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Building owners look to replace or abandon areaways

Under the ground at 250 Third Ave. N. in Minneapolis, an areaway was cleared and refilled to improve aboveground access to Target Field. Photo submitted by Paul Ormseth

Under the ground at 250 Third Ave. N. in Minneapolis, an areaway was cleared and refilled to improve aboveground access to Target Field. Photo submitted by Paul Ormseth

Brian Johnson
Dolan Media Newswires

Minneapolis — They’re literally right underfoot, but few people think twice about them — or even know they exist, in some cases.

But some of those decades-old areaways that hide under streets and sidewalks in downtown Minneapolis and elsewhere are becoming a nuisance and are being repaired or abandoned, sometimes in connection with projects such as the recent Second Avenue South and Marquette Avenue reconstruction.

For example, Construction Results Corp. recently completed areaway abandonment projects at 1000 Marquette Ave. and 250 Third Ave. N. in downtown Minneapolis. The latter project was part of an effort to improve access to the new Minnesota Twins stadium.

The $250,000 Third Avenue abandonment project involved removing the deteriorating underground structure, repairing water mains, filling the space, and pouring a new sidewalk, according to Mark Snyder, president of Construction Results.

“The city doesn’t want open spaces under the sidewalks, and they were old and rusting and barely supporting the sidewalks,” Snyder said.

The 250 Third Ave. N. building is considered historic, so “we wanted to remove the areaway and build the new sidewalk, then replace it in a way that didn’t distract from the historic character of the building,” said Paul Ormseth, a St. Paul architect who also worked on the project.

Ormseth describes areaways as extensions of the building’s basement “out into the public right of way, typically under the sidewalk.” He said the spaces were used for loading, unloading and storage, and in some cases they’re connected with other areaways.

“It kind of goes back to the time when these buildings were serving as warehouses, back around the turn of the century …,” Ormseth said.

They may have served a useful purpose back in the day, but now some of the spaces — typically supported by a roof and aging stone walls — are deteriorating and potentially hazardous from a structural point of view, he said.

Kent Warden, executive director of the Greater Minneapolis Building Owners and Managers Association, said some areaways, particularly in the warehouse district, are “pretty ancient.”

For building owners, there’s obviously a cost associated with such projects, Warden said. Under city ordinance, building owners may leave areaways in place if the structures are in good condition and can support the aboveground loads, according to an areaway fact sheet from the city of Minneapolis Public Works.

Areaways that are less than 35 years old are typically in good enough shape to meet the city’s requirements, according to the document.

But those that are 35 years or older require an evaluation by a licensed civil or structure engineer, the document added, and they may have to be modified or removed — even if they’re in good shape — to make way for street reconstruction projects.

Warden said building owners appear to be OK with the current requirements.

“If it looks like the city is abusing the owners,” he said, “I usually hear about it.”

What are areaways?

Areaways are the usable areas below the sidewalk and between a building’s foundation and the street wall.

The street wall holds back the earth below the road surface and provides support for the sidewalk between the street and the building walls.

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