On a surface parking lot behind the Jungle Theater near Lake & Garfield, some people imagine much more than parked cars.
A group of LynLake business and property owners envisions affordable retail space along Garfield Avenue, an extended 29th Street promenade, connections to the Midtown Greenway and a mid-block pedestrian plaza. As they finish paying off the $2.3 million bond that funded the Garfield lot in 1998, the businesses are talking to city officials, neighborhood groups and a developer working pro bono to reimagine the lot, which is owned by the City of Minneapolis.
Development ideas are still in the early stages, and there is no project design and no developer. At the moment, the group is consulting with the Lander Group and pursuing a parking study that would recommend the optimal amount of neighborhood parking in a new development.
Today, the lot holds about 120 spaces, according to Morgan Luzier, who co-owns Balance Fitness Studio on the block. She expects her property at 2902 Garfield to become part of any new development, and she’s spent months poring over long-range plans.
“Everything I’ve ever wanted for my neighborhood is already laid out,” she said, referencing the LynLake Small Area Plan and long-term guidelines for the Midtown Greenway, pedestrian overlay district and transit corridor. “It was like our work was already done.”
She said existing ideas in long-range plans include a 29th Street promenade through the site, small storefronts, plaza space overlooking the Greenway and structures that transition in height down to residential areas.
Affordable retail space is another idea under consideration, Luzier said, perhaps owned by the city or a nonprofit.
Consumers are increasingly drawn to small stores, she said, and small startups need landlords invested in their success. When business nodes boom, the very elements that make them special can get pushed out, she said.
“We want to preserve and protect the things that make LynLake special,” she said.
Today, it’s too easy for a landlord to sit on empty retail space and rely on upper-story residences for cash flow, she said.
“I get that, but the sacrifice is our streets,” she said. “Your property value goes up if you’ve got a vibrant storefront.”
On the Garfield lot, the LynLake group envisions retail lining Garfield Avenue, with pop-up retail along a plaza that cuts east to west mid-block near the Jungle Theater.
Luzier said business owners want the Garfield lot to continue providing parking for the neighborhood, although the right amount of parking is still an open question.
“We are in a place where parking is a moving target,” she said. “There is a middle ground, and that’s what we’re trying to come up with.”
Gregory Scott, owner of buildings home to Herkimer and LynLake Brewery, said parking is crucial. The Jungle Theater couldn’t survive without the Garfield lot, he said, and the neighborhood is in “constant need of more parking.”
Top Shelf owner and LynLake Business Association chair John Meegan said he hopes to see the business district maintain influence over the future of the Garfield lot.
“I think what we need to do is increase the number of parking stalls so we can handle the future development of more business going on at LynLake,” he said.
Aside from providing parking, Luzier said, business owners would like to grow the daytime population — while LynLake is busy on nights and weekends, she said, restaurants are quiet during the day.
Luzier said her own questions about the block turned into a “five-year rabbit hole” of research. She explained that 25 years ago, a group of LynLake business and property owners determined that LynLake needed a district parking solution. Working with the City of Minneapolis, the group encouraged the city to purchase lots to assemble the present-day surface lot west of Garfield and south of the Midtown Greenway, as well as 50 spaces at 2935 Aldrich Ave. S. The city issued a bond to pay for the parking development, repaid in assessments by businesses located within 300 feet of the lots. The payments will be complete in 2018. In recent years, parking premiums had reached a level where the lot was self-sustaining and businesses didn’t need to contribute additional payments, Luzier said.
Over the years, new businesses that couldn’t fully meet parking requirements paid fees that formed a trust fund to cover future parking lot improvements. The thought was that someday, the city would grow enough to require structured parking there, Luzier said.
Luzier has re-formed the LynLake parking committee with six business owners, a representative from Minneapolis Public Works, and representatives from CARAG, Lyndale, The Wedge and Whittier neighborhoods. The group consulted with Track 29 developer Ross Fefercorn before his passing early this year, and it is now consulting with Michael Lander of the Lander Group.
Lander said that even if he isn’t awarded development rights to the site, he wants to help the group land a parking consultant and explore ways to improve the public realm.
“Too often we forget the green, we prioritize the automobile,” he said, adding that a development’s most important spaces stand on the ground floor.
The site’s current zoning is C3A, a “community activity center” district that allows four-story or 56-foot buildings as of right and taller development with a conditional use permit. It’s also part of the city’s pedestrian-oriented overlay district, which emphasizes density, hidden vehicles and a focus on the pedestrian experience.
The LynLake group’s next steps involve seeking city approval to draw from the trust fund to pay for a parking study. The group also plans to explore potential financing and ownership structures for the development and continue seeking neighborhood input.
Luzier said her goal is to empower the neighborhood to be a strong stakeholder in the project.
“People feel like development is happening to them rather than with them or for them,” Luzier said. “Hopefully they will feel a sense of ownership of the project itself.”