What’s making news in Minneapolis, reported by the Star Tribune’s team of city reporters. Send news tips to suzanne.ziegler@startribune.com.

Posts about Urban living

It's try, try again for a faded apartment gem

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: July 9, 2014 - 6:37 PM

Is there a developer out there who can rescue a handsome old apartment building from more than 10 years on the city’s boarded building list?

City development officials this week asked for development proposals for 628 E. Franklin Av., nearly two years after the city took control of the building. The proposal deadline is Sept. 5.

The 1904 building appears to have decent bones but could use an extensive facelift.  The city’s development department said it’s open to business, and rental or ownership housing proposals. It said it will give priority to fully funded business or market-rate housing proposals.

The agency's Cherie Shoquist said it decided to seek proposals now because the city started getting inquiries from developers. She said she's expecting proposals for higher-end rental housing.

“The building’s so beautiful and has so much potential," Shoquist said.

But the neighborhood is feeling cut out. Ventura Village board chair Thor Adam said the neighborhood group learned of the agency's RFP from a reporter's call. "To be removed from that is concerning,:" he said. Years ago, the neighborhood group expressed a preference for ownership housing such as condos to offset the area's high concentration of rental housing, Adam said. He said the project also needs to be considered in the context of larger discussions about future use of city-owned lots in the area. 

Shoquist said the group will have an opportunity to review and comment on proposals.

The structure was built as luxury apartments, but has fallen since on hard times. It sits not far from the 5th Avenue S. freeway entrance, between the major commuting routes of Portland and Park avenues.

The city in essence bought the building in 2012 from the Sabri family trust after Azzam Sabri, the building’s most recent owner, died of cancer in 2011. The purchase went through the Twin Cities Community Land Bank as an intermediary. Sabri got the building after a court fight with previous owner Jason Geschwind, to whom he provided financing.

The development agency insisted that he follow through with Geschwind’s commitment to create condos. Sabri wanted to switch to commercial reuse, but ignored the city’s requests for details on financing, marketing and other specifics.

Sabri's brother Basim, also a developer, said he has no interest is making a proposal to the city because he likes to work independently. "It's a gorgeous building," he said.

Bike, ped changes may be coming to crosstown pair

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: July 1, 2014 - 2:40 PM

Two prominent cross-city commuting routes are likely headed for bike and pedestrian improvements as part of a planned 2015 paving of the twin one-way streets.

That’s why the city is asking for feedback at a series of open houses about what pedestrians, drivers, bus riders and bikers want changed on 26th and 28th Streets.  The initial repaving will happen between Hiawatha Avenue and Interstate 35W, but the planning connected with the open houses will extend west to Hennepin, for possible future work.

The first open house will be from 6-8 p.m. on July 14 at American Swedish Institute, 2600 Park Av. S. That meeting is designed for sharing ideas and concerns about the streets.  Follow-up meetings are planned at the same time and place for Aug. 6 and 27 to gather feedback on design concepts for bike and pedestrian changes.

According to John Wertjes, the city’s director of traffic and parking services, an asphalt overlay is scheduled for 26th, while 28th is due merely for sealcoating.

Some bikers have advocated for installing buffered or protected bike lanes on the two streets. The latter is how the paving project is listed on the city’s capital projects list, but that’s a placeholder until there’s public input, officials said.

What done with bike lanes could be determined by money.  The city has $400,000 in hand for pedestrian and biking improvements in the paving project, Wertjes said. That’s enough to pay for striping buffered bike lanes, like the painted extra-wide bike lanes installed when Portland and Park avenues were reduced from three to two one-way motorized traffic lanes for most of their length south of downtown.

But the city would need to compete for added outside grant money to be able to afford more protected bike lanes, in which bollards, curbs, elevated pavement or parked cars are between the bike and motorized traffic lanes.

Wertjes said that he also expects the open houses to produce calls for managing and slowing traffic speeds.    

(Photo: This vehicle plowed into a house on E. 26th Street in this 2000 accident. Staff photo by David Brewster.)

Different fireworks may light up Powderhorn Fourth

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: June 30, 2014 - 4:43 PM

Just because the sky won’t be lit up doesn’t mean there won’t be fireworks this year at Powderhorn Park’s July 4 celebration.

Publisher and political activist Ed Felien is trying to make sure of that. Working with Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association, he’s inviting all comers to speak out from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.  These stump speakers will have roughly five minutes to make their case on any topic, but they’ll have to run the risk of heckling.

“We have enough gasbags in Powderhorn just circling the park that we can more than fill it up,” said Felien, 75. He lives across from the park’s northwest corner and runs his community newspaper, Southside Pride, from an office two blocks away.

Felien thrives on politics, and is nostalgic for the days before radio, TV and digital media when orators expounded on such public issues as slavery and suffrage, war and peace. He’s hoping the event will help to recreate the magical aura of July 4 at Powderhorn Park that he remembers from his boyhood.

