The Shops of West End’s Parking Ramp Problem

A Parking Problem

St. Louis Park’s lifestyle center, The Shops of West End, has problems. Its vacancies are more than double the metro average and a 20,000 square foot block has never been filled.

West End Vacancy

Vacant shops at West End.

In March, 2019 the Twin Cities Business Magazine did an article on why. The article is well worth a read; it details a long sad tale of woe regarding inexperienced developers, terrible timing, the rapidly changing retail scene, and fundamental design errors. The project was beyond the point of no return when the recession hit and building on top of structured parking limited flexibility or being able to build incrementally. But notable was this excerpt:

The center’s awkward design continues to be an obstacle, local developers say. The Twin Cities’ two other similar “main street”-designed lifestyle centers, Shoppes at Arbor Lakes in Maple Grove and Woodbury Lakes, both have the suburban luxury of surface parking on all sides. The underground parking that was thought to be a West End perk has proven off-putting to shoppers.

“Minnesotans don’t view a ramp as convenient. That’s what I’ve learned about Minnesota consumers,” says John Johannson, senior vice president of Colliers International in the Twin Cities. Asking suburban shoppers to shop someplace without convenient up-front parking is really difficult… It’s a good lesson in trying to engineer design where you’re asking people to change their social behavior.”

Colliers’ Central Park Commons in Eagan is an example of the latest thinking about suburban lifestyle centers. Rather than erecting a faux main street in the middle of a parking lot, Central Park Commons was designed as several mini-strip centers throughout the property, each with its own surface parking and circular roads and sidewalks connecting each group of buildings. The design does little to promote walking, but visitors seem only too happy to drive across the parking lot from HyVee to Punch Pizza.

This asseveration might shock some people (and led to a lot of discussion on the forum), but it came as no shock to me. Parking ramps are something both myself and my sister try to avoid; I’d prefer not to park in a ramp, and she absolutely will not. When going to the Mall of America, she will opt to park in the surface lots across the street and walk a much farther distance rather than use the ramp. Apart from not having kids and telecommuting I unabashedly consider myself a stereotypical suburbanite. I love driving everywhere. I love chain restaurants. I love living in a single family detached house. So it’s not surprising to me that my preference to avoid ramps is shared by other suburbanites.

Hyvee and Punch Pizza

Hy-Vee (front left) to Punch Pizza (way in back at right) at Central Park Commons


Ramp Revulsion

So why don’t a lot of people like ramps? I’ll throw out a few possibilities:

  • Fear of Crime: Ramps tend to be dimly lit and not as visible from the street or nearby buildings as surface lots, where you have the idea that someone is always watching. It’s true that unlike lots, they generally have security cameras and panic buttons. But if one person is reassured, another person might wonder if anyone is watching the cameras and if the panic buttons actually work, and a third person might think that there must have been a tremendous amount of crime there to justify installing the apparatus.
  • Tight spaces. Due to the premium costs ramps tend to have really tight spaces and aisles, no doubt the standards come from when our vehicle fleet was smaller. My Toyota Rav4 isn’t especially big by modern American standards. But it’s still tight maneuvering and parking in a ramp, where the aisle and spaces are less generous than lots due to the extra cost.
  • Effort and Orientation: It’s also quite a bit more tedious to reach say the third floor of the parking ramp compared to a space in a surface lot, then to find your way out where you don’t have a visual on where you want to go.
  • Ramps can produce something akin to claustrophobia in sensitive individuals, with their low ceilings and pillars relative to their horizontal size. There’s a good reason stores are built with much more ceiling height than is functionally necessary.
  •  I’d also suggest the one purported advantage of ramps- shelter- is overrated. If the weather’s bad I’m not about to go out shopping anyway. There’s nothing at West End I need bad enough to go out and get in a snowstorm, or even when it’s merely raining or brutally hot or cold.  West End doesn’t sell the things you might need regardless of weather- there’s a CVS or Walgreens near you for those.
  • Finally  there’s the idea parking ramps cost money and/or isn’t for you. Even if a sign says “free public parking” to a suburbanite unfamiliar with them the mass of the parking ramp communicates “this costs money” and “this is not for you”. A lot of places don’t even have signs indicating parking is free or that you can self-park without the expense and hassle of a valet.

