Business owners knew their jobs would get more difficult once work began on two major construction projects at 50th and France, one of Edina’s premier shopping districts.
Yet for some, the growing pains have been too much to bear, with businesses reporting a drop in customer traffic, declining revenue and difficulty attracting new employees, according to a city memo released last month.
At least four stores have closed since construction began in January.
“I have never heard more complaints,” said Bill Neuendorf, Edina’s economic development manager.
The redevelopment includes the extension of a parking ramp and the erection of Nolan Mains, which will include 100 luxury apartments with retail space, underground parking and a public plaza.
Construction on both projects is happening at the same time, with the ramp expected to reopen by October and the apartments to open in the fall of 2019.
The work has turned the northwest section of the district into a dusty construction site. Crews excavated a massive hole close to the doorsteps of several small businesses. Pedestrians shimmy through makeshift corridors, with signs posted along the way offering directions and reading, “Pardon our mess, construction ahead.”
Project coordinators and business leaders are now trying to allay the concerns of several business owners, some of whom register complaints on a regular basis. The city has committed more than $700,000 in services to accommodate businesses and neighbors, according to Neuendorf.
They put up directional signs. They hired a liaison for businesses to share their concerns. Construction updates are sent out regularly.
They also are spending $8,000 a month on a valet service for customers who have trouble finding parking. The valet company, Interstate Parking, was brought in after two other companies “were unable to provide the high level of service expected by patrons and businesses” in the district, Neuendorf said in an e-mail.
Rachel Thelemann, the executive director of the 50th & France Business Association, said her organization is amping up marketing with the hopes of persuading more shoppers to visit the district during construction.
“Everybody sees the benefit of this project,” she said. “I think our goal is to make sure that the businesses that are here ... [are] able to make it for two years.”
But it may be a cruel summer, said Amanda Wagner, who owns Beaujo’s Wine Bar and Bistro with her husband. Loud noise and traffic congestion have cut into her noontime crowd, forcing her to serve lunch two days a week instead of five.
“When you take away the convenient parking and create a huge construction zone, people are less inclined to come,” she said.
Some business owners have asked for financial support from the city, including tax breaks. City officials have not expressed interest in the idea, Neuendorf said.
Of the four businesses that have already closed, three were women’s clothing or accessory stores and one was a nail salon. Two of those businesses also had plans to close other metro locations, according to city officials.
“There’s another factor here, and I think it’s that the retail environment is changing,” Thelemann said. The construction projects, she said, “gave businesses an opportunity to make a decision.”
Vacated storefronts have been occupied by new businesses. Two new restaurants — Moderna Kouzina and Crisp & Green — are expected to open this summer.
Not all businesses have suffered. Lisa Williams, who owns Bespoke Hair Artisans right next to the parking ramp construction, said her salon is thriving.
“Any time you have construction going on like we do right now, you would not wish to have it. But given the situation, I feel really fortunate to work with the city,” Williams said. “Somebody always gets back to you.”
Fashion Avenue, a resale boutique, also has done well given the roadblocks, according to Gretchen Weisman, one of the owners.
“Customers come in and they’re not happy about the parking situation,” Weisman said. “But it hasn’t seemed to hurt business. Who knows what will happen when we get into the fall season, winter.”
Wagner, meanwhile, is waiting out the summer. She’s looking forward to the reopening of the parking ramp and crews on the Nolan Mains site to start building up instead of down.
“Everyone keeps saying, ‘It’s going to be so good when it’s done,’ ” Wagner said. “And I always say, ‘I don’t disagree with you, but done is over a year away.’ ”