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Penn Central Group ‘Keeps the Dream Alive’ Five Years Later

The neighborhood group is hoping more residents and business owners will become involved in the revitalization of the Penn Avenue business district.

Starting out as a way to keep residents and businesses informed during a revitalization study in 2007, the Penn Central of Richfield neighborhood group is celebrating its fifth year of existence this March.

The group is made up of Penn Avenue business owners and area residents who want to assist in the revamping of the Penn Avenue business district, which runs along Penn from 68th Street to Highway 62.

“The business area between the Crosstown and 68th had been studied a number of times for redevelopment,” David Gepner, leader of Penn Central of Richfield, told Patch. “With a lot of the infrastructure being 50 years old it begins to deteriorate. … [And] nobody wants deteriorating and dumpy looking businesses.”

In 2006 the city signed a contract with Hoisington Koegler Group Inc. to conduct the revitalization study, according to Karen Barton, assistant director of . The study launched in the fall of 2007 and most of the work began in January 2008, kicking-off with neighborhood meetings to gain input from residents and business owners. Eventually a revitalization plan was adopted by the city and Penn Central of Richfield began its role as the area’s biggest advocate for seeing the plan through.

“Since then, we’ve been trying to keep the dream alive,” Gepner said. “It’s been five years and I think we can see progress. It wasn’t as extensive or as rapid as I had hoped or thought, but there’s been noticeable progress.”

Yes, there’s been some changes on the avenue: , converted a former Asian restaurant, and new tenants such as Ralph’s Shoe Repair and have arrived. In addition, one of the group’s most notable contributions to the community is , a community event with food, giveaways, special store sales, balloon animals and more that is held in the late summer or early fall.

While the group has seen some progress and success, Gepner joked the area needed a big controversy to stimulate more interest from stakeholders. But with no guarantee of a hot button issue on the horizon, for now, he and other members will keep pushing for the creation of an inviting business district.

"Right now we're in the process of creating a logo to create an identity for the area," Gepner said. "We are also eventually looking to put up banners, placards in windows or create a color concept that will unify the area and enhance the experience [for all who visit]."

The next Penn Central of Richfield meeting is at 7:30 a.m. March 15 at . For more information on the group, visit penncentralofrichfield.com.

Gordon Hanson March 08, 2012 at 04:54 PM
The Penn Central of Richfield group is an excellent grassroots way for people to take ownership of the future of their community. We're a group of residents and business owners who want to make sure our neighborhood is filled with vitality and prospers. I encourage anyone who cares about the community to get involved. Come to our next meeting on March 15 at 7:30 am at Hope's Silver Spoon Restaurant.
Annie S. March 09, 2012 at 01:14 PM
The only uninviting part about this "business district" is the street medians at the intersection of 66th and Penn. They make it difficult to get where you want to go depending on what direction you are coming from. Penn Ave is the only street in town that still looks much like it did 30 years ago. I like it the way it is. If the business owners themselves want to make improvements on their property, that's their decision. Perhaps I should attend this meeting to see what the true intentions are.
Cedar Phillips March 09, 2012 at 01:51 PM
I consider it to be an incredibly uninviting district -- ugly, unfriendly to pedestrians, dismal in the winter. That said, I also consider it have amazing potential; there are some wonderful local independent businesses (including some that have been there seemingly forever), there's a nice variety of stores and services, and it's within walking distance to a lot of homes. I am in the area frequently, and have high hopes for the future. One comment: don't forget about the Minneapolis residents to the north. I currently live within walking distance (on the Minneapolis side of the border) and would love to see the streetscape improved to make the entrance from this side more inviting. I know the bridge is set for revamping in the near future, which will presumably be a good opportunity. I know that realistically most people these days are in cars, but making it as pedestrian- and bike-friendly as possible would be great. If you can get people to get out and stroll around, it will be that much easier to support the local businesses and really feel like a neighborhood destination, not just a thoroughfare. I do hope, however, that some of the more interesting buildings are preserved -- I'd hate to see some of the quirkiness bulldozed in favor of the new and modern (although there is ample room for that, too).
Caitlin Burgess (Editor) March 09, 2012 at 03:59 PM
Well I can't speak for the Minneapolis side, but as far as the Richfield side goes, the aim is to revitalize the area, not redevelop it. This was an important distinction that David Gepner made during our interview. While we've seen some redevelopment, such as the CVS that just opened, Gepner stressed that revitalization and revamping what is already in existence is the main goal. So most of the uniqueness will hopefully be preserved. It should be interesting to see what happens going forward. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.
Cedar Phillips March 09, 2012 at 08:03 PM
I was thinking more of making sure that the Minneapolis approach (physically speaking -- roads, sidewalks, bike lanes, physical landscaping, signage, etc.) to the district was considered, too; when you have a district like that that borders two cities it's easy to forget that one flows right into the other, and the Richfield businesses will really benefit if they can make sure that it's pleasant and easy for their nearby local Minneapolis residents to go there. Richfield may have no control over what Minneapolis does or does not do, but it would be to their benefit if they can create as much allure as possible to get their adjacent neighbors to the north to cross over the bridge to do their shopping. 66th and Penn is the closest commercial district for several Minneapolis neighborhoods (and an easy walk/bike/drive), and that's an audience base that should be encouraged (well, from Richfield's point of view -- I'm sure the Minneapolis officials would prefer to keep them in city limits!) to think of Central Penn as their local "downtown." I'm glad to hear that the focus is on revitalization, not redevelopment, as the new CVS had me quite concerned. Of course there is also ample room for adding on to what exists now, but sometimes one person's "dumpy building" is another person's neighborhood treasure.

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