A new restaurant is coming to Smith Avenue, here’s how you can help (updated)

A renowned local chef wants to breathe new life into this vacant space on Smith Avenue.

If you live in the Smith Avenue neighborhood and want to see new upscale dining options in the neighborhood, it’s very important you come to the West St. Paul city council meeting tonight. (UPDATE: The city council approved a liquor license for the restaurant and is working to approve a permit for outdoor seating once new plans are finalized. Thanks to everyone who came out to speak!)

Robert and Ann Ulrich, the owners of Mendoberri in Mendota Heights, are planning to open a new restaurant called FoodSmith at 973/975 Smith Avenue. The building, which until recently was home to Deckci Deco/Cici Events, had previously been vacant for several years.

In their application, the Ulrichs say they have an agreement to purchase the building and plan to open a “bistro-pub” concept, focusing on a chef-driven menu along with beer and wine. The Ulrichs also highlight how their restaurant will help realize some of the goals of the Smith Avenue Revitalization Plan by introducing a new dining option along with outdoor seating.

Last week, the West St. Paul planning commission unanimously recommended approval of a liquor license and a permit for the outdoor seating area. As indicated in the planning commission’s report, some neighbors have already started complaining about parking, even though the owners are working to secure an agreement with the Doddway shopping center across the street, which has abundant parking in the evening.

The West St. Paul City Council will take up the issue tonight in a public hearing, as part of the regular meeting that starts at 6:30 p.m. Please show up, or call or email Ward 3 council members John Bellows and Dave Napier if you support this new restaurant and want to see it approved.

Open house planned for August 10 for Smith / Dodd intersection

A concept of what future redevelopment in the Smith/Dodd area could look like with realigned streets.

As discussed in an earlier post, an advisory committee (including yours truly) has been meeting over the spring/summer to discuss possible future realignment of the Smith/Dodd intersection. This group consists of residents, business owners and other stakeholders.

The group has narrowed down the options to three basic concepts, and the city is planning to host an open house on August 10 from 5-7 p.m. at Doddway shopping center, in the former salon space next to Snap Fitness.

Keeping in mind the existing Smith Avenue redevelopment plan along with other existing city plans, the group has been working alongside design consultants to balance a number of priorities, including the following:

  • Improving walkability and overall safety for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists
  • Calming traffic to create a more welcoming environment
  • Improving visibility and access to businesses and preserving parking
  • Preserving existing park space and creating new opportunities for open space

At present there are three basic designs moving forward (this attachment, which was distributed to the city council, includes four but Option 1 has been eliminated at this point for a number of obvious reasons). Please bear in mind that these are just concepts and are not final plans.

Option 2 prioritizes car traffic moving along Highway 149:

Option 3 is the much-rumored roundabout:

And Option 4 is an idea introduced by members of the group that centers around Smith Avenue:

There is currently no estimate of what any of these options would cost because – once again – these are only design concepts and not plans. City staff have ballparked the entire project in the $2-$3 million range, depending on right-of-way acquisitions and other costs. The city already owns the former repair shop property on the southwest corner of the intersection. Also any recaptured land will likely be turned into commercial property or public open space.

Another important caveat – this realignment will not be part of the upcoming MnDOT reconstruction of Highway 149. This is a separate city project that is currently not funded, and there is no firm timetable for construction. Under the MnDOT project there will be no improvement to the intersection beyond bringing sidewalks and ramps into basic ADA compliance.

So! If you want to see a safer, walkable and more vibrant Smith Avenue, now is the time to speak up. Having a preference of one design over another is useful information, but be sure to tell your city council representatives what you want to see prioritized as the project moves forward.

UPDATE: since this question has come up in some Facebook comments, here are traffic counts in the area (2015 MnDOT data)