Como locals oppose building

by Jake Kapsner

University plans to consolidate Minneapolis and St. Paul Fleet Services operations to the Como neighborhood have left area residents sour.
Locals opposed to the construction of a new base for University vehicles near 29th and Como avenues southeast say their community has become a warehouse dumping ground.
“We’re the outhouse for the U,” said resident Joan Menken. But University officials say the spot is the most viable location for the service.
Fleet Services director Bill Roberts informed Menken and 13 other residents of the plans at Tuesday’s monthly meeting of the Southeast Como Improvement Association.
The plan needs final approval from the Board of Regents in June, and Roberts expects construction to begin in July or August.
Fleet Services rents and leases 550 vehicles to students, staff and faculty on the Twin Cities campus. The Minneapolis site at 2035 University Ave. S.E. repairs and maintains most of the vehicles. The fleet has a smaller St. Paul operation where mechanics service heavy equipment.
Area residents dislike the University’s concentration of maintenance and warehouse buildings in the Como neighborhood. The new shop would lie between the Printing and Graphic Arts building and a hospital storehouse.
Menken noted the land where this cluster of University facilities now sits held student homes after World War II. This housing later moved across the street where a Como Student Housing Cooperative now stands. Area residents now want more housing and fewer workshops in the neighborhood.
“It’s a very big source of frustration because the University obviously sees the property in this neighborhood as the place it’s going to put what it doesn’t want,” said Bill Dane, president of the improvement association.
The University won’t invest more money in the century-old Holman Building, which houses the current fleet, Roberts said.
Dane said the University’s master plan encourages green space on its own turf, but pushes undesirable construction into outlying neighborhoods.
“I just don’t think we’re going to tear up the Mall to build a fleet building,” Roberts said in response.
But an undesirable structure isn’t the only problem Como residents have with the plan.
Citing what they consider an overabundance of traffic on Como Avenue, plan opponents said the fleet’s proposed location only invites greater congestion.
“We realize it would increase traffic, but St. Paul campus is already coming down Como to campus,” Roberts said.
Fleet Services’ cars and trucks now make 125 trips a day to and from the Minneapolis base, Roberts said. He estimated a 60-trip per day vehicle increase with the move, many coming from St. Paul.
Moving to the Como location would mean transporting some rental car customers on a special shuttle from campus because the free connector bus no longer travels on 15th and Como avenues, Dane said.
Building along the transitway would be more logical because no one lives along it and the fleet would have instant access to the St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses alike, he said.
Fleet Services considered that plan last year, but it failed because they can’t use the road, Roberts said. The transitway was built with 90 percent federal funding under a stipulation that only buses and emergency vehicles would use it, he said.