune.com,

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At 50th and France in Edina, shopping trips sometimes end before they begin.

Drivers line up to enter a parking ramp, only to find the garage full. It can take 20 minutes to get out, and some drivers leave in frustration.

That’s a nightmare for businesses. More than a year after the city of Edina dropped a $12 million proposal to expand parking because businesses said they couldn’t afford the improvements or the disruptions, the city is considering a less-extreme plan to improve parking.

Three city-owned ramps at 50th and France would be repaired, cleaned and painted, some with new elevators and stairways. For the first time, electronic signs would tell drivers when ramps are full and direct them to other ramps.

While the south ramp near Lunds is always busy, some patrons may not know there are two ramps nearby on a side street, said Rachel Thelemann, executive director of the 50th & France Business Association.

“We are thrilled with this plan, and the cost is a lot more palatable than [$12] million,” she said. “We think a wayfinding system will help a lot.”

The plan, which will have a public hearing on Feb. 18, would be paid for with $3.3 million in assessments to Edina businesses at 50th and France and $2.4 million from the city’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

Bill Neuendorf, Edina’s economic development manager, said the city wants to make the basic improvements first, seeing if new signs help before taking the very expensive option of adding parking. Business owners would be expected to help bear the cost of a new ramp.

“We heard very loudly from businesses that their tax assessments have gone up, that landlords don’t want to raise prices and lose tenants, and tenants don’t want higher rent,” Neuendorf said.

A tale that spans two cities

At 50th and France, Edina’s policy has been for the city to pay for capital improvements to the ramps and have property owners pay for maintenance, repairs and operational improvements. But the shopping area spans the Edina and Minneapolis sides of France Avenue, and Minneapolis businesses have not paid to support parking ramps that some of their customers use.

That’s been a sore point in the area, and Edina City Manager Scott Neal picked the scab last week in a blog post on the city website called “No Fair.”

Neal wrote that it would be nice if Minneapolis worked with Edina to create a special services district to spread the cost of building and maintaining the ramps to all businesses that benefit. Because the district would involve two cities, it would require a change in state law.

“We don’t want to cause a family feud,” Neal said in an interview. “We are planning to politely ask that the city give it some consideration. … We can’t coerce the city of Minneapolis into this arrangement. They have to agree to do it in a sense of fairness and honor.”

Minneapolis City Council Member Linea Palmisano, who represents the area, said it is up to the Minneapolis businesses to decide what to do. She said businesses on the Minneapolis side of France already are working to set up their own special services district.

Her own view, Palmisano said, is that free parking is the wrong way to go.

“It begs the question of what kind of community we want,” she said. “We don’t solve transit issues with more free parking.”

Kim Foote of Robert Foote Jeweler, one of the businesses on the Minneapolis side, is a board member of the 50th & France Business Association. Parking, she said, is a divisive issue. “We really are one nice shopping area, but I’ve been told … that even 40 years ago, the number one issue was parking,” she said.

Foote said she was told that as a Minneapolis business, she can’t use the employee permit parking privileges in the ramps.

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