Bracing for a torn Uptown

Uptown area business owners, residents get ready for summer construction

Bowling pins clunked on the far right lane inside Bryant-Lake Bowl, where Lynnhurst resident Ruthanne Qua brought her children Max, 13, and Maddie, 11, to enjoy a game on a day off from school.

Local artist Scott Seekins sat at a small circle table at the restaurant, quietly eating a plate of fries and vegetables, his curly hair draped slightly over his thick glasses. Nearby, Minneapolis Playwright Center employee and freelance writer Todd Ross typed poems on his laptop. Server Diana Ross-Gotta scurried about the place, cleaning and taking orders from the steady Monday afternoon crowd.

A couple blocks east of the 810 W. Lake St. restaurant, bowling alley and theater, construction worker Larry Erickson and his co-workers were rebuilding a manhole in preparation for the final section of the Lake Street reconstruction project, which will stretch from Dupont Avenue to the Mississippi River when completed. Next door to Bryant-Lake Bowl, vacant buildings awaited demolition for a new apartment complex.

The restaurant will be in the center of a major construction zone this summer.

&#8220I'll probably avoid it,” said Boss, who eats at the restaurant once every couple weeks.

Bryant-Lake Bowl owner Kim Bartmann is hoping most of her customers will continue to patronize her business, and she's been working on a strategy to make that happen. So have business owners throughout the Uptown area, who, along with Uptown residents, are preparing for several projects planned to start soon.

What's going up

Though about a half dozen large-scale projects were planned to start this spring and summer, specific start dates haven't been set for any of them and some might not happen at all.

Don Shaffer, project engineer for the Hennepin County Transportation Department, said the reconstruction of West Lake Street is a sure thing. Contractor Pulda Construction was recently chosen to do the work, and the details of the agreement were still being worked out in mid-April, Shaffer said.

He expects construction to start by early May at Dupont Avenue and continue through Bryant Avenue before the year is over. Shaffer hopes to get to Harriet Avenue by that time if possible.

Lyndale Avenue from 31st Street to 29th Street will also be reconstructed this year as part of the Lake Street project. West Lake Street through Blaisdell will be completed in 2008.

Other Uptown area projects in the pipeline include Ackerberg Group and CAG Development's Mozaic, a 72-unit condominium, 140-room hotel and retail project at Fremont and Lagoon Avenues; Greco Real Estate Development's 242-unit apartment and retail complex at 2900 Aldrich Ave.; Hornig Companies' 30-condo development The Portico at 1601 Lagoon Ave.; investor Curt Gunsbury's 114-room Hotel Uptown at 3017-3027 Holmes Ave. and an 83-unit condo and retail revamp of Calhoun Square at Lake Street and Hennepin Avenue.

A sluggish condo market has stalled some of the projects.

&#8220It's just brutal out there,” said Jon Hornig, vice president of Hornig Companies. He said the Portico would not be built until half of the units are sold. Sales have sat at 10 for months.

Tweaking the design to create fewer units might be another possibility, Hornig said. He expects some of his buyers to back out of their agreements within the next couple months because of frustration or &#8220cold feet,” but he's still planning to move forward with the project.

&#8220We're just hoping to get a few done here in the next few months and not back up,” he said.

The stagnant condo market spurred Calhoun Square owner Principal Real Estate Investors to put the mall up for sale. Joe Pierce, regional director of real estate for Principal, said no development decision would be made until the sale process was complete. He declined to provide a timeline.

CAG President Clark Gassen said Calhoun Square's delay should lessen the burden of construction and make for a better Uptown environment this summer. It should also help condo sales at Mozaic and other developments, he said.

&#8220Staggering two larger Uptown developments is exactly what needed to happen,” he said.

Gassen said Mozaic, which is more than half sold, would be built starting this spring or summer. Excel Energy recently pulled power from much of the site. Gassen said working out the final project cost has held things up a bit.

Construction of Greco's apartment complex is scheduled to begin this month, and Gunsbury's hotel is planned to move forward in late summer or early fall.

Most developers don't anticipate significant disruptions during construction, but some Uptown stakeholders are preparing for transportation troubles and a bog in business.