Here’s a sign on the Central Park commons ramp. It’s way too small relative to the mass of the parking ramp.  There really should be a sign taking up most of the skyway saying “<—FREE PUBLIC RETAIL SELF-PARKING. NO VALIDATION REQUIRED”

West End Parking Ramp Entrance

West End Parking Ramp Entrance

For me, on-street parking is not really a substitute for surface lots either. Although it dispenses with all the above mentioned drawbacks, the problem is that it’s often time limited, may not be available, and at many of these places is parallel. I don’t know how to parallel park. My sister doesn’t either. Somehow against all odds we managed to “parallel park” on our drivers exams without hitting anything yet good enough to count. Absolutely no way were either of us ever going to attempt it again in the real world, where you could hit a BMW instead of a flimsy metal pole. Either the places we go have alternative parking, or we don’t go. Maybe self-driving cars will change this in the future but for now I get the impression that there’s many people in the suburbs who likewise won’t or even can’t parallel park.

West End Main Street

On street parking at West End.


Why Do Ramps Work Elsewhere?

So what about parking ramps downtown and at the airport? In short, if you’re going there you don’t have a choice in the matter. I get to downtown Minneapolis maybe once a year or every other year, downtown St. Paul once every 5 years. Back in the 1990s when I was forced into going downtown during the business day for jury duty I parked easily and cheaply in a lot by the then derelict Milwaukee Road Depot. Nowadays, however, with the declining amount of surface parking, it’s either park in a ramp or take the bus.

Prime Therapeutics New Headquarters

Abundant free surface parking for workers at Prime’s new headquarters.

I also think there’s a bit of self-selection in where people look for jobs. If the downtown atmosphere is important and you don’t mind or even like parking ramps or public transit you try to take a job downtown. If you just want a place with convenient, free parking at work you try to take a job in the suburbs. Recently, Prime Therapeutics built a huge new building in Eagan. If it’s anything like the large company I work for in the suburbs, employees are absolutely horrified at the thought of working in a tower downtown instead of a sprawling campus with free parking. I’ve always been able to find jobs in suburban office parks or corporate campuses so I’ve never even applied for one downtown.

That being said, people that normally don’t like ramps and transit are still willing to put up with ramps or transit if the reward is big enough. A lot of people will ride a bus one day a year to the State Fair even if they would never even think about riding a bus any other time. Pro sports are another area where ramps work.  Although I’d much rather the Vikings Stadium be located in the suburbs with plenty of surface parking to be able to have tailgating, that’s not the reality. So suburbanites like me will deal with a ramp or a transit in order to attend a game. But a new pair of slacks or a hamburger at West End aren’t big enough rewards since  alternatives with surface parking exist.


This was the start of a series on the evolution of regional retail and related parking issues. Part two will step back and look at how we went from the big city downtown to regional malls to lifestyle centers like West End. Part three will take a close look at the Twin Cities lifestyle centers and try to see if West End’s parking ramps make it objectively more inconvenient. Finally, part four will conclude with a look at the parking issues in Stillwater, where there was recently a legal fight over condemning a historic building housing a small business to tear it down and build more parking.

About Monte Castleman

Monte is a long time "roadgeek" who lives in Bloomington. He's interested in all aspects of roads and design, but particularly traffic signals, major bridges, and lighting. He works as an insurance adjuster, and likes to collect maps and traffic signals, travel, recreational bicycling, and visiting amusement parks.

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41 thoughts on “The Shops of West End’s Parking Ramp Problem

  1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

    There is also a parking ramp entrance from West End Blvd. and there are 2 entrances to underground parking below the stores.

    The underground parking is regularly packed so it’s difficult to say it isn’t popular.

    Likewise in evenings the ramp is packed when movies are showing. Often overflowing across Duke Dr.

  2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    Suburban resident here, also drive to many shopping destinations, and I strongly prefer ramp parking for most situations. It’s nice to have a couple short-term spots if you’re just running in — I think this is best accomplished with an on-street bay, and West End does this.

