Parking is stores' big concern

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 17, 2011 - 10:32 PM

Business owners voiced their fears at a rally that a lack of places to park will steer customers away.

Saying they fear that construction of the Central Corridor light-rail line will disrupt their businesses, merchants along W. University Avenue in St. Paul renewed their pitch Thursday for more financial aid.

About 30 people rallied and met with St. Paul and Metropolitan Council officials on the street to ask about loans and other assistance available to offset temporary business losses.

Loss of parking during construction was foremost on the minds of business owners such as Jim Segal, owner of Ax-Man Surplus Stores.

"Without that parking, it will be very difficult to do business here," he said.

But officials say they have worked to ensure that adequate parking will be available behind stores and on side streets.

They have signed up 23 business owners for no-interest loans ranging from $25,000 to $250,000 to create parking on their property. The loans will be forgiven in increments over seven years if the parking is maintained.

"Everyone is pretty much concerned with loss of revenue," said Betty Charles, owner of Shear Pleasure Salon of Beauty, who applied for a $25,000 loan.

"It's going to allow me to have five or six parking spots in the back of my building."

Officials scheduled Thursday's gatherings in response to a ruling this month by a federal judge ordering the Met Council and federal officials to listen more to the concerns of businesspeople about the project. The judge rejected a bid to halt construction, citing the "interest of the general public to keep this important project moving forward."

Major construction on University and in downtown St. Paul is to begin next month. The project, which will link the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul, is expected to be completed in 2014.

Besides the loan program for new parking, the city is offering $10,000 no-interest loans to cover business losses after construction begins. Repayment of the loans is deferred for 18 months.

At the rally, business owners and their supporters held signs that read, "Where's my parking?" and "We want truth about LRT impact."

Segal said he feared a 30 to 60 percent loss of business during the construction. He said the loans to create or expand parking wouldn't help him because he lacks space on his property for it. For larger businesses like his, he said, the loan to cover business losses of $10,000 wouldn't be enough to cover losses.

The Metropolitan Council is predicting that the construction will spawn 3,400 jobs and revitalize a street that has become home to pawnshops, used-furniture stores and currency exchanges.

"If you drive down University Avenue today you see a lot of empty storefronts," said Laura Baenen, communications manager of the project. "We have a lot of businesses that tell us they want light rail."

"We're not shutting down University Avenue," she said. "There is a lot of parking on the side streets."

Pat Doyle • 651-222-1210

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