Here we go again.
The construction barricades on Nicollet Mall have been down for only a few months and now Minneapolis officials are talking about ripping up and redoing another downtown main drag — Hennepin Avenue.
The $20 million project has some people saying it's about time for an upgrade, while others are concerned about the construction disruption to their businesses.
"I saw the nightmare on Nicollet," Brian Mackenzie, owner of Mackenzie Pub on Hennepin Avenue, said, referring to some of the businesses that struggled during the two-year shutdown of Nicollet Mall. Mackenzie was among those attending an open house city officials threw Thursday night to give the public a look at the opening stages of the project and to gather feedback.
Hennepin Avenue, which was last improved in 1986, is run down, and its infrastructure needs repair, said Don Elwood, director of transportation engineering and design for the city's Public Works Department. About $7 million of the project's cost would come from federal funds, with $13 million from assessments and local funds.
The project, which is expected to begin in 2019 and be completed in 2022, will extend from Washington Avenue to 12th Street. The revamped avenue will have four lanes of traffic, wider sidewalks, improved transit stops, plants and a bikeway behind a curb, according to the preliminary plans.
But most details and an exact timeline have not yet been decided, Elwood said.
At this point, the project is more in the concept stage. City officials will hold several open houses, meetings with property owners and workshops to gather ideas and hear concerns in hopes of crafting a preliminary design by this summer.
As a business owner on the avenue, Mackenzie said he agrees that Hennepin needs an upgrade but is concerned about how long the project might take and about access to his business during construction. Disruption is inevitable, "but not knowing the timeline is concerning," he said.
Like Mackenzie, others dropped into the open house to get their first peek at the project and offer opinions about landscaping, sidewalks, bus shelters, accessibility and their vision for what Hennepin Avenue should be.
"Make it an entertainment district," said Garfield Clark, who lives and works downtown. Hennepin already is lined with clubs, restaurants and theater marquees, so "make it a focal point," Clark said.
Hennepin Avenue is an antiquated thoroughfare, he said. His wife, Sharon, said she also thinks it's about time for a redo. Nicollet Mall is beautiful after its rehab, making Hennepin look even more shabby, she said.
The $50 million reconstruction project on Nicollet Mall included nearly 250 new trees, new LED lighting and the largest public art display outside of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.
On access, buses and more
Marisa Parker and Ericka Short, who are both blind, said Nicollet Mall may be improved, but it's more difficult to navigate for those with visual impairments because "obvious curb cuts" were eliminated.
"It makes it difficult to know when you're on the sidewalk or in the street," Short said. "There's nothing there to tell you that you're at a corner or help line you up parallel with traffic."
She and Parker came to Thursday's open house to suggest ways to make Hennepin Avenue more accessible to those with visual impairments and other disabilities.
Amity Foster came to talk about bus transportation, saying the design for the avenue needs to make it more accommodating for bus riders.
The new bus shelters on Nicollet Mall don't provide a lot of shelter, she said. "They're, breezy and the heat lamps are eight feet off the ground," she said.
She registered that complaint with transit officials at the open house, who said the heat lamps are up higher to keep them from being easily vandalized. And the shelters are more open so foul odors can be aired out quicker, Foster was told.
"I understand the reasons," she said. But maybe there are other options, she added.
Joan Vorderbruggen, of the Hennepin Theatre Trust, sits on a Hennepin Avenue project advisory committee. She walked around the open house listening to people's ideas and concerns, and asking questions of those involved in the project.
She said that when she looks out her window onto the avenue, she sees a "segregated, hard place that's not extremely comfortable to be on."
"We need a place where you can sit down and eat a sandwich and watch someone play the guitar," she said. "Hennepin Avenue needs to be a place where people come to the theater, as well as a welcoming place for young people and the homeless. It needs to be a great experience for everyone."
Rilyn Eischens is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.