    Part of this is my interest in urban design and planning — Shoppes at West End is soul-crushing. But a lot of this is truly convenience

    I think the shelter aspect is a bigger deal than you’re making it out to be. In the summer, the car is deathly hot after sitting out in a surface lot for an hour or more, and the air conditioning is fighting to cool it down your entire drive home. In the winter, you risk having to tediously clear snow from the car. Pollen, bird poop, etc are also factors.

    I also think in the case of large malls, convenience is a factor. A ramp can get you a lot closer to where you want to go than walking a half-mile across a big surface lot.

    Two areas where I agree ramps could be improved:

    Clarify if free. I agree ramps are associated with paid parking for a lot of Minnesotans. Sign the crap out of it — yeah, it’s a little unsightly, but not as unsightly as a a big surface parking lot.

    Make it brighter, cleaner, more pleasant. Walking across big surface lots is unpleasant, but ramps can be creepy and dehumanizing — particularly the stairwells. LED lighting and white paint are cheap! We should brighten these places up, and reduce the number of big metal doors you need to go through.

  3. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    I can’t believe that first photo is not photoshopped! But it’s real.

    Um, some good points but ramps are fine. People ought to get used to them. I am thinking of starting up a parking therapy business.

    Also, Monte I hereby offer to take you to downtown Saint Paul one a year for lunch, on me. We’ll park in the Victory Ramp and it will blow your mind. I’m serious!

  4. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    But one related critique of West End: one of the biggest benefits of ramps is that they allow a place to have a suburban amenity (ample car parking) without making it incompatible with walk, bike, and transit — which massive surface lots do.

    West End makes the investment in ramps, but it remains totally incompatible with walk, bike, and transit — kind of wasting that. Park Place Blvd is a miserable stroad — there’s a sad MUP on the opposite side. Access to the nearby regional trail is not intuitive at all.

    Other than rush hour express, the only bus access is the 9, a winding, tedious route that only runs every 30 minutes.

      1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        I wasn’t aware of this route — but still, once an hour, with the only nearby stop being farther away than any of the parking ramps.

        Better than nothing but it’s still very clearly not a transit-oriented development

  5. Pine SalicaPine Salica

    Have you ever tried biking there? I did! They have bike racks in that ramp! Most of the trip there and back was nice, the best parts of that trip for me…
    The one trip I made to go to a movie out there put a huge distaste in my mouth for the whole city, painfully reminding me of some southern California suburbs (Calabasas, to be precise) that I had escaped on purpose. The words “distopian hellscape” came out of my mouth several times while navigating the area, and I won’t be caught dead going again to be honest.
    We agree on something for once!!

    1. Cobo R

      Distopian hellscape? really?…. It is isn’t perfect, but a hellscape it is not.

      Biking to west end is doable but not great. It has virtually no connection to the cedar lake north trail that is right next to it and the street biking experience to get there is a bit precarious, at least for me.

      For driving In general I prefer ramp parking vs huge parking lots. I just find large parking lots to be unpleasant, especially in the summer, and winter.

      The main reason I don’t go to west end often is that there isn’t much there for me. A few of the restaurants are nice, I guess.. but nothing too special. The movie theater is above average.. but I almost never go to movies. Is there anything else there?

  6. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    Yeah, the problem at the West End isn’t parking. It’s that they built a “lifestyle center” with no housing. Hard to be a “lifestyle” when no one lives there.

    But sure, if you’re going to build something that’s entirely dependent on driving to it, it needs to be as easy as possible to drive to. We shouldn’t be building places that are entirely dependent on driving to them, certainly not in the city but probably everywhere at this point.

    1. Monte Castleman Post author

      Arbor Lakes has no housing and appears to be doing just fine
      Woodbury Lakes has no housing and appears to be doing just fine
      Central Park Commons has no housing and appears to be doing just fine.

      Whether West End’s problems are partly or mainly parking or not, I don’t think lack of housing is a problem since these other lifestyle centers seem to be doing just fine; at least I didn’t see an unusual number of vacancies. There’s no reasonable amount of density that will support regional retail- think mall and lifestyle center stores such as women’s clothing stores that the average person would go to a couple of times a year, if ever.

      I debated talking about this in the series and decided not to for pacing and because I don’t pretend to know a lot about the situation, but my perspective is you’re seeing the weird experiment with putting regional retail in Uptown (Gap, Columbia, North Face) come to an end because there’s not enough density in the walkshed and they’re too inconvenient to drive and park at compared to the alternatives.

