Is West Broadway due for a revival?

MAYA RAO | Updated 8/5/2014

Once a vibrant hub of activity in Minneapolis, the street is now home to rundown empty storefronts and fast-food restaurants.

Interactive map: The people, scenes and places of West Broadway Avenue by Maya Rao

More than 20,300 cars a day drive through the eastern entrance to West Broadway Avenue, passing a Taco Bell, a Wendy’s, and two ramshackle buildings alongside the enormous facade of Kemp’s dairy plant.

Nearby, a chain-link fence on a bridge over I-94 and a strip club offer an uninviting entrance to the neighborhood.

Once among Minneapolis’ most important thoroughfares, W. Broadway is still waiting for a revival to take hold.

City officials and developers are targeting empty spaces along the North Side corridor as debates are playing out at City Hall and in the local neighborhoods about whether those are the kind of fixes Broadway truly needs.

Already, the city has poured $14.3 million into the area over the last five years and several new projects are underway. But many of the challenges facing the area highlight why the neighborhood has struggled. There is little consensus on what to tear down and what to preserve, and some economy-rattled community leaders are growing frustrated with the slow pace of progress.

While Kemp’s wants to bulldoze the vacant structures, an old White Castle and Vietnamese market, to expand its parking lot, critics contend that would make the neighborhood even less friendly. Council Member Blong Yang is leading an effort to have the city designate the White Castle a historic structure, slamming shut the chance for a new parking area.

“The last thing we need is more surfacing parking lots,” said Alissa Luepke-Pier, a planning commissioner who lives in north Minneapolis.

In the blocks to the west, rows of rundown shops — including a tax service, barbershop, DVD store and grocer — sit opposite a Burger King, a shopping mall with a large parking lot fronting the street, and a dilapidated car dealership with broken windows.

Tim Baylor, who owns a McDonald’s in the shopping center, has unveiled plans to tear down the stores west of Cub Foods through Emerson Avenue N. and build a massive development over those three blocks with 254 luxury apartments, 86,000 square feet of commercial space, 45,000 square feet of office space and 679 parking spaces.

“I’ve been on the avenue for 16 years and haven’t seen anything happen — I’m just trying to make it happen,” said Baylor, who acknowledged that his team of investors has not developed projects on a similar scale.

He said they have agreements with more than half of the 22 property owners and hope to break ground in a year.

Luepke-Pier and others worry the project will damage the historic character of Broadway.

But Yang, who represents the neighborhood on the council, said the city should reward people who want to come in and take on these types of projects.

When he looks at the storefronts on Broadway, Yang said, he tries to take a more personal view of preservation efforts: “I’m just saying to myself, ‘If it was gone, would I miss it?’ ”

Soon after taking office, Mayor Betsy Hodges described appealing and inviting urban thoroughfares as a priority, inviting citizens to imagine Franklin Avenue as an American Indian cultural corridor, East Lake Street as a destination for food and culture, and Broadway as a retail and residential route linked by streetcar to downtown.

She and city leaders are already working on a revival of Nicollet Mall downtown after Minnesota legislators approved $21.5 million in May for renovations.

Yet Broadway has struggled to land the same turnaround that Lake and Franklin did years ago, which was buoyed by community leadership and immigrant entrepreneurs.