How Little Asia Was Born

Bad city planning in the late 1970s led inadvertently to Nicollet Avenue's rebirth as the most vital ethnic

Like the Shuang Hur grocery store, many of the small businesses in the area are opening on low-interest loans through the Minneapolis Community Development Agency or from neighborhood banks like Franklin Bank, where special loans are available for local businesses. But as a whole the rebirth of Nicollet Avenue seems to be a homegrown phenomenon, rather than the result of downtown planning--unless you count the depressed values wrought by the K Mart project.

But now that business is booming, planners are beginning to take note, spearheaded by local groups like the Whittier Alliance and the Nicollet Avenue Business Association. This spring, construction will begin on a $7 million face-lift for Nicollet Avenue between Grant Street and 29th Street, including road repair, 200 new trees, and decorative street lighting. The Neighborhood Revitalization Project will pick up 75 percent of the $3 million to be spent on cosmetic improvements; property owners will be assessed for the remaining 25 percent.

Part of the redesign includes an experiment in traffic control: Northbound traffic from First Avenue will be re-routed onto Nicollet at 29th Street. Call it the reopening of Nicollet--15 years after the disastrous K Mart project, cars will finally head past the restaurants and grocery stores on Nicollet once again.

Considering the fact that traffic atrophy gave the businessmen along Nicollet a leg up by driving property values down, the assessed price tag of the new streetscape could have the opposite effect. Any significant increase in property values would undoubtedly drive marginal businesses out. But neighborhood boosters refuse to concede that that might happen. Says Berthiaume, "A diverse business community is a stable business community."

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