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Behind-the scenes work under way to bring Cupcake to St. Paul’s Grand Avenue

Some complicated behind-the-scenes action has been under way to allow the Cupcake bakery, restaurant and wine bar to open on Grand Avenue.

Some complicated behind-the-scenes action has been under way that could allow the Cupcake bakery, restaurant and wine bar to open on Grand Avenue in St. Paul.

The project has been in and out of the oven, so to speak, for months, with adequate parking the point of contention.

A variance had been granted but then appealed. The City Council upheld the appeal, on a 5-2 vote, because there didn’t seem to be enough parking places on that stretch of Grand between Victoria and Lexington. 

The bottom line: It looked for a while like curtains for Cupcake, said Joe Campbell, aide to Mayor Chris Coleman.

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But Coleman thought he had it figured out Wednesday with some maneuvering. Once the council made official its previous 5-2 vote to deny the variance, he planned to issue a veto that would, in effect, revert matters back to the approved zoning variance and let the business open, as long as the council didn’t override the veto.

The mayor thought he had the votes to avoid the override, but to sweeten the deal he worked with Cupcake owner Kevin VenDeraa (who already has a successful Cupcake operation in Minneapolis) to find two nearby parking lots where 10 additional spaces could be leased.

But when the mayor told City Council Member David Thune about his veto plan, the council quickly voted to reconsider its vote and lay over the matter for four weeks.

Thune, though, thinks the mayor was grandstanding and wished there’d been some earlier communication to handle it differently.

“My hat is off to the mayor for convincing the owner to come back to the table, but I really object to the brinksmanship; instead of calling any of us [on the council to discuss it], he had to grandstand with a veto,” Thune said.

Coleman has now publicly asked the council to reconsider that reconsideration, and to deal with the matter next week, so he can go ahead with the veto and get the business open as soon as possible.

Otherwise, if the council waits four weeks, as now scheduled, Coleman he says he’ll still veto the action and the only difference will be a longer delay in opening the restaurant.

Said Coleman:

“Cupcake has proven itself to be a successful and popular restaurant, desirable for any city, and I look forward to welcoming them to Saint Paul and Grand Avenue. Local businesses are the backbone of Saint Paul’s economy, and it is essential that we provide them with opportunities for success in our city. This new parking plan adequately addresses the concerns raised in an appeal. I urge the City Council to reconsider yesterday’s vote to delay so Cupcake can open as soon as possible.”

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Thune said the council will likely reconsider the issue at next Wednesday’s meeting. 

“Let’s see if the proposal is as advertised; then there’s no harm in sending it back to those who appealed. And assuming it looks like a good deal, we can act on it next week,” Thune said.

Ellen Biales, an aide to Council President Kathy Lantry, said the council is waiting for more information:

“If Cupcake has the required number of parking spaces, then there would be no necessity to come back before the Council for a variance request.  At this point, all we have seen is the Mayor’s press release — so we don’t know what the new arrangement is and whether or not it meets the code requirements or comes close.”

Meanwhile, on his Facebook page, a frustrated Cupcake owner VenDeraa says:

“Is this Washington DC or St Paul? Thune makes public statements that he supports Cupcake on Grand but then he takes away our perfectly valid parking variance. He has even stated on the [Summit Hill Association] Facebook page that he is working with us to secure parking. The zoning code requires 10 off street parking spaces. Our new plan has 14, 4 more than required so why is he blocking us?”

Two Cities blog, which covers Minneapolis and St. Paul City Halls, is made possible in part by grants from The Saint Paul Foundation and the Carolyn Foundation.