Edina tries to ease parking at 50th and France

  • Article by: MARY JANE SMETANKA
  • Star Tribune
  • May 1, 2012 - 4:16 PM

In an effort to reduce parking woes and traffic congestion at 50th and France, the city of Edina is considering replacing one of three parking ramps and remodeling another in the busy shopping area.

Crumbling pavers and failing trees also would be replaced, and plantings would be updated and irrigation systems added.

The $12-million proposal got a mostly enthusiastic reaction from business owners at a recent City Council hearing. But questions about how to add parking without ruining the aesthetics of Edina's "downtown" -- and how to pay for the project -- will get more discussion before anything is approved.

"We need to be careful of the cityscape. We don't want to destroy the profile of our charming downtown area," Mayor Jim Hovland said at the council meeting. "If we're going to do this, let's do it right."

Studies have shown that the two-square-block area has 1,347 parking spaces in ramps and lots but needs 1,500 spaces, city engineer Wayne Houle told the council. Public parking in the ramps is free.

The city proposes razing the middle parking ramp, which was built in 1975 and is on the south side of 49 1/2 St. W., replacing that three-story ramp with a six-story parking ramp that would add 258 parking stalls. The south ramp, which is north of 51st St. W. and has portions that date from 1969, also would be remodeled, with two new elevators.

Council members and business owners at the meeting seemed to agree that more parking and new landscaping are needed. But both were concerned that a six-story parking ramp could overwhelm the area.

Klaus Freyinger, an architect who owns property on the northwest corner of 50th and France, told council members that the area is finally maturing into the neighborhood he envisioned when he bought his property years ago. A giant parking ramp, he said, "will be monumental and not really suited for Edina. It would be a city of parking ramps rather than of retail spaces."

Tom Nelson of Eberhardt Properties also was concerned about a ramp shadowing his property.

"I'm not sure I'm interested in paying for something that might detract from the value of our property," he said. "I hope there is more work done [on that]."

Several council members said they liked the idea of a six-level ramp but wanted to investigate putting at least one level underground, something that could add considerably to the cost. "If that's where we're headed, we need to spend more time with the design folks," said City Manager Scott Neal.

Though the ramps are city-owned, most of the funding proposals would have the city issuing bonds and district property owners paying special assessments over 20 years.

But several council members wondered if the city should pay for at least part of the improvements, possibly by using tax increment financing as it recently did to aid the owners of Southdale. Under the Southdale agreement, the city issued a $5 million, no-interest loan to the mall's owners as an incentive for revitalization.

"If it's good for the goose at Southdale, it's good for the gander at 50th and France," said Council Member Josh Sprague.

Construction work on the ramps would be done in phases to minimize loss of parking spots, but several business owners said they were concerned that the disruption would drive customers away and would make it difficult for employees to get to work.

Houle said there would be no construction during the holiday shopping season from late October through early January. He also said that communication about construction would be a priority and that shuttle systems for employees from off-site parking lots could be arranged.

Work on the ramps would include addition of a new traffic management system that would redirect traffic if ramps were full. Officials said they hoped that would reduce congestion by cutting down on the number of drivers who circle the ramps looking for parking spaces.

If the project is approved, construction would begin in late summer and last for two years.

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan

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