      1. Elizabeth Larey

        Thank you Monty for the article. As much as most people would like to eliminate cars, it’s not going to happen in the Twin Cities any time soon. Because we are too spread out.
        I used to go to downtown Mpls all the time. As the surface lots disappeared, I switched to Lyft. I had two bad experiences with drivers, so I stopped doing that. As a single woman, I have a valid fear of dark parking ramps.
        You also pointed out in your reply that national retail can’t make it in city neighborhoods that lack adequate parking. You correctly state their aren’t enough people within walking distance to support those stores.And since retail has left downtown, because parking has also left, that leaves the suburbs for retail.
        So what is left for the city? Bars and restaurants, and how’s that going to play out after the Covid issue? Not very well I think
        In order for all areas to thrive we need balance. And whether you like it or not, people still want to drive. They are not going to take a bus to go out to dinner. And there aren’t enough people that live in these areas to support retail. And now probably spaced out restaurants.

        1. Matt EckholmMatt Eckholm

          “Bars and restaurants, and how’s that going to play out after the Covid issue? Not very well I think”

          Bars and restaurants exist out of convenience. It’s far cheaper to eat and drink at home, but humans are lazy and seek out convenient comforts. The idea that nobody is going to go out to eat after Covid is ludicrous, considering how before shelter-in-place, people continued to do so anyway until they literally shut everything down.

      2. Cobo R

        I really don’t like going to Arbor lakes… It looks like a pleasant place, and there is some decent stuff there…. But its just a terrible driving experience… Curvy roads that make no sense, forced to do left turns on busy roads with poor visibility… Disjointed parking lots that are right next to each other but not connected… Every single time I go there something happens that invokes road rage….

        Why is that place soo popular!…

        The only reason I ever go there is if I value i put on the social obligation that brings me there passes a high threshold.

        1. Jerome Johnson

          Why? When it comes down to it, not much else anywhere near. Iy basically replaced Brookdale, a conventional mall with surface wraparound parking and easy ingress/egress. Then the NW suburban economy boomed, development fled northwest along I-94 and Arbor Lakes/Maple Grove was in the way.

    2. Ben

      I don’t think either of these points correct – there are multiple 5/6 story multifamily housing complexes in the area, with even more under construction, and the 645 and 9 both serve the area with relatively high frequency/speed.

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        Some nearby housing has been added after it was built, but it’s still ludicrous to build a faux town center with no housing. Betting, at the time that this was built and malls were already struggling, that you could fill a mall that is entirely dependent on people driving to it was predictably unwise.

        It’s not like this is a new concept, but for some reason these developers didn’t get it.

  7. Bob Roscoe

    I strongly admit to being suburbophobe. I used to think suburbs are bad for the environment, but reading these comments, I now think suburbs are useful to keep these people out of the citys’ downtowns and neighborhoods.
    This morning I went to Noll Hardware on Raymond in Saint Paul and i parked on front of the store. After work I will go to the Wine Thief in Saint Paul and park in front. Other places my wife and I visit have street parking in front.

    Any place on Grand Avenue is worth the walking there. Yes – I said walking.

  8. Jeb RachJeb Rach

    While I disagree with the assertion that parking ramps are a severe deterrent in all cases, or even most cases, I do think that using the parking ramps in the way they did, for the environment and businesses in the West End, was a poor decision. The ramps were built in such a way that it’s not clear how to access the rest of the shopping center, without sidewalk access to the rest of the area in some cases! There’s also not enough within walking distance to make it worthwhile – if I’m going to have to repark anyways to get to Costco, or have to navigate a maze past Cub to get back to my car in the ramp (since the parking at Cub is limited to only while at Cub) I’m not going to spend additional time exploring the area by foot while on a grocery run.

    If parking ramps were as terrible for suburbanites as asserted in the article, Mall of America would be a lot less busy, as would IKEA. Both of those have decently full ramps, in my experience. They just need to be designed well and make it easy to get to whatever the final destination is. In cities, that means easy access to ground level sidewalks; in malls and lifestyle centers, that means obvious, easy access to all the businesses served by the ramp.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      “If parking ramps were as terrible for suburbanites as asserted in the article, Mall of America would be a lot less busy, as would IKEA.”

