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Will progress on Como-Dale-Front intersection finally happen in 2018?

Posted on 08 January 2018 by Calvin

How to improve the six-legged intersection that is Como-Dale-Front is a topic that has engaged the South Como, North End and Frogtown neighborhoods for decades. 2018 starts with a renewed effort by the St. Paul Departments of Public Works and Planning and Economic Development (PED), design consultants, and City Council Member Amy Brendmoen to make improvements.

Ideas gathered at a December 2017 meeting will be incorporated into the plans, along with feedback from an online survey that ends Jan. 14.

The intersection is expected to see new infrastructure projects in the short-term, with a push toward redevelopment in the long-term.
Some ideas on the drawing board focus on placemaking, to make what are now parking lots more attractive. That effort could include landscaping at spots that are now paved or open. Better markings are also being considered, such as high-visibility pedestrian crosswalks at all crossings, more prominent green-painted bike lane markings for Como cyclists, and white painted stop bars for motorists so that vehicles don’t block crosswalks.

Relocating the northbound Dale St. bus stop near the Speedy market to a spot beside John’s Pizza Café is also being considered. Another idea is to eliminate the dedicated right-turn lane from southbound Como onto westbound Front. The pedestrian space could be enlarged, and the Como crosswalk shortened. Other suggestions include restricting right turn lanes for trucks, filling area sidewalk gaps, adding pedestrian refuges and even tearing down a building at the northwest corner.

How to improve the intersection and transform the area has been discussed since the 1990s. Those studies led to successes such as the transformation of an old foundry and industrial area into the St. Paul Port Authority’s Great Northern Business Park. But other parts of that ambitious project, including the extension of Pierce Butler Rte. to the east, stalled due to lack of funds.

The latest scrutiny began in 2010 with the completion of a University of Minnesota Design Center study. That “Rethinking the Intersection” study became part of the District 6 neighborhood plan, as North End and South Como were both still in that citizen participation district. The city awarded $350,000 from its Commercial Vitality Fund Program to the intersection in 2015. That launched two years of neighborhood meetings, design work and a market study of Dale St. paid for by the North End Neighborhood Association (District 6) and Como Community Council (District 10).

Why is it important to do something at Como-Dale-Front now? “When the city created the Commercial Vitality Zone program, it was meant to set-aside funds for neighborhood economic development—local commercial corridors and business nodes that make neighborhoods special and support local jobs. Because of the work completed in years’ past, specifically the 2010 study on the intersection by the Metropolitan Design Center and District 6, we were able to secure funding for this work at Como, Front, and Dale,” said Brendmoen.

“Our goal is to help improve the pedestrian conditions in the area and make it a more attractive place for shoppers, residents, and businesses,” Brendmoen said. “We also want to emphasize safety at this very busy, very confusing intersection. There are redevelopment opportunities at this node, and we hope to signal to commercial developers and small business owners that the neighborhood is ready for investment.”

But the biggest challenge to redoing the intersection is Dale St., said Brendmoen. Dale is four lanes in the area and is heavily traveled as a route to and from I-94. That is a plus for efforts to bring in new businesses large and small. But the traffic volume creates the challenge. “Crossing Dale St. feels dangerous which is a condition we must address. We need to balance the need to move vehicles along Dale St. with the needs of the residential community that surrounds it,” she said.

As for opportunities, Brendmoen singled out the Galls/Uniforms Unlimited and the former Schroeder’s Bar sites as the greatest potential redevelopment opportunities. Schroeder’s was destroyed in a November 2014 fire, and the owners chose not to rebuild. Galls is for sale. Longtime residents may remember it as Joe’s Sporting Goods. Redevelopment could complement one of the area’s strengths, of long-term business owners who have kept up their properties. An anchor-destination business for the area is sought, along with smaller infill businesses.

The market study tracked some interesting trends. District 10 residents, who have higher incomes than the residents of District 6, have been vocal about the desire for businesses in their neighborhood. At a meeting in November 2017 about the future of the shuttered Como Dockside restaurant space, many people brought up the need for more restaurants and coffee shops. A grocery store has also been cited as something residents want. But the study indicated that while a drug store or smaller grocery store of about 20,000 to 30,000 square feet could be added along Dale between Maryland Ave. and Topping St., Maryland would likely be a better spot for a grocery.

Read more about the project and the business surveys, and take a survey on Como-Dale-Front at www.district10comopark.org.

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