Coping with construction

John Jensen lives at 31st Street and Bryant Avenue and frequents area businesses.

Jensen said he's willing to accommodate some disruptions, but he's concerned about the impact of numerous projects under development at the same time.

&#8220To have them all happen concurrently seems a little ridiculous,” Jensen said.

He said he'd like to see the Greco project and Lake Street construction staggered.

Greco Project Manager Brent Rogers said the company is working with Lake Street planners to coordinate construction efforts, and he doesn't anticipate any extra complications for people in the area.

Gassen said he doesn't expect Mozaic construction to cause problems, either.

Construction workers work early weekday shifts, when Uptown traffic is slow, so the impact should be minimal, he said. He anticipates some frustration about the planned demolition of a 200-spot parking lot behind Lagoon Cinema for his project but said Mozaic will make up for it with more than quadruple the parking upon completion.

&#8220It'll be a pain in the neck for about a year,” Gassen said.

Bill Evanoff, general manager at Bar Abilene next door to the Mozaic site, said the bar and restaurant would feel the parking loss.

&#8220We're working on an alternative parking strategy,” he said.

Evanoff said the business is looking at offering valet parking during construction. Aggressive marketing is also part of the plan to maintain customers, he said.

At Lyn-Lake, It's Greek to Me co-owner Denise Arambadjis has been thinking up her own business strategies for construction season. Starting May 1, the restaurant will be closed for lunch on weekdays, she said. Lunch is usually slow anyway, she said.

&#8220Very few places are still open for lunch on that corner when you think about it,” she said.

Arambadjis said her restaurant is a destination business that draws people from outside the city, so she's hoping her loyal customers continue their patronage.

John Meegan, owner of tailor shop Top Shelf at 31st Street and Lyndale Avenue, is also counting on a loyal following to pull him through. Meegan said he isn't planning any major business changes.

&#8220I think we're going to do just fine because we don't rely on foot traffic so much,” he said. &#8220I just hope we do some more cohesive areawide promotions that let people do things like pub crawls at Lyn-Lake,” he said.

Drivers trying to get to businesses in the Uptown area will have one lane of traffic in each direction in the Lake Street construction zone. Lake Street bus travelers will be rerouted on 31st Street and Lyndale Avenue buses will move to Bryant Avenue.

Joyce Wisdom, president of the Lake Street Council, said increased traffic and parking in neighborhoods is expected. Residents also expect it.

Sue Bode, who lives at 28th Street and Dupont Avenue, said parking problems are nothing new in her neighborhood.

&#8220Parking has always been a problem around here,” she said.

Jensen said he was concerned about bike traffic on Bryant, which has recently been promoted as a bike lane. Bob Gibbons, director of customer service for Metro Transit, said bus drivers would not have a problem negotiating the road with bikes.

&#8220We share the road with bikes throughout the city,” he said.

Buses will start traveling the new routes when construction begins.

Hoping for the best

At the Dunn Bros coffee shop across from Bryant-Lake Bowl, a bright yellow sign reads &#8220shop locally, open during construction.”

The Lake Street Council distributed the signs to Lake Street businesses throughout the Uptown area.

Bartmann said she wants to get a sign on Bryant-Lake Bowl, which plans to offer a &#8220hard hat menu” during construction. Employees might even wear red hard hats, she said.

&#8220It would make people talk, and that's the whole point - to get the word out that we're still open and we're trying to make it be fun,” Bartmann said. &#8220Because it's not going to be fun.”

She's also looking to cut expenses and expand online marketing. Enhanced websites have helped businesses at other parts of Lake Street. Scandinavian gift store Ingebretsen's at 1601 E. Lake St. actually improved sales while the road was under construction.

Many of Bryant-Lake Bowl's customers, including Seekins and Qua, said a torn Uptown won't keep them away. Bartmann is holding them to their word.

&#8220I just have to hope that all the people who say they love Bryant Lake-Bowl and they care about it, etc., follow through with some action and climb over some blinky light barricades and get on in there and drink some beer and eat some hamburgers.”

Reach Jake Weyer at 612-436-4367 or jweyer@mnpubs.com.