      This. I think IKEA’s is particularly well-done — although also not very walk-up friendly. But the interface of tuck-under parking and store is customer-friendly and space efficient.

      1. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

        I took the train to the MOA and walked to the IKEA once, and the whole experience almost killed me.

        1. Evan RobertsEvan

          It’s gotten better now you can walk through the mall, and the hotel. Still somewhat depressing, but not as bad as it used to be.

    2. Lou Miranda

      The parking ramps at 50th & France were just expanded. There’s multilevel parking at Southdale Center, The Galleria, and Centennial Lakes, just to name a few off the top of my head. That’s all in one suburb.

      In other parts of St. Louis Park (where the West End is), there is ramp parking at Excelsior & Grand that is quite full and plenty of useful stores like a coffee shop, drug store, tavern, groceries, etc. Just down the block, Fresh Thyme has parking inside the building and no outside parking at all.

      These all seem quite successful. I think Jeb is right that it’s not (only) the parking that’s the problem at the West End. Perhaps it’s the rent? Maybe it’s the right mix of stores? To park in one spot and visit multiple stores, you need more than just entertainment. Jane Jacobs warned about this in the 1960s, when you don’t have diversity in uses.

      1. Matt EckholmMatt Eckholm

        I think cost of rent is the unexplored reason for West End’s vacancies. And Uptown’s vacancies for that matter. If you can’t find businesses willing to pay what you’ve considered to be market rate rent, you actually have above market rate rent.

        1. Pat Thompson

          “If you can’t find businesses willing to pay what you’ve considered to be market rate rent, you actually have above market rate rent.” THIS!

    3. Mark

      Agreed. West Elm’s ramp suffers from a horrible layout with access points and signage that isn’t clear. It’s integration to the rest of the area doomed it from the start. Nothing to do with housing, or a lack of. It’s like an outsider going to downtown Minneapolis and trying to figure out how to access the skyways.

    4. Monte Castleman Post author

      I think Mall of America and IKEA are like the examples of attending a Vikings game- it’s special enough that parking ramps can work. IKEA can be a major thing; the Mall has the Nick Universe, and a lot of stores you can’t find anywhere with mainly surface parking. Then you have the waterpark thing coming; the Mall owners are trying to get towards a 50 / 50 retail mix. By contrast I think you’d have a problem if you had a place like Burnsville Center with a parking ramp when people could just go to Eden Prairie Center with surface parking.

  9. Karl

    I’d posit the biggest issue with the West End relative to the Arbor Lakes and Woodbury centers is it offers nothing unique. For their specific corners of the metro, the other two offer unique retail offerings. Outside of what, Lucky Cricket and Punch Bowl I don’t believe there’s a single business at West End that you can’t find another location of five minutes away down 100 or either way on 394.

  10. Dan MarshallDan Marshall

    First, I think it’s important to know how to parallel park.

    Second, I’m trying to imagine why people drive from places like Bloomington to Maple Grove, St. Louis Park, and Woodbury to shop at chain stores.

    Third, The Shops at West End has many design problems, the biggest of which is that it’s squeezed into the armpit of 394 and Hwy 100, both of which are congested with suburban commuters during many of the prime shopping hours of the day. It’s not at all easy to get to from adjacent neighborhoods. And, like most sprawl shopping centers of its kind, its faux urbanist aesthetic is undermined by the acres of big box parking lots all around it. It would be a far more successful mall if it were surrounded by apartments and parks instead of freeways, Costco, and Home Depot. If it were, so to speak, in a city instead of a suburb.

    1. Monte Castleman Post author

      I don’t think many people from Bloomington are driving to Maple Grove to go to chain stores either. The lifestyle center is the functional replacement for the regional mall (and in fact IRC Arbor Lakes was originally planned as a regional mall but by that time mall anchors were in their free-fall and not interested in new stores), so I assume most people from the south metro are going to Burnsville Center, Eden Prairie Center, or Southdale where there’s still malls hanging on by inertia.

