Small businesses are the lifeblood of any community. They provide distinctive character to a neighborhood and are the engine that drives a local economy. Without local businesses, there is no local economy. And without a local economy, there is no community.
Is this the future of Minneapolis?
That’s the road the city will be on if the Hennepin Avenue South reconstruction project moves forward with its current design.
To see how Minneapolis could have a future with no local economy, it’s important to understand the proposed Hennepin plan that runs from West Lake Street to Douglas Avenue. The Minneapolis Public Works Department, which has been working on the project since 2018, released its final plan on Dec. 7. The recommended design includes 24/7 bus lanes, protected bike lanes, pedestrian improvements and two vehicle lanes (instead of four).
We are 100 percent in favor of improving the walkability and bikability of a city, making public transportation better and reducing the effects of climate change. But an important part of the community is missing in this Hennepin plan — the small business community. Their needs have not been addressed.
For months, business owners have been calling for the plan to include parking for customers and loading zones for deliveries. Their voices have mostly not been heard. This proposal offers about 20 spaces for on-street parking and loading on Hennepin Ave., while eliminating 92 percent of the on-street parking along this key business and residential corridor.
The Uptown Association launched a campaign to support businesses. They organized a petition to ensure Hennepin Avenue works for everyone, and more than 1,000 community members (many businesses and residents) signed it. They also collected testimonials from businesses on Hennepin sharing their concerns. Instead of listening, the proposed design recast Hennepin as a corridor to be “passed through,” rather than a commercial node where people come to work, shop, dine, and spend money.
Supporters of the plan have not just dismissed the concerns of business owners. They have openly mocked them at times. While advocates call the plan an “inclusive design,” it doesn’t acknowledge that this plan won’t work for businesses, the elderly, disabled, suburbanites, out-of-towners or families with small kids. Moms and dads don’t always have time to load up the bike cart or take a leisurely stroll.
Minneapolis prides itself on being a bicycle-friendly city, but we’re a long way from becoming Amsterdam or Copenhagen, where half of commuters cycle. The reality is that only about 5 percent of residents in Minneapolis use bikes to get around. That’s around 22,000 people (of the 435,000 population), and that number is even smaller in the winter.
Don’t get us wrong. We realize climate change is an existential crisis. We are all for reducing our carbon footprint and preventing severe injuries and deaths from traffic crashes. We love the concept of a 15-minute city – the idea that residents can meet their basic needs with 15-minute walk or bike ride – and appreciate the aspirational idea of Minneapolis becoming a smaller-scale Chicago or New York City.
The trouble is, pushing a plan out that fails to consider the full needs of our community gives us the illusion of progress. And it’s clear that businesses are an afterthought in the Hennepin reconstruction.
But why does it have to be either/or? Why can’t the Hennepin plan be both/and? We can promote long-term environmental sustainability and support local businesses at the same time. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive. Why can’t the Hennepin plan support walkers, bike riders, public transportation, the environment, and initiatives for businesses in our community?
Hennepin was last reconstructed in 1957, and some people are making plans on what a great corridor Hennepin will be for the next 50 years. But what happens in the next few years when small businesses leave Hennepin or don’t survive the reconstruction?
We’ve already lost businesses in Uptown. There are no guarantees businesses will take their place, or the city will recoup lost revenue. Active streets are safer streets when it comes to public safety. You don’t have to worry about crime as much when there is a thriving business corridor. Blocks of empty storefronts and boarded-up businesses don’t help. Parts of Hennepin look like a ghost town now. It could get worse.
We need to find balance. True progress requires both/and leadership. That is how we can produce true win/win outcomes. Everyone might not get everything they want. But all sides get what they need.
This would be good for business. For everyone.
The public comment period for the Hennepin reconstruction plan is open until Jan. 28. Public Works is scheduled to present the plan to the city council in March/April 2022, and street construction is planned to begin in 2024. No matter what your opinion is on the future of Hennepin, we recommend you make your voice heard.
Eric Ortiz lives in the Wedge with his family. When he’s not community building, he’s the director of media for Granite Media and writes bilingual children’s books with his kids. Their first book was “How the Zookalex Saved the Village,” available in English and Spanish on Amazon.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here