Dinkytown business owners look to city for costly sewer

Nobody wants to pay to replace a privately owned sewer beneath 14th Avenue.

by Megan Nicolai

A dilapidated sewer system serving a block of popular Dinkytown businesses is facing an expensive overhaul and causing headaches for business owners.

AnnieâÄôs Parlour, the Kitty Cat Klub and the Loring Pasta Bar all rely on a privately-owned sewer system that has required a string of repairs in the past few years, including after a major break-down this October.

Owners say the sewer needs to be replaced, but the repair would come with a $150,000 price tag, at the least. Now they want the city of Minneapolis to pay for it.

The block-long sewer connects to city sewer systems, but is maintained by property owners on the block, who also have to shoulder all maintenance costs.

The businesses, which lie on the 300 block of 14th Avenue Southeast, have dealt with back-ups in the bathrooms and hot water shortages in the buildings.

John Rimarcik, owner of AnnieâÄôs Parlour, estimated that he and Loring Pasta Bar owner Jason McLean have each spent between $8,000 and $12,000 on the system in the past six years,

The business owners constantly worry about a cave-in, Rimarcik said. Such an event could back up toilets for businesses and even buckle roads or sidewalks outside the establishments.

The pipes first collapsed about eight years ago, said Skott Johnson, the president of the Dinkytown Business Association. Many businesses complained of damage from sewage backup at the time, he said.

Rimarcik said he and other property owners had no idea the sewer line was privately owned when they purchased the buildings and hypothesized that city officials werenâÄôt aware of the issue until the system first collapsed.

With no help from the city, businesses faced a repair job costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, but instead opted for a âÄúpatch jobâÄù to take care of the problem temporarily, Johnson said. The cityâÄôs unofficial estimate for repairs was more than $150,000, but Rimarcik said he expects the project to cost considerably more.

While the facilities are currently working, Rimarcik said heâÄôs had to close while the system was down to follow health safety codes, which require businesses to have a working bathroom. This year, heâÄôs had to shut his doors twice during business hours.

The issues with the system are embarrassing and a âÄúserious public safety issue,âÄù Rimarcik said. The cost of repairs has often fallen on him and McLean. Rimarcik said no other businesses on the block are willing to chip in.

Minneapolis Public Works officials and business owners will meet Nov. 29 to address the problem, Johnson said.

âÄúWe would work with property owners to review what needs to be done,âÄù said Lisa Cerney, the cityâÄôs director of surface water and sewers.

Cerney said the city would need to go over the current operations and condition of the system. Minneapolis could also take control of the sewer system and install new sewer pipes. Cerney wouldnâÄôt confirm how much a new sewer system might cost.

Rimarcik said that business owners could demand that city officials take over the sewer line for public safety reasons. He said the only fair course of action would be for city officials to take over and replace the system.

The city should also refund many of the expensive repairs business owners have had to undertake on a pipeline that should be maintained by the city, Rimarcik said.

Privately-owned sewer systems are uncommon in Minneapolis but not unheard of, Cerney said. Cerney estimated that about 100 were left in the city.

Some businesses arenâÄôt reporting any problems. Steve Young, the property owner for the building housing BrueggerâÄôs Bagels, said he hadnâÄôt been contacted with any problems and wasnâÄôt aware of the sewer lineâÄôs condition.

But Johnson said he didnâÄôt think another patch job would fix the problem this time.

âÄúIt needs to be replaced,âÄù Johnson said. âÄúThe issue is how [the owners] are going to tackle it.âÄù