    2. Dan MarshallDan Marshall

      I don’t think Arbor Lakes vs Shops at West End is a fair comparison tho. Arbor Lakes was part of a vast project to commercialize Maple Grove’s gravel pits with significant city support. This development has been ongoing since KMart built the first store in the area over 30 years ago. This development was always planned and promoted as the main commercial center of the still rapidly growing suburb. The sprawl malls of Woodbury and Eagan share a similar background.

      The West End, on the other hand, was once a healthy mixed use commercial area along Hwy 12, with the iconic Cooper Theater and a large Honeywell manufacturing plant along with many restaurants and a scattering of shops. With the widening of Hwy 12 to create 394 (also ~30 years ago), much of this was lost. Honeywell closed up shop not long after. As such, the West End is actually a redevelopment and has had to work around existing infrastructure. It has never been the center of SLP and is in fact disconnected from the majority of SLP’s residents. A fairer comparison might be the Quarry in NE Mpls or the up and coming developments at Malcolm Yards in SE Mpls or in StP’s Midway around the Allianz field.

  11. Tommy Martino

    I really struggle to understand the perspective where free parking ramps are a hardship for suburbanites and not an accommodation of them, and in many cases a subsidy. (But then, I really struggle to understand the idea that it’s difficult to park…pretty much anywhere in Minnesota.)

    Now with that said, it’s clear that West End’s urban-ish concept hasn’t really paid off for them. I think, as others have suggested here, neither the developers nor the local planners have really gone quite far enough to benefit from (new) urbanism.

    The “main street” is still car-dominated–if the plan is for traffic to be pushed to the perimeter anyway, why not commit to the concept and make the interior street a pleasant, car-free space? Meanwhile the sidewalk café spaces mostly open out onto four-lane stroads, parking garage entrances, or both: not exactly the most scenic place to sit and have dinner!

    None of the surrounding environment is consistent with urban usage. Duke Drive, one street over from the “Main”, doesn’t even have a sidewalk and has no crossings for the entire length of West End! Nearby office buildings, hotels, and condos–including very new ones–don’t have activated streets (e.g., street-level retail) that would bring walkers and allow a more natural integration with the development. Surrounding businesses, mostly fast food and big box, don’t have street-facing entrances. It should’ve been a priority to have pedestrian-friendly corridors allowing access to the site from at least the north and west, but ideally the south and east as well.

    Connections from further away are even worse. No accommodations exist to help people in the large office and apartment developments across 394 access the site. Fairly dense suburban neighborhoods to the south and west are cut off by railroads and industrial sites.

    Transit connections are very poor. The 9 bus is labyrinthine. SWLRT will stop about a mile and a half to the south, but the distance is a moot point given there’s two highways and a railroad in the way. The Cedar Lake Trail runs immediately to the south of the development and in theory connects to Uptown, Downtown, and another SWLRT stop (Bryn Mawr). I say “in theory” because there’s no connection across the railroad near the development and even if there were, there are no cycle or pedestrian facilities to finish the journey.

    I’d love to see improvements poured in to try and salvage this area, because it’s so close to other key areas like Downtown, and has at least a start at some of the right ideas. But it would be a huge undertaking, and I don’t think the developers or the city have the appetite for it.

    1. Lou Miranda

      Many excellent points, Tommy.

      I just want to point out that last year St. Louis Park implemented a major bikeway along Cedar Lake Rd., and just approved a bridge going across the railroad tracks, connecting to Dakota Ave. to the south.

  12. Kristine

    West End made a huge mistake by not spreading their restaurants throughout West End Blvd instead of all on one end. If they have been spread out, this would have benefited the retail “shops” at West End driving traffic throughout the mall, not only to one end. Plus you can’t see what is at West End from Park Place so all the people going in and out of Home Depot, Costco, LifeTime, etc don’t even know what is on the other side of the street. The issue with the ramp is that the exits are in poor locations unless you’re going to the restaurants on the very end.

