South Lyndale businesses brace for ‘perfect storm’

Bridge construction in 2010, road construction in 2011 and a down economy are causes for concern at South Lyndale Avenue businesses

It’s been a hard year for Dan Campo at South Lyndale Liquors.

When construction closed Lyndale Avenue just north of Minnehaha Creek for a couple months this spring, he said the store emptied. As the liquor business goes, it felt like a Sunday every day. In the first week, he said his family-run shop at 5300 Lyndale lost $30,000.

But he thinks that’s a drop in the bucket compared to what’s coming — a rebuild of the Lyndale bridge over the creek in 2010 and reconstruction of the road from there all the way to 56th Street the following year. Add in the already harsh economy and things aren’t looking bright for the node.

“It has the potential to kill half the businesses here, including us,” Campo said. “It’s going to cut off our businesses from half of the neighborhood.”

Guy Nowlan, project manager for the southern stretch of Lyndale, called the situation a “perfect storm.” But it’s one that the county can’t do much about, other than try to keep traffic moving during the work.

The bridge, built in 1893 and repaired in the ’50s and ’70s, is overdue for a rebuild. The county rated it a 31 on a 100-point structural-integrity scale and roughly $1 million in federal funds earmarked for the $2.7 million project will disappear if the project isn’t started next year.

Jake Bronder, who will oversee the bridge’s rebuild, said construction is scheduled to begin in April 2010 and wrap up in late November of that year. He said the bridge will probably have to be closed during that time, but because of business concerns the county is looking into ways to keep it partially open to traffic and pedestrians.

The Bryant Avenue pedestrian bridge is the nearest route over the creek for walkers and bikers, but it’s currently closed. It’s scheduled for repairs soon, but whether it will be open before work begins on the Lyndale bridge is not certain.

Planning for the reconstruction of Lyndale from the bridge south to 56th Street is still in the early stages, Nowlan said. Some businesses have requested rebuilding the road at the same time as the bridge to abbreviate the construction period for the node, but Nowlan said that’s unlikely. He reviewed plans for the road with city staff last year and was asked to develop them further.

“That put us back some and we’ve been steadily working on it since that meeting,” Nowlan said. “And so I don’t want to approach the city or the [City] Council before I have what they had asked for.”

Nowlan said he plans to go back to the city by August and start meeting with community members about the project this fall. The county and city have budgeted the $5 million project for a 2011 start date.

That might end up being a good thing for businesses, Nowlan said.

“It may not be as bad as if the bridge was out and the road was being worked on,” he said. “That would almost keep people out totally. Not that we planned it that way, but I think by default it might be a smarter way to go.”

He said road construction will be staged, so traffic will be able to move both ways on either the east or west side, whichever is not being worked on at a given time.

Matt Perry, who serves on an advisory committee for the road’s reconstruction, said he hopes project organizers keep the local businesses in mind during the work.

“Having worked with businesses on the north side project, there is a balance that needs to be drawn between getting the roadwork done and keeping the businesses alive and thriving throughout the construction period,” he said.

Jennifer Jackson-King, owner of restaurant Prima at 5325 Lyndale Ave., said business is already tough with the economy in the dumps. Eating out is not as common these days and she suspects it will be less so during construction.

“If the recession drags on, between that and road construction, it’s really not good,” she said.

She said she had been hoping money for the project would dry up so it would be delayed. Even when all the area businesses get together to voice their concerns, she said she doesn’t feel those concerns are heard.

“I feel like nobody cares about businesses,” she said.

Bruce Bermel, who owns a building with 11 business tenants including Prima, Hollywood Video, Caribou Coffee and others just south of the creek, said he’s heard plenty of concerns. He said he’s never had an unsuccessful tenant in the building and maintaining that is hard enough right now without construction.

John Majewski, store manager of Kowalski’s  at 5327 Lyndale Ave. S., said his sales dropped noticeably when the bridge closed earlier this year.

Campo said he’d like the county to consider putting off a section of the project for a few years to give businesses some time to recover.

“I get that we need to have road construction,” he said. “But at the end of the day, two-to-three years of road construction kills businesses.”