Oaks Station Place opened late last year next to the 46th Street Station of the Blue Line in Minneapolis. Developed by Oaks Properties, the mixed-use project has 104 market rate apartment units that leased within months of opening. There remains an available retail space and the developer reports interest from a restaurant. Our neighborhood group, SENA, has been involved with this project since inception, and even helped get a $100,000 grant for a really cool public art installation on the plaza.
If the project can land a restaurant tenant of some kind, I’ll be satisfied. After all, the whole point of TOD is to have a mix of uses in a walkable setting, and a restaurant would provide an active use for the plaza and people to enjoy the art. We’re almost there, but a few things could help this happen, and they shine a light on the complexities and importance of holistic planning. Quite simply, commercial parking should be allowed on 46th Street and along the curb next to the building in the bus turnaround.
Oaks Station Place backs up to (fronts on?) the 46th Street Station of the Blue Line and its adjacent bus turnaround. An ingenious part of the project was to locate the building and still provide bus access. To do so, buses pass at grade under the third and fourth stories of the apartment building. The commercial portion of the building lies east of the bus underpass, facing a public plaza and the train station.
The plaza is designed to balance the needs of a potential restaurant as well as be a pedestrian route to the train. Oaks Properties has installed benches and landscaping, so even without a commercial tenant yet, there are places to sit.
Some people just want to watch the train.
And especially at night, the art adds a lot to the setting.
While the pedestrian realm and access is important, what is critical to this mixed-use development is parking. There are 86 underground parking spaces for 104 apartments, and as you might expect, they are all spoken for plus some. Presently apartment tenants park in at-grade spaces in the parking lot reserved for commercial tenants. This is causing some issues for the leasing of the commercial space.
One way to help is add parking on the street, or even more spaces in the lot? Why not be able to park on 46th Street in front of the commercial space? This section of 46th Street is unnecessarily wide, with two through lanes westbound and three eastbound! 46th Street west of Hiawatha has pretty low traffic counts. One lane westbound and one or two eastbound should suffice.
SENA has begun to inquire with Metro Transit as to whether buses actually need the westbound right turn lane. As the photo above shows, the answer is no. In order to make the right turn in to the bus turnaround, buses must swing left anyway, particularly if a bus is waiting at the traffic signal to exit the turnaround on to 46th Street. Surely there can be an agreement to allow at least three or four on-street parking spaces.
Furthermore, one lane of eastbound 46th Street could be given over to on-street parking as well. Just look how wide this section of street is (above)!
As well, it seems as though there is room on the north side of the commercial building to allow curbside parking. The bus turnaround lane is sufficiently wide to allow buses to easily navigate the turn while allowing for a couple extra convenient spaces near the future restaurant. After all, this is a mixed-use development. There are mixed messages from Metro Transit as to whether they will go along with any of this. Hopefully the final answer is yes.
We all want mixed-use, transit-oriented development to succeed. As much as we don’t care to admit it, people still drive, albeit less than before, and the success of commercial space at mixed-use developments depends on convenient customer parking. Metro Transit, Oaks Properties, SENA and the City of Minneapolis ought to be able to find a solution, and on-street parking certainly a part of that solution. Oaks Station Place is one restaurant away from being held up as a national example for how to make TOD work. Let’s help this happen.
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