On its face, a recent proposal to open a dance studio along an industrial-turned-hip street in northeast Minneapolis looks benign. But the fight it has spurred offers a snapshot of one of the most emotionally charged issues in local politics: Where to park cars.
Duende Dance Studio intends to host social dance classes in a modest 1930 building on NE. Quincy Street, a once-quiet side street now thriving with artist studios, Indeed Brewing’s taproom, a boxing gym and new office space in a former school district headquarters. But the company’s request to rely on street parking — rather than lease 46 spots somewhere — would be “out of control,” a “parking fiasco” and a “travesty,” according to heated letters that neighboring businesses submitted to the city.
The dust-up highlights the challenges of accommodating cars at a time when new upstart businesses are drawn to older, small-scale industrial buildings, erected before the era of city-mandated parking requirements. Minneapolis leaders, hoping to encourage other kinds of transportation and better land use, have relaxed parking mandates in recent years, but many businesses still insist their livelihoods depend on having ample parking.
“This not too long ago was sort of a backwater sort of street,” said Council Member Kevin Reich, who represents the area. “But it’s turned into — rather rapidly — an activity area. Hence the tensions that we see.”
Duende’s owner, Byron Johnson, says the cost of leasing the required 46 spots at a nearby surface parking lot would be about $1,700 a month. “Which is impossible. That’s probably what the net profit of this place would be — somewhere in that neighborhood,” Johnson said.
The debate has also illuminated a neighborhood parking drama on the pothole-filled, part-brick street about a block west of Central Avenue. The developer who owns the nearby parking lot, who offered Johnson the lease he said he can’t afford, also appealed the dance studio’s request for no parking. Another business has hung “reserved” signs over what may be public parking spaces, without city approval. One building owner at a recent council committee hearing accused others of shutting off his water after he challenged their right to certain parking spaces.
Johnson has ventured out in the evenings to take pictures of empty public parking spots, to counter assertions that few are available. “I think there’s a lot of people saying, ‘Well there’s a problem,’ but there’s no proof that there’s a problem,” Johnson told a council committee recently. A Star Tribune reporter also discovered many unused spots during a visit one recent evening, though Indeed Brewing was closed.
The city’s zoning code dictated the 46-space minimum based on the type of use and size of the building. Factoring spaces grandfathered into the property and 11 potential bike parking spots, the number dropped to 37. City staff recommended allowing the exemption, however, finding the requirement was still impractical.
Ironically, the minimum requirement would have been much lower for other uses: A restaurant in a similarly sized building would only need 14 spaces, city staff said, while an apartment building of fewer than 50 units would need none — because of the proximity to high-frequency transit on Central Avenue.
A City Council committee opted to devise a compromise, which members may vote on this Friday.
“I don’t love the idea of saying to everybody else they have to provide parking, and then saying we would do a variance here,” Council Member Lisa Goodman said. “But if it’s such a small building, comparatively, maybe there’s a smaller number.”
Parking is already a prized commodity on Quincy, where owners have a web of agreements to use different spaces at certain hours. The lack of a proper curb in some places means many spots are perpendicular to the street. Uppercut Boxing Gym leases a number of spots at nearby Kurt Manufacturing, but also has hung signs to reserve spots in front of their building.
Whether those spots are actually Uppercut’s is a matter of dispute. “What my two neighbors have done is steal public property,” David Bergman, who owns the Duende building, told council members.
One of those neighbors insists, through his attorney, that he has city permission. The city was not immediately able to verify that is true.
“Once you go over one of the railroad ties, you’re on my property,” said Lisa Bauch, who owns the gym. “So it’s a big gray area.”
City spokesman Matt Lindstrom said the ownership was difficult to determine, but a survey crew plans to conduct an analysis. Reich, the council member, noted that many of these spots will likely disappear if the city ever reconstructs the street to modern standards.
Bauch said the trouble largely began with the opening several years ago of Indeed Brewing, which has drawn plenty of people and cars to their popular taproom. “This place was nothing when I bought it” 14 years ago, Bauch said. “And now the neighborhood just can’t keep up.”
The appeal was filed by Hillcrest Development and its subsidiary, which are remodeling the former Minneapolis Public Schools headquarters into 75,000 square feet of office, studio and retail space. The property is flanked by hundreds of surface parking stalls. Hillcrest did not return messages seeking comment.
For Bergman, it’s been a struggle to get his property rented. A distillery almost moved in several years ago, but federal rules prohibited it so close to an adjacent live-work studio. A restaurant owner looked at the property, but decided there wasn’t enough parking. “The neighborhood will change, one way or another, and a dance studio sounds about the most benign public use that I can think of,” said Bergman, whose taxes have risen nearly tenfold in 12 years.
Duende’s classes focus on Latin “social dancing,” which isn’t choreographed. The evening classes would bring 60 to 90 people to the building, though more are expected for twice-a-month special dancing events. Johnson had originally hoped to have a grand opening July 1, but the need for an exemption and Hillcrest’s subsequent appeal added delays.
“Every day that we don’t open is money out of my pocket,” Johnson said.