Amsterdam in the Netherlands is a city of bicycles. But a new bicycle lane planned for Wabasha Street in downtown St. Paul might prove the undoing of Amsterdam Bar and Hall, its owner says.
The bike lane, which the City Council approved 6-0 Wednesday, is part of St. Paul's Capital City Bikeway project to develop trails downtown. The nightclub laments the loss of parking spaces that music acts use for their buses and equipment unloading.
The city also has a direct stake in Amsterdam's success: It owns the building, and its rent is a percentage of the club's gross revenue. The city made some changes to allow more parking around the club, but the business owners were unimpressed.
"We host a lot of touring groups as well as nurturing the local music scene," Amsterdam co-owner Jon Oulman said. "This could really hurt us. But they [the city] have other interests, apparently."
Rebecca Noecker, who represents downtown on the City Council, said the decision to put bike lanes on Wabasha wasn't easy. "But at the same time, this is a bold, visionary, really exciting investment, and it's the kind that world-class cities all over the world are making to attract people to their downtowns and to be more resilient and more sustainable cities for the future."
The city's efforts to improve and expand its bicycling infrastructure has in this case conflicted with another goal: fostering nightlife and entertainment downtown.
The Capital City Bikeway is part of the St. Paul Bicycle Plan, a blueprint for doubling city bikeways over the next several decades and is designed to make the city more accessible and attractive for people riding bikes, walking, running, driving or using transit. The western edge of that route came down to St. Peter Street or Wabasha Street. City staff recommended Wabasha.
Both options would require the loss of street parking. More than 80 spaces will disappear on Wabasha. More than 60 would have been eliminated if St. Peter was chosen.
Staff members recommended Wabasha, Public Works Director Sean Kershaw said, because it can be done more quickly — part of Wabasha is slated for reconstruction next year — and there are fewer negative effects on businesses than St. Peter. For instance, putting the bike lanes on wider Wabasha allows the city to maintain two full lanes of traffic while St. Peter would be narrowed to one lane.
Neither option was perfect, he said.
"If you are an individual business along those routes, you consider those impacts to be pretty significant," Kershaw said.
All of which has the folks at Amsterdam wondering what St. Paul is thinking.
Brenda Peters, venue operations and entertainment manager at Amsterdam, said using the west side of Wabasha Street for dedicated bike lanes will remove all the spots near the venue's loading doors that Amsterdam paid for bus and truck parking during shows. Losing that convenience may mean fewer of them will want to play there, she said. Musicians and roadies are unlikely to want to haul equipment a block or more in a Minnesota winter, never mind having to park their vehicles out of sight from the club.
"It is a big concern," she said. "Tour managers talk. Agents talk."
Kershaw, a longtime supporter of local music who hosts concerts at his home in the W. 7th Street area, said he appreciates the bar's concerns. Because the city is Amsterdam's landlord, officials are planning to make adjustments to lessen the bike lane's impact, such as allowing bands to temporarily load and unload their equipment only 10 feet away from where they do now, and creating new parking spaces across the street on the east side of Wabasha.
"The city owns their building, so we have all sorts of interest in their success," Kershaw said. "We believe what we are proposing is certainly a change. But we are trying to give a nod to their concerns. And we plan to keep talking."
Staff writer Katie Galioto contributed to this report.
James Walsh • 612-673-7428