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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Good City Pages Article on Mark Stenglein


Officially, the project will take a four-lane east/west roadway and add dedicated left-turn lanes in some spots, narrow some stretches to one lane with parking and bike lanes, and widen sidewalks in other parts. The corridor is expected to see increased traffic—up to as many as 17,000 vehicles a day—according to a 122-page Hennepin County report called the Lowry Avenue Corridor Plan. Additionally, the plan envisions new businesses and housing (as many as 110 units at the Lowry and Lyndale intersection, for instance) and the county has bought out and relocated several businesses and residents on Lowry, and used eminent domain to take over other properties. (There is a phase II, from Girard West to Theodore Wirth Parkway—also estimated to cost some $6 million in road construction alone—slated for 2008.)

"The goal of the redevelopment project is to address the decline of Lowry Avenue by improving the livability of the corridor, as well as serving as a catalyst for regional revitalization," said Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein, who represents the area, in a press release that marked the groundbreaking. "This is a truly great, long-awaited day for residents of this part of the city."

Business owners disagree. Adil Albosaad, the owner of the property that houses Naylor's barbershop and six other businesses on the northeast corner of Lowry and Emerson, says he's never seen such bad business in the 14 years he's run the E&L Food Market on the corner. Albosaad, a 34-year-old who was born in Iraq, says his register take is down some 65 percent, but mostly he worries about vacancies. His three residential tenants above the market have moved out, and he knows that renters like Naylor probably can't hold on.

Albosaad's business tenants include a deli owned by an Egyptian immigrant, a Chinese restaurant, a nail shop owned by a Vietnamese family, and a T-shirt shop owned by an African American. He says that all are behind on rent—something Albosaad is willing to deal with at least for the short term.

Albosaad is less charitable toward government leadership, especially Stenglein—who, he says, doesn't return his calls. "Mark Stenglein is so good before an election," he says. "He will kiss our asses, but now we don't hear from him." Albossad has proposed that, at the very least, the city waive the license fees for the businesses for 2006, but so far his proposal has fallen on deaf ears.

"It's a massive redevelopment project," Stenglein concedes. "We're making the best effort to deal with those concerns."

The rationale for closing the corridor entirely, according to Hennepin County senior engineer Dean Michalko, is to save time and money. "If we kept it open, construction would go for at least two full seasons, if not longer," he says. "Our goal was to get in there and get it done as quickly as possible."

Tait Danielson Castillo, executive director of the Hawthorne Area Community Council, calls the intersection "the saddest, most devastating scene you could come across." Danielson Castillo says he has met with Stenglein and other leaders to at least ensure that part of Lowry will remain open during phase II, but it will likely be too late. "Stenglein will say we've been talking about this for years, and that every property owner knew this was coming and blah, blah, blah," Danielson Castillo says, adding that many details of the project were unknown to pretty much everyone in the area. "But the reality is the same. Things are falling apart. These businesses will close within the month."

They sure don't like Mark Stenglein. But then, they aren't showing up to his fundraisers.