Officials, neighbors look at lower Payne redesign

Residents teamed up with local business owners and city staff to hash out ideas for how to improve lower Payne Avenue. The group focused on the area from Edgerton Street down to East Seventh Street. (submitted photo)

In its current state, the lower end of Payne Avenue is ready for some attention, says Amy Brendmoen, city council member for Ward 5.

Luckily, the street should get some love next year, thanks to some Capital Improvement Budget funds, which would bring a redesign of the Payne Avenue and East Seventh Street intersection. It’s ranked 15th among city CIB projects, and stands to get around $97,000 in 2015 for a reworking of the intersection, and improved pedestrian and bicycle features.

But improvements could go well beyond a simple intersection redesign -- the neighborhood has secured some city parking funds to conduct a comprehensive look at a section of Payne Avenue stretching from East Seventh Street to Edgerton Street.

Under the direction of the St. Paul Riverfront Corporation, an urban planning and engineering firm, community members took time on Thursday, Feb. 13, to look at the street as a whole, to envision ways to freshen it up.

Residents, area business owners and city staff from the St. Paul Planning and Economic Department all walked together up and down Payne from Edgerton Street to East Seventh Street and back, looking at ways to improve the busy thoroughfare.

After that there were a series of workshops where community members split up to talk about particular focuses, such as pedestrian safety, parking and park access.

Taking the reins

John Vaughn, director of the East Side Neighborhood Development Company, described the workshop as a way for the community to take the reins in shaping the neighborhood.

He said he’s “hoping it provides some good energy and some direction” for the Railroad Island neighborhood.

“This area has huge potential given what’s going on around it,” Vaughn said, naming off a list of nearby developments that it could tie into, including the redevelopment of the Hamm’s Brewery complex, the potential new Mississippi Market food co-op less than a mile away, and a number of already established businesses along the street like Yarusso Bros. Italian Restaurant, Morelli’s Market and La Palma Supermercado.

He also noted the new Cayuga exit off of Interstate 35E on its way, which could act as more of a gateway for cars to get into the East Side.

Pilot program

The lower Payne Avenue redesign is one of the first of a number of redesign projects St. Paul Riverfront Corporation will work on in conjunction with city staff and residents.

Tim Griffin, director of urban design at St. Paul Riverfront Corporation, said the day long workshop brought input on everything from pedestrian-friendliness to delivery truck access to storm water management and landscaping.

There are also five vacant lots along the stretch of Payne, and residents were talking about ways to turn them into usable space, whether it be parking, community gardens or new development.

Kim O’Brien, legislative aide to City Council member Amy Brendmoen, noted that the workshop brought a variety of people.

“People who don’t generally come out in the community processes came out and participated,” she said. “What was really striking was that there was a lot more agreement than there was disagreement.”

Parking and traffic

Brendmoen said the street could use a new design approach. The current design was drafted over 15 years ago, she said, and “is focused on moving cars fast.”

“That’s just not the way we design streets anymore,” she said.

Rather, they’re designed to accommodate multiple modes of transportation, she said, including walkers, bikers and mass transit.

Chief among the issues brought up about lower Payne Avenue was a lack of off-street parking for businesses such as Morelli’s, Yarusso’s and La Palma.

Fred Yarusso, owner of Yarusso’s Restaurant, said he hoped the workshop will lead to “a better flow towards the whole area here.”

He said as it is now, there’s a lot of traffic jams near the intersection where his restaurant sits at East Seventh and Tedecso Street.

“It gets pretty stiff around here,” he said.

Swede Hollow, Bruce Vento

Brendmoen said residents chimed in about different ways to connect with Swede Hollow and the Bruce Vento Trail with Railroad Island.

Vaughn also said he’d like to see solutions for how to connect Swede Hollow Park and its trail system to the area.

“That trail is a huge amenity for that neighborhood, and right now access is difficult,” he said. 

Next steps

The St. Paul Design Center will be compiling input from the workshop into a working document that would be used to inform future development along the street.

Moving forward, Riverfront Corporation will summarize ideas and concepts it heard from residents and local businesses, with the goal of having tangible plans to be able to present to different city departments -- in specific, one goal is to have a revised street design plan to present as a candidate for funding through Capital Improvement Budget funds.

Beyond that, a lot remains to be seen.

But Vaughn said he hoped the workshop would help fill in puzzle pieces to the “partially fulfilled potential” that is lower Payne Avenue.

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at Follow him on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.


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