Laundromat plans stir

by Jake Kapsner

Compromise is stuck in spin cycle for Gopher Cleaners and Launderers owner Yoo Chi and the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association.
Chi wants to demolish the laundry building and rebuild it away from the street with parking where his business now stands.
But the neighborhood group doesn’t want his building pushed back from its 811 S.E. 4th Street location for traffic reasons and its historical significance.
Dismantling a historic retail block that includes Biermaier’s BH Books, Know Name Records and Ralph and Jerry’s convenience store will ruin their neighborhood image, said Joe Fusco, coordinator of the group’s Neighborhood Revitalization Plan.
“This is a good short term solution for his business, but a bad long term solution for the block,” Fusco said.
Yoo Chi and his wife Jong work 12-hour days at the combination dry cleaning service and coin operated laundry, which they’ve owned for 11 years. They said they can’t sustain the business without adequate parking.
A single-car alley currently cuts between the laundry and Bierman Books to a back lot, but most people pull up front to the four 15-minute public spaces on 4th Street.
The proposed 11-stall parking lot would also endanger bicyclists and pedestrians because of heavy traffic exiting Interstate 35W to 4th street, claim neighborhood association members.
University student Elizabeth Davis, a junior in the College of Liberal Arts, uses the Gopher coin laundry instead of a closer Dinkytown store because she has a place to park.
At a meeting Monday, the City Planning Department didn’t approve Chi’s initial plan, which included space for a 1000 sq. ft. coin laundry and a 2700 sq. ft. convenience store, because the design was away from the curb, said City Planner Gary Dorek.
The planning department came up with an alternative design which Chi didn’t like, Dorek said.
Fusco said his group offered Chi Neighborhood Revitalization funding to help restore his building.
Gopher neighbor Bill Biermaier doesn’t want a suburban look to the block and said he would prefer Chi rehabilitating his space.
However, Chi said developers thought it impossible to take out the massive wall, which divides his dry cleaning business into two cramped spaces, because it supports two roofs.
The earliest the planning department will revaluate the proposal is in May, said Ward 2 City Councilwoman Joan Campbell.