To nurture the small businesses in the Lyn-Lake district of south Minneapolis, the city tore down buildings to create a surface parking lot with more than 100 spaces.
Twenty years later, the city is looking to redevelop the lot, tucked behind businesses on the northeast corner of Lake Street and Lyndale Avenue, in line with its goals of erasing surface parking and reducing the number of cars on the road.
What replaces it has yet to be determined, as planners will entertain proposals through April. The city is asking, though not requiring, that whatever is built on the Garfield Avenue lot include a minimum of 75 parking spaces.
City Council President Lisa Bender, who represents the district, sees it as way to enhance an already bustling part of the city, packed with restaurants, breweries, theaters, fitness studios and other shops.
"It's a really great opportunity to re-imagine that space and utilize the land not just for parking, but for potentially housing, for retail, for office space," she said. "This is an opportunity to add a lot of needed uses to a part of the city that is really transit-oriented and vibrant already."
But a number of property and business owners feel betrayed. They helped pay off the $2.3 million in bonds to build the lot through property assessments. They knew the day would come when the city would do something else with the land, said Morgan Luzier, who co-founded Balance Fitness Studio and heads a parking advisory committee on the district.
"We knew the city was no longer in the parking business, and so we were worried about what was going to happen," she said. "It's just really different times, and the city's priorities are different."
The City Council has made a concerted effort to bring down the number of cars on the road in order to meet its sustainability goals. They sought to "discourage the establishment of and minimize the size of surface parking lots" in the 2040 Comprehensive Plan adopted last year.
Bender, who has championed biking and walking, described it as a "transitional time" during which the city wants to invest in transportation options beside cars.
"We can't meet our climate change goals without reducing car trips as a city," she said. "From a purely environmental perspective, we're looking at ways to make transit, biking and walking a really good option so that people choose those modes."
The redevelopment proposals are likely to include housing and, hopefully, affordable units, Bender said.
While supportive of the city's efforts, Luzier said she was disappointed it was not following the terms laid out during the initial proposal for the lot.
A 1998 letter from the Public Works Department said that proceeds from any eventual land sale would be used "for expansion of the parking supply" in the district. Recently, the city told business owners the money would go toward the city's general fund, Luzier said.
"I don't care about parking; I care about the hard work of small-business people paying down an assessment based on a certain agreement and then that agreement changing," she said. "The money should stay in Lyn-Lake, period."
The city does not look at the 1998 letter as an official contract with the business district, city spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie said. Bender, who did not work for the city at the time, said she hoped the businesses would be satisfied by the request for parking included in the redevelopment proposal.
Some businesses and institutions say they still need the lot to survive.
The Jungle Theater, which was founded in 1991, is largely dependent on the lot, with more than 60% of its patrons driving to the theater, according to audience surveys. Artistic Director Sarah Rasmussen said she was worried that without available parking, the theater could become "a bit of an endangered species."
"We're pretty focused on people being able to access us," she said. "We need to see parking in the neighborhood."
Rasmussen said that whatever is built should contribute to the existing businesses in the district.
"Our hope is that the city does really stay mindful of investing in development that enhances and elevates the arts in addition to building community," Rasmussen said.
Greg Scott, who has owned the buildings that house Herkimer Pub and Brewery and LynLake Brewery for about 40 years, remembered how much the district grew once the parking lot opened. He said the city should wait until people stop buying cars before looking to replace it.
"Everything that we've done … to get that intersection to where it is now is in jeopardy if there is no parking available at the corner," Scott said. "And frankly, anybody that thinks that cars are going to disappear in the next 20 years is crazy."