Both Minneapolis and St. Paul are making big investments in their downtowns and hope to lure more residents to live there. But at the same time, the cities are taking steps to reduce the amount of parking available downtown. And that has alarmed some downtown residents.
Dozens of angry people showed up at a community meeting on a cold weekday night recently after learning that the city of St. Paul is taking away their parking spaces.
"It's a nightmare," said James Bower, who lives next to the downtown St. Paul Farmers Market. He is losing his spot because the city is condemning his condo's 55-space parking lot, saying it needs the land to build a new stadium for the minor league Saints baseball team.
The city is negotiating compensation with the Market House condo owners, but Bower worries he will not be able to find a new permanent place to park near his home.
"So it's a Tuesday afternoon. You're tired. You come home from work. You want to just get inside, and there's no place to park," he said. "Or you're cooking dinner and your kid needs to go to soccer practice. But you don't want to lose your spot to get him there, let alone come home and cook dinner, because then you're going to have to find another spot."
The city says it plans to help the condo owners find new parking in the area.
But the ballpark will eliminate 250 parking spaces, so it's not just the Market House residents who are concerned about the perceived parking crunch in Lowertown. The neighborhood, which sits on the eastern edge of downtown, has blossomed in recent years, with new apartments, bars and eateries.
As Lowertown continues to develop, the pressure on parking is bound to increase, said Lenny Russo, who owns the upscale restaurant Heartland.
"We are going to see a flip-flop, I believe, where we're going to have not enough parking and too many people, as opposed to what we have now, which is too much parking and not enough people," Russo said. "It's a good problem to have, but we obviously need to manage the growth."
The new ballpark will bring up to 7,000 fans downtown for every game.
Some of them will arrive on the Central Corridor light rail line, which will be running by the time the ballpark opens in 2015. And Parks Department spokesman Brad Meyer said those who drive should have no problem finding a space in the neighborhood.
"Lowertown has a lot of 9-to-5 employees ... Saints games, and a lot of the Lowertown ballpark needs, will largely be weeknight, after 5 or weekend," Meyer said. "And during those times, as part of the assessment, it was determined that the availability would be able to meet when the ballpark needs it most."
The city says there are more than 11,000 parking spaces within six blocks of the ballpark site. In fact, a city report produced in 2010 argued downtown St. Paul had an "oversupply" of parking ramps. It recommended prohibiting new standalone parking facilities.
Minneapolis is also looking for ways to reduce the amount of downtown real estate devoted to parking. City planner Beth Elliott is trying to get rid of the sea of surface parking lots surrounding the Metrodome.
"We want to make sure that development is happening at a transit station area," Elliott said. "That is our major goal. And because these parking lots haven't developed, there's got to be a reason why, and so that's what we're trying to get to the bottom of."
Last year the Metropolitan Council gave Minneapolis more than $40,000 to come up with answers to help spur development on the lots. Elliott said that Minneapolis wants to make it easier for people to get rid of their cars -- not easier to park.
"Usually when you overbuild parking, people park," she said. "Just like when you build wider freeways, you fill them, because people will drive more. But if you make parking and driving just a little bit more difficult, and you give people plenty of other options, for taking transit, or walking or biking to their job, they'll say, 'We don't need a car.'"
Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have seen significant growth in their downtown populations over the last decade. It's a trend both cities are trying to encourage, but they are not doing it by giving downtown residents more places to park.
Map marker shows location of condemned Market House condo parking lot
Source: Google Maps