”We’d come to Powderhorn in the late 40s and early 50s and there was still a sense of patriotic fervor and community that was lovely,” he said. That attitude faded somewhat in the tensions of the Vietnam era; Felien remembers quizzing then-Congressman Donald Fraser about the war with other activists one summer.

In those old days, the Felien family would arrive around supper time, picnic food in tow.  After eating, they’d pass the interminable interval until the arrival of dusk and fireworks by watching what Felien recalls as a “macho promenade” of tough guys strolling the park paths with cigarette packs rolled up their sleeves.

The speakout on the Fourth will be held at the “teahouse” gateway on the southwest shore of Powderhorn Lake. Felien said recently he’s expecting the return of mayoral candidates Captain Jack Sparrow and Bob Carney, and current school board candidate Soren Sorensen. So is political firebrand Michael Cavlan. Others can sign up by calling Southside Price at 612-822-4662 or e-mailing edfelien@southsidepride.com

Meanwhile, the association is planning a more family bent to this year's Powderhorn Fourth, with music starting at 11:30 a.m. and rolling through Aztec dancing, a medley of recordings by young people, an acoustic duo, and Latin folk. Also on tap are badminton, croquet, bocce, canoeing, face painting and other diversions.

The lack of actual pyrotechnics will give the association a chance to collect more public input on what future Fourths should look like in the 14-square-block park. Eliminating the fireworks that attracted an estimated 20,000, but also rowdy behavior, cut the fundraising need for the day's events almost by half, according to Becky Timm, the association's staff director.     

(Photos -- Above: Fireworks at Powderhorn Park in 2010. Staff photo by David Joles. Right: Ed Felien)

Convention Center to get $14.5 million in work

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: June 25, 2014 - 4:42 PM

The Minneapolis Convention Center is headed for $14.5 million in renovations and improvements over the next two years, some of which are aimed at helping networking among people attending events, convention officials said Wednesday.

One change is the addition of a mezzanine in the center's main lobby. It could be used for events, and will have seating and a lounge where people attending events can meet with other people, according to Kristin Montag, spokeswoman for Meet Minneapolis, a convention and visitor promotion nonprofit. There are also plans to add a bar there.

The center's visitor center also will move within the main lobby to be closer to the main entrance on 2nd Avenue S. That will increase its visibility and make it more helpful to visitors seeking information about exploring the city, Montag said.

The main lobby stairs are being replaced with added elevators that are intended to add accessibility to that area. The visitor center area will also have two sets of stairs, one to the mezzanine and one to all levels, Montag said. The escalators serving three of the center’s exhibition halls will be replaced as they near the end of their life expectancy with versions that are more energy-efficient, continuing earlier upgrades elsewhere in the building.

The building will also get art from local artists through Corporate Art Force, to be displayed on a six-month rotation. Center Executive Director Jeff Johnson said the displays will add visual interest to the building and highlight local artists.

The center normally gets about $10 million annually in building improvements or renovations, Montag said. The center is financed by operating revenues and an assortment of local sales taxes, some of which also will help to pay for the new Vikings stadium.  

Northeast Minneapolis impatient for 807 development deal to close

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: June 23, 2014 - 5:01 PM

More than a year after the sale of a large former factory and school district headquarters was authorized, the deal still hasn’t closed and some Northeasters are getting impatient.

The Logan Park neighborhood is eager for redevelopment of the complex at 807 Broadway St. NE to begin but title problems have held up the deal.

“People in the Northeast community have been wondering what’s taking so long,” said Pat Vogel, co-chair of the neighborhood’s 807 Broadway Task Force. “People say that must have fallen apart because I don’t see anything happening.”

The title issue involves a parking lot used by visitors and employees when the school headquarters was there. It encroaches on the city’s right of way for Quincy St. NE “Buying something with a defective title is a non-starter,” said Scott Tankenoff, managing partner for Hillcrest Development, which won the right to buy the city block-sized complex over six other developers.

The city suggested that Hillcrest petition the City Council vacate a small portion of the right of way, but that will take time.  So the school board on Tuesday is expected to extend the closing date for a second time, by another 120 days. The agreement also potentially knocks $516,550 off the previous sale price. That price by law need not be disclosed until the deal closes, but has been estimated at between $2 million and $3 million, based on the price of similar area property.

The title problems date back years, Tankenoff said.  The district has owned the 1914 building and subsequent add-ons since 1930. Hillcrest originally planned to close by the end of 2013. Tankenoff now said he thinks a closing by Labor Day is feasible. “I think there’s going to be work happening in the building in September,” he said.

Vogel said Hillcrest has been responsive to neighborhood concerns but she hasn’t been able to get an answer to what happens if the 120-day closing deadline isn’t met. “That’s the one thing that kind of makes us as a neighborhood group nervous,” she said. But Tankenoff said he expects the first tenant to move in within 100 to 120 days after closing the deal.

Money from the sale is supposed to help pay part of the cost of the new district headquarters at 1250 Broadway Avenue, into which district offices moved in 2012. 

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