  13. Dave Carlson

    A few observations about West End from a St. Louis Park resident:
    The #9 bus is every half hour and stops right in the heart of West End.
    There IS housing in the immediate area, plenty of 5-6 story apartments (and some condos I think) and another one going up where the old Olive Garden was (a whole other story!)
    The underground parking ramp is OK, just follow the “P” signs to get there, it is convenient to the movies and the bar/restaurants right above, better land use than surface lots, and is well-used. I have never had a problem with safety as it is used enough that there are always folks coming and going, and my car is much warmer when I come back to it in the winter.
    That said, it is difficult to bike to (we call it the “black hole” of biking in StLP); walking is not bad within the complex but difficult access to the other shopping, etc. across the street. Access from I-394/100 is challenging until you get used to it.
    I don’t actually go there all that often but most of the places are fine and seem to be doing well (up until recently), not sure why there are the vacancies but I don’t think because of parking. Besides the housing, more offices are moving into the area so that will help.

    1. Ben

      I agree with all of these points. There is definitely not a lack of housing or job density in the area – it’s exploding with nice, dense multifamily housing and there are huge office buildings. You can tell how well they compliment the restaurants if you try to go for happy hour to one of these places – it seems like the entire office goes stops for a drink before going home.

      St. Louis Park has done a good job of making it a pedestrian-focused area, despite being surrounded by highways and big box retail on the outside. I hope something can be done to fill in the remaining businesses.

  14. Ron

    I agree, there’s a problem with parking, and it’s not related to scarcity – the 2 behemoth ramps behind the mall provide plenty of parking. It’s just not intuitive to use.

    Personally, I find it easiest to use Duke Dr to access the parking ramp. Adding/Improving the signage along Gamble Drive and W 16th Street could make using the ramps more intuitive.

    BTW – Strong Towns has a theory to explain why rents are not reduced to fill vacancies.

    1. Monte Castleman Post author

      I think part of the idea of lifestyle centers is the pretentiousness and exclusivity- creating a different form than a strip mall and keeping rent high enough to keep dollar stores and thrift shops out. The property manager would get more money renting the space next to Victoria’s Secret to Dollar Tree than letting is sit vacant, but then that would upset Victoria’s Secret

  15. Steve Gjerdingen

    I’ve only been to the West End about 4 times in my entire life. Because I live in the east metro, I’ve driven there every time. The first 3 times were for a friend who wanted to celebrate their birthday at one of the restaurants in that area. The last time I went was to see a movie that was only playing at the West End theater and I was already running late. I could have navigated until I found that ramp, but instead I chose to park in an empty surface lot by an office building just north of Cub Foods. I completely agree with the comments made earlier that the parking ramp is not intuitive at all to find. And it would have taken longer to hunt for a spot in there behind a stream of cars than it would to have just pulled into a surface spot.

    I’m disappointed that the West End doesn’t have more on-street parking. This would eliminate a lot of the parking frustrating. And why are there surface lots in the area that are completely empty or less than half full in the evening? To me that seems like poor management on the city’s part for promoting shared resources.

    I am in agreement that the Cedar Lake trail does not connect efficiently with the West End as it should. More importantly, Cedar Lake Road is a discontinuous mess:
    *Cedar Lake Road is disconnected due to the rail corridor that the Cedar Lake trail follows. A bridge would fix this issue.
    *The segment of Cedar Lake Road west of the tracks has been renamed to “old Cedar Lake Road” and does not go underneath Highway 100, connecting intuitively with the district like it should. This misalignment is a failure in urban planning with the city of St. Louis Park and MnDOT. There are other good examples of this kind of failure/discontinuity in the area as well. Look at Golden Valley Road.
    Having a better/continuous Cedar Lake Road (with access to Cedar Lake Trail) would solve the access issues for trail users coming from the east. That said there also needs to be a solution for trail users coming from the west.

    Regarding parking, I always prefer surface spots to parking in a ramp. I’d rather be walking from a distant parking spot and getting exercise than staring at someone’s bumper in a stream of 5 cars slowly ambling up a ramp hoping to find a spot that’s not on the roof. I cringe when I hear about ramp prices (in ramps that are not free). The other thing I hate about ramps is that it’s super easy to lose your car on the way back (what level was I on again?). Yes, I live in the suburbs and never have had to work downtown consistently in my entire life. There were a handful of times where I had work events downtown or was visited a client downtown during the middle of a workday. My solution to not have to park in a ramp? I parked in Northeast and rode my bike the last mile in.

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