Lower Payne plan’s on the drawing board

A map of the section of Payne Avenue near Morelli’s and Yarussos imagines pedestrian plazas, improved lighting, better parking, and added green space. The plan comes out of a city initiative to redesign key streets. As of now, it’s just a plan and lacks funding. (submitted graphic)

Drive north on Payne Avenue starting at its East Seventh Street beginning and continue up to Minnehaha, and you’ll see what according to some is a disjointed, unfriendly place to be, especially if you’re not in a car.

It’s easy to miss the fact that Swede Hollow Park lies just to the east of the road, behind a few buildings, parking lots and a stretch of impenetrable greenery. And if you drive by Morelli’s at the wrong time, you may be delayed by a freight truck backing out onto the street after making a delivery.

Is it a parkway? A retail hub? An industrial strip? A place drivers just try to get “through” and walkers avoid?

To clarify the answer and make the avenue more welcoming to all kinds of transit, neighborhood organizations, businesses, and residents teamed up with the Saint Paul Riverfront Design Corporation to brainstorm a plan.

Though it will need approval from the city and the Payne Phalen district council -- and funding, of course -- the plan was sparked by a city initiative to redesign streets.

Kim O’Brien, legislative aide to city council member Amy Brendmoen, said the group’s plan for Payne looks practical and workable -- the better to secure funding.

“The main goal is to submit a project to the (Community Improvement Budget) committee for improving that section of Payne Avenue, so that it’s safer and more walkable,” O’Brien said.

Everything started with a February meeting where neighbors, local business owners, city council members and planners from the Saint Paul Riverfront Design Corporation all walked down the stretch of the street and collaborated to come up with ideas to improve the strip.

Donald Lorr, Railroad Island resident and chair of the Railroad Island Task Force, said the plan fits with what some residents and businesses have wanted for decades.

“It gathers up our desires as a community,” he said.

New lights, crossings, overlook

To ease vehicle access, the plan imagines a new parking solution for Morelli’s, Yarusso’s, and La Palma, which adjoin a curve in the avenue. The current odd cutout lot could be streamlined into a new plaza, a better parking lot, or both. 

The plan would also put an empty plot of land just south of Morelli’s to use, perhaps as a community garden or new development.

In what’s now a vast parking lot lining the east side of Payne Avenue, it imagines adding simple improvements such as a Swede Hollow Park overlook, and better foot access to the surrounding businesses. Down the line, it suggests building brownstone apartments or a commercial structure on the lot, and perhaps a trail leading into Swede Hollow.

Drivers and walkers would benefit from sidewalks built with better-designed pedestrian crossings, added lighting, benches overlooking Swede Hollow and tree plantings along the boulevard.

8 or 80

Tim Griffin from Saint Paul Riverfront Design Corporation said the plan should make the lower stretch of Payne “not just a way through the neighborhood... but a neighborhood center that would support businesses.”

The plan is still in draft stages. It will be discussed at a July 22 Payne Phalen community council meeting, held at 6:30 p.m. at the Arlington Hills Community Center, 1200 Payne Ave., in Community Room A.

If it’s approved, the document will make its way to planners in Ramsey County and St. Paul public works, as well as St. Paul Parks and Recreation and St. Paul Planning and Economic Development.

A way to grow the East Side?

The plan does not have funding sources identified, except for the redesigned intersection at Payne Avenue and East Seventh Street, which would come from the city’s Capital Improvement Budget. The intersection is ranked 15th among CIB projects, and stands to get around $97,000 in 2015 for a reworking of the intersection, and improved walking and cycling features.

Altogether, the changes -- from streets to sidewalks to plants and lighting -- should be a boost to the area, and the traffic redeign is simply necessary, Lorr posited.

“If we want the East Side to grow,” he said, “it seems appropriate that this neighborhood receives the type of funding and infrastructure development that we see throughout the city.”

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


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The overall plan sounds great---a pedestrian-safer, far more attractive area.

My one concern is the "empty plot of land just south of Morelli's." It's currently a nice grassy area with wonderful old oak trees. I assumed it belonged to the big Labor Plaza seniors' residence that sits atop the grassy slope behind it.

Couldn't we leave that lovely green piece of inner city undisturbed? Studies are showing that walking past or through such unmolested areas within a metropolis is beneficial to our blood pressure. Sure, the beautiful, lush Swede Hollow Park is just across Payne Avenue, but the park is neither visible nor accessible from the street.

Community gardens are a nice concept, but they benefit only the very few people who garden there. They can be located on any old vacant city lot. Let's retain that green space for all those who stroll or drive by it. Perhaps a few flowers could make it a "pocket park" for the neighborhood.

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