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East Tosa Plan Up for Approval

North Avenue redesign calls for up to $5.4 million in public investment through 2026.

A $5.4 million plan to redesign a 16-block stretch of North Avenue known as East Tosa will go before two city committees this week, capping a year-long process to create a strategic plan to redevelop the area.

The East Tosa North Avenue Plan  calls for incremental public project improvements, from 2011-12 through 2025-26, to help make East Tosa a destination business district that focuses on niche markets and complements the adjacent neighborhoods.

The plan plots public investment of nearly $2.5 million within the first five years, and estimates private investment could near $8.5 million during that same period.

The plan, developed by RDG Planning and Design of Omaha, Neb., incorporates four subdistricts within East Tosa, each with its own center, at 62nd, 65th, 69th and 72nd streets. The subdistrict divisions correspond with changes in residential architecture.

"It is neighborhood driven, with small commercial districts, which are their glue," said Meg Miller, founder of the North Avenue Neighborhood Alliance that spearheaded the drive for the city to develop a strategic plan for the East Tosa area. "It is creating a community space (on North Avenue) where people can visit, and that is an extension of their home."

A priority in the plan: eliminating the "chicane" street design – the protected left-turn lanes that have been controversial since they first were created about a dozen years ago. Miller said chicane removal is targeted for the first year under the plan.

Although the chicane design accomplished its goals, to slow and divert traffic, it did so to a fault, Miller said. The chicane design also made it difficult for motorists to spy businesses while driving in the area, as navigating the curious jags make it so "you don't want to take your eyes off the road for a second.... You are on your own Mario Andretti race course."

And when motorists must concentrate on navigating North Avenue, that leaves little opportunity to spy opportunities to stop and shop, dine or stroll the street to discover local businesses.

Eliminating the chicane and restriping the road to delineate street parking and bicycle lanes, she said, will immediately make North Avenue safer and easier to navigate, for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. Those projects are among the $952,000 in public improvements identified for the first year under the proposed plan.

The first-year improvements also call for four-way stops at 64th and 72nd streets, where there are no traffic controls, for at least a three- to six-month evaluation period. The stop signs are an inexpensive way to create gaps in traffic that will ease pedestrian crossing. The early plans also call for a $50,000 investment in a wayfinding system – signage that directs motorists to public parking and district features.

The first steps to create a cleaner throughway will be a key benefit for businesses, with more on-street parking and easier pedestrian, bicycle and motorist access, according to Miller. This access is essential so businesses can capture dollars that a market study in the plan shows are “walking out the door,” Miller said.

The market study shows a reinvigorated East Tosa could capitalize on millions of dollars that currently are spent outside the district. The study shows that residents in the North Avenue trade area spend nearly $75 million a year outside the district, and the model for new and reoccupied retail space in the district could capture 7.6 percent of those dollars – or more than $5.7 million.

Although area residents indicated in surveys that a full-service grocery store for the area is highly desired, the market study shows East Tosa is better poised to deliver specialty retail, including specialty foods. The retail sales potential under the plan model for new and reoccupied retail space in the district includes:

Full-service restaurants: North Avenue trade area residents spend nearly $20 million a year dining outside the district. With only 18 eating and drinking establishments in East Tosa, the plan estimates growth of these businesses within the district have the potential to generate an additional $2.5 million in annual sales.

Specialty clothing: East Tosa boutiques, specialty apparel and children’s clothing shops could capture up to $1.25 million in additional annual sales.

Specialty foods; hobby, toys and games; automative parts; and home-related "arts" items: Growth in these areas combined hold the potential to generate another $1.8 million in annual sales.

Creating a vibrant commercial district not only benefits businesses, but residential property owners as well, by bolstering property values, Miller said. Adopting a strategic plan for East Tosa, she added, allows those interested in expanding or bringing new business to the area to invest in businesses identified as a good fit for the district, and so have the greatest potential for success.

As example, she said, "if you are interested in starting a toy store, you know right away there is a market for that here. If you follow what this (plan) shows, you will succeed. It is very clear how much money is spent."

Under the plan's timeline,  the first-year East Tosa improvements would include:

  • Removing the chicane design and other street modifications, at a cost of $260,000.
  • Creating wayfinding and a touchpoint matrix, a digital barcode system displayed in business windows that would allow smartphone and iPad users to scan the matrix code to link to internet connections about district businesses, at a combined cost of $100,000.
  • Creating a 69th Street Center, at the heart of East Tosa, to include expanded parking, a sidewalk pavilion and public square space with a stage for community events, at a cost of $592,000.

Three additional subcenters would be created one at a time over a period of five to six years, at 62nd, 65th and 72nd streets. The 62nd Street Center carries the highest price tag of the four subcenters, at $950,000, and would include a neighborhood commons and children’s interactive water fountain feature just north of North Avenue on 62nd Street.

The East Tosa plan incorporates ideas from residents and business owners who “believe in living here and in this lifestyle” of close-knit neighborhoods served by their own distinct commercial area, according to Miller.

The plan was paid for through a Community Development Block Grant, that allowed the city to contract with RDG Planning and Design for $39,934 to develop the East Tosa plan, according to Nancy Welch, the city’s community development director.

Welch notes that the plan provides the city with a vision, although implementing it is subject to other considerations, including available funding. The East Tosa plan allows for the redevelopment to occur in phases, and public infrastructure improvements – such as street redesign – would need to be incorporated into the city’s capital expenditure budget. The costs for other improvements, such as streetscaping and other amenities, may be borne by the city, or by private, non-profit groups, Welch said, noting that “the city is not going to come in and just do everything.”

The East Tosa North Avenue Plan goes before the Plan Commission Monday and the Community Development Committee Tuesday, before heading to the Common Council for approval.

Peter May 09, 2011 at 09:38 PM
Stop signs?? Are you kidding me? The only thing more ridiculous than the chicane design would be putting in stop signs. Stops signs would be 24/7, meaning backups at rush hour and needless stopping at night. How about a pedestrian stop light that can be activated when needed?
Jim Price May 09, 2011 at 10:59 PM
Interesting idea, Peter. Plan Commission hears this tonight at 7, Community Development tomorrow at 8 p.m. You should e-mail your thoughts to your aldermen if you can't attend. This plan is driven by the desire for businesses to have more visibility, but you're right, people aren't thinking about that at 5:15 when they're trying to get home from work or at 10 p.m. when they're coming home from dinner and a movie.

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