Taking dining to St. Paul's streets

  • Article by: CHRIS HAVENS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 22, 2010 - 8:33 PM

New decks could give Lowertown an edge in providing room for both pedestrians and those who like to dine al fresco.

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Bin Wine Bar in St. Paul is testing a “pop-up cafe,” an inexpensive deck system that extends the sidewalk so patrons can dine in the street. The decks, all the rage on the coasts, are designed to beef up nightlife while keeping sidewalks clear. Supporters say the decks can be removed in winter to create more parking space.

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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Outdoor dining in St. Paul might be going to the gutter.

No, really.

A Lowertown business is testing a temporary sidewalk system for the next few days that would replace space usually taken up by parked cars. Picture a wood deck, level to sidewalk height, with tables, chairs and planters.

It's an alternative to a proposed 8-foot concrete sidewalk extension along 6th Street, between Sibley and Wacouta.

As the area around Mears Park has become more vibrant with new bars and restaurants, business owners, residents and city leaders want to widen the sidewalk to create more energy, make more room for outdoor dining and keep space clear for pedestrians.

"We have great momentum in Lowertown," said Joe Spencer, Mayor Chris Coleman's aide in charge of arts and culture. "The sidewalks need attention. Period."

The city in recent years has relaxed requirements to allow outdoor dining and drinking, but crowding issues have cropped up in some parts of downtown where access for pedestrians and people with disabilities is impeded.

Building and business owners had approached the city about expanding the sidewalk, and discussions have been going on for months.

The concrete expansion would be permanent and cost about $270,000 to construct. About 16 metered parking spaces would be eliminated to keep two through lanes of traffic and a bus/bicycle lane, Spencer said.

The temporary extensions would be about one-third the price of the permanent fix and would allow for the metered parking to remain for at least half the year, advocates say.

There are, however, some questions. Who would own the decks? Where would they be stored? How would the city's permit process work?

For instance, some city ordinances would need to be tweaked because, right now, drinking isn't allowed in the street, Spencer said.

Rebecca Illingworth, owner of Bin Wine Bar, is a vocal advocate for expanding the sidewalk. The test extension is outside her business.

She said it's an appealing option because of its cost, novelty and allowance for some parking revenue during the year. Still, she wasn't ready to throw her full support toward the temporary system. "Let's sit down, look at the numbers and make a decision," she said.

The decks were put up in San Francisco and New York City earlier this year to be used as places to park bikes, nosh or provide a little green space.

The decks originally were created to create level surfaces on rooftops, said Mark Fusco, whose company, Bison Innovative Products, makes them. They're made of massaranduba, a South American wood that holds up well to the elements. The 8- by 16-foot section in front of Bin took about four hours to put up, Fusco said.

Council Member Dave Thune said that he was impressed with the temporary extensions and that he hopes a decision will be made before spring.

Chris Havens • 612-673-4148

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