City Council members on Tuesday gave the go-ahead to explore the idea of a one-way, revamped Eighth Avenue further, but it’ll be four or five years until the renovation comes to fruition.
“I don’t have any illusions of it being an easy process,” City Engineer John Bradford said.
If the redesign idea goes forward, it would be timed to coincide with Southwest Light Rail Transit project, probably waiting until 2017 or 2018, Bradford said.
That would provide sufficient time for the establishment of the Klodt mixed-use development project, which is supposed to have its first units on the market in April 2014.
It also would offer more time for the city to build support for the idea. In addition to the Klodt project, a redesign, particularly the northbound one-way element, would affect businesses such as Hopkins Plaza apartments, Chipotle, Curry ‘N’ Noodles, the Elks Lodge and even Pokorny Co. on Seventh Avenue South.
Mayor Gene Maxwell said now’s the time to start talking with businesses and residents.
“It’s not just, ‘Here’s your alley. Go around,’” he said. “It’s, ‘Here’s a bigger picture. Make the whole thing look inviting.’”
Maxwell was the most skeptical among the council members—even though planners estimate that 55 percent of traffic now leaving the downtown on Eighth Avenue would instead exit via Fifth Avenue, past the service station he owns.
He predicted that residents would ask the city to open access to Excelsior elsewhere to make up for the one way. He also worried about the loss of parking, which Bradford estimated at between 10 and 20 stalls.
“There’s a lot of work to it,” Maxwell said. “You’ve got a lot of work just to get the whole buy-in part of it.”
Said Bradford: “I don’t think it’s a panacea for everything downtown, but I do think it’s an important piece.”
Other council members were more enthusiastic. The city has long aimed to make Eighth Avenue a “pedestrian-seductive” corridor that entices people into the city’s central business district—particularly Southwest LRT riders at the stop planned just across Excelsior Boulevard.
Yet there is nothing on Eighth Avenue’s intersection with Excelsior that hints at Mainstreet shopping and dining opportunities. Passers-by see only an industrial building and Hopkins Plaza apartments—a streetscape that offers no reason to venture into the downtown.
The project would use design elements to change that. Decorative paving, landscaping and a safe haven on the median at the Excelsior Boulevard crossing would reduce what Bradford called the “sea of asphalt” feel. A gateway structure or arch would hint at something special beyond.
Meanwhile, Eighth Avenue would be remade into a “complete street” that accommodates pedestrians, bikes and cars. There would be wide sidewalks, public art and separation between walkers, cyclists and drivers. Decorative paving, lights, plantings and columns could further enhance the street.
“It’d be a radical change in Hopkins,” said City Councilman Jason Gadd.
Staff will continue exploring the idea further, starting with developing a public participation plan that includes both businesses and residents. They’ll then develop cost estimates, refine concepts and start searching for funding partners. Hopkins already has a $125,000 design grant to put toward the project, and it has $295,000 from the sale of the Park Nicollet site that Klodt Inc. is developing.
“It’s not that far away to be at least looking at moving in that direction,” said Councilwoman Molly Cummings.