Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, March 2, 2001

Highway 12 detour nearing for Howard Lake

By Lynda Jensen

The wheels of progress are turning toward Howard Lake, with the long-anticipated approach of reconstructive work on Highway 12 this spring.

Businesses prepare

Howard Lake's growth coincides with the state's desire to redo the road, anticipating more traffic along the Highway 12 corridor.

Local businesses reported varying degrees of preparation, from being nearly indifferent to prolonged frustration.

The project will not be pretty either way, City Administrator Doug Borglund said. "It's going to be a mess," he said.

Many businesses will depend more than ever on the loyalty of local customers to keep them alive during the construction.

Aggravating the project is the tight corridor that Howard Lake has along Highway 12.

Unfortunately for Howard Lake's forefathers, a bigger highway wasn't on their minds when the city was originally built, Borglund said. The buildings are located right on the line where the state-owned property begins.

"By choice, MnDOT would rather not have the city the way it is," Borglund said.

The original planners of the city located buildings "practically in the middle of the street," Borglund said. "They didn't give us a foot to work with," he added.

The Department of Transportation owns all of the property along Highway 12 businesses, right up to the doorsteps, Borglund said.

"This is not a city project," he said. "It's a state project." The state pays for all costs in relation to the road itself - since it owns it - and the city pays for utility costs of pipes under the road, lighting, as well as sidewalk and gutter, Borglund said.

The parking issue for Hwy. 12 businesses

Parking for businesses - during and after the construction - is and has been a crucial issue for small businesses.

For better or worse, the former council and mayor sided with MnDOT in relation to taking parking off the highway, Borglund said. "It was a hard decision."

"It was 100 percent driven by safety," Borglund said. More traffic means more hazards for people parking, and it made sense to move it off road, he said.

The council tried to consider everyone's point of view, to figure the safest way to use the highway as far as getting on and off, Borglund said.

Although each business has parking behind its building for the most part, some businesses owners wondered if this is enough to get consumers to stop and shop.

"All they needed was a turn lane," said business owner Jim Ittel, bitterly.

Ittel's Meat Market has done business along Highway 12 since 1940, when Ittel's father, Henry, first opened it.

Ittel's business depends on convenience and its parking in front, he said.

Approximately 85 percent of his business walks through the front door, Ittel said.

There are more than 40 parking spots behind Ittel's business, but he has no hope that all of his customers will take the time to negotiate parking, he said. "I hope I'm wrong," he said.

"It just makes you mad," Ittel said. "They're trying to kill another small town."

Ittel is the only meat market in the county to be USDA certified - which means his rear entry is for "employees only" to adhere to state code, he said. This means he can't use his rear entry for the general public, he explained.

Ittel's retirement and savings is dependent on his business, and at the age of 67, he's too old to relocate, he said. Now potential buyers aren't interested when they learn of his parking problem, he added.

Janel Sawatzke, owner of Posey Patch Flowers, echoed this sentiment about parking and her business.

"It's going to really kill us," Sawatzke said. She plans to take her business on the road in the form of festivals and other kinds of displays, she said. She attracts business from a five-state area and this will probably continue since people know she's there, she said.

The convenience of parking in front of her business is too hard to lose, she said. "Men like to stop and run inside," to get flowers for their mates, she said.

The parking alongside her building is usually full, she said.

She also must contend with three handicapped parking spaces that she has never seen used once, she said.

Borglund pointed out that there are only two or three spaces in front of each business, at most, and that many shoppers would probably walk farther across a parking lot to get into a shopping mall, compared to parking in back of a business.

"You have to walk eight to 10 blocks to get to the fairgrounds," Borglund said. "If (business owners) have a quality product and good service, then they'll come," he said.

Other businesses welcomed the extra traffic flow - if they can survive the project itself.

"I have no idea what to even expect," commented Trudy Berg, owner, with her husband, Steve, of Bergie's Restaurant. "I don't know where anyone will park."

Parking during the project itself is a problem for Bergie's, since the detour will sandwich the restaurant between construction and the detour, leaving little or no parking in between for an average of nine employees each night, she said.

"I understand they have to do it," she said. The hard part is seeing the business that they have worked so hard to build up have to go through this, she said.

"We've received no support from the city council," Trudy said.

Fortunately, Bergie's draws nearly 40 percent of its business from its delivery service, which is above the national average for this kind of business, Berg said.

Another business concerned about parking during the project is Dura Supreme.

There are 400 employees and 15 semi trucks each day that need access to and from Dura, said General Manager Roy Scheer.

At first, the work on Dura Drive was scheduled to be done at the same time as Highway 12, which would have been a complete disaster for them, Scheer said.

Four years later, Scheer is still talking with the state, concerned about having at least one access for his business, even though Dura Drive was done last year.

The latest problem is that the railroad crossing needs to be completed, which allows people to access Wright County Road 7 from the northeast, Scheer said.

"If they shut that down, we're going to a have a mess here," Scheer said.

There will definitely be at least one access for Dura Supreme, Borglund said.

On the other hand, some businesses are taking the bull by the horns and jumping headlong into the construction mood.

Joe Drusch plans to blow out his back wall and expand Joe's Sport Shop by 3,500 square feet into a Hardware Hank. He will offer fishing, and lawn and garden supplies, as well as hardware items.

Small engine repair is what Drusch makes most of his profit from, since he barely breaks even at the gas pump, he said.

"There's no money in pumps," he said. For the investment that he had to make, the gas pumps are not worth it, he said.

"Hopefully, small engine will keep it going and the fishermen will still come (during construction)," he said.

He is negotiating with the parent company of Hardware Hank to see if they can carry him for a few months during the construction, but hopes to open for business August or September, he said.

Red's Pizza, or what will be known as "Kim's Kountry Kafe" in June, is not concerned about construction yet, said owner Kim Hughes.

"I just want it to happen and get it over with," commented Shirley Diers of Diers Plumbing, another business along the strip.

At this point, the project is almost a done deal since it has already been paid for, Borglund said. "Let's just get through it," he concluded.

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