St. Paul’s long-downtrodden Payne Avenue is on an upswing this spring as real estate investments such as new restaurants and commercial property upgrades continue to pop up along the East Side thoroughfare.

Hoping to continue the redevelopment momentum that began in 2012 with the opening of Kendall’s Ace Hardware at Payne and Phalen Boulevard, city and neighborhood leaders are working on two fronts — securing a key blighted parcel of land and providing more off-street parking.

In April, the St. Paul Housing and Redevelopment Authority executed a $50,000 purchase of 845-851 Payne Av. from the Twin Cities Community Land Bank, which had obtained the property from its private owners in December. Across the street from the Ward 6 restaurant and bar, the lot currently houses a vacant former electric motor shop, and before that was home to a gas station and an auto repair business.

The city plans to demolish the building and seek financing to clean up any soil contamination that’s found, said Dan Bayers, a project manager with the St. Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development, who called the property “a critical site” in the redevelopment efforts along Payne Avenue and one of the final blighted commercial properties around the Payne-Phalen intersection.

“The neighborhood residents said, ‘OK, we’re doing some good work, but what about this last building?’ ” he said. “The Twin Cities Land Bank purchased it on our behalf to give us time to go through the proper channels to get approvals to acquire it.”

The HRA purchase will close on May 27.

“The site was an eyesore, and it’s hard to continue to keep businesses going there with this one last blighted parcel,” Bayers added. “That’s why it’s a key to keep the momentum going on Payne Avenue. We’ve submitted an application to the Metropolitan Council and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development for a grant to help determine what kind of contamination, if any, is there.”

It’s across the street from another HRA-owned parcel that is used for overflow parking for Ward 6 and is being marketed to potential developers. That land has drawn several expressions of interest. In recent months it was eyed as a possible site for the new Sober Fish Thai restaurant whose owners ultimately opted for a spot in Minneapolis’ Seward neighborhood and is now being considered by a garden center, according to Anne DeJoy of the East Side Neighborhood Development Co.

She said her nonprofit also has been active in the other ongoing front in the Payne Avenue redevelopment scene — a complicated effort to build a new, 43-car parking lot behind the bustling Bymore Supermercado Mexican grocery store at 857 Payne Av.

An entity headed by the building’s property manager last month was awarded tentative developer status for the $300,000 proposal to convert four vacant city-owned lots on Wells Street into much-needed parking to accommodate the new and existing businesses along Payne. The project would largely be funded through a loan from the city.

“A study we carried out in 2007 showed that to meet zoning laws, we’d need 2,000 additional parking spaces if every building on Payne Avenue was being fully utilized,” DeJoy said. “We knew we didn’t want to build that many spaces, so since then, we’ve been working on compromise solutions.”

The resulting strategy has been to get the business owners to work together to create shared parking lots to help meet the requirements. It worked out well when Ward 6 and Bymore teamed up to create a new parking lot on three former residential parcels behind the eatery and now the neighborhood group is hoping to make it happen again.

City Council Member Dan Bostrom, whose district includes Payne Avenue, said he’s backing both moves because “adequate parking” is needed to support the low-income neighborhood’s transformation.


Don Jacobson is a St. Paul-based freelance writer and former editor of the Minnesota Real Estate Journal.