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

City protected bike lane plan goes to public

Posted by: Steve Brandt under People and neighborhoods, Politics and government, Bikes and cars, Urban living Updated: April 17, 2015 - 4:15 PM

Is there a protected bike lane coming to a Minneapolis block near where you work or live?

A draft plan for which streets on which to create the city’s goal of 30 miles of such protected lanes by 2020 has been forwarded to the City Council. It will be discussed on Tuesday before an open house scheduled for April 29. Here's a link to that proposal.

A protected bike lane is separated from motorized traffic by flexible plastic posts, parked cars, medians, curbs or planters.  The few such lanes in Minneapolis typically use the posts spaced every 30 feet, but one downtown bike lane uses cars for separation. A planned protected lane on SE Oak St. will use both cars and posts.

The proposal caps almost a year of discussion and feasibility analysis that began with an open house and an online survey to gain suggestions.  It will be adopted later this spring by the council as an amendment to the city’s 2011 bike master plan, which makes the proposed segments more likely to attract outside funding.

The proposed new protected  lanes are concentrated in the city’s core. That’s because traffic volumes are heavier there and bikers often compete for space with cars at tighter places such as bridges over freeways or railroad tracks or the Mississippi River, according to Anna Flintoft, the former city transportation planner who oversaw the proposal.

The proposal represents a bet by the city that increased investment in the lanes will attract additional riders, especially in higher-volume streets where some may fear to ride without the additional margin of separation.

The council's Transportation and Public Works Committee takes up the proposal in a meeting at Tuesday at 9:30 am in room 317 of City Hall. The open house is scheduled for 4:30-7:30 pm at the Central Library.

Stadium authority erupts in controversy over leadership roles

Posted by: under Local business, Politics and government Updated: April 17, 2015 - 5:08 PM

By MIKE KASZUBA

The controversy over the role of Michele Kelm-Helgen in the building of the new Minnesota Vikings stadium erupted again Friday.

The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, which oversees the stadium’s construction and which Kelm-Helgen chairs, adopted a pay equity report, but not before she was questioned over whether she was essentially voting for a future pay increase for herself.

Kelm-Helgen, who was appointed as chair by Gov. Mark Dayton, and was a former top deputy to the DFL governor, made an emotional defense of her job performance and said she was “exhausted” by the bickering over her $127,000-a-year job that this week stretched to the Republican-controlled Minnesota House.

Friday’s acrimony, which followed a similar dispute last month, was another rare public airing of a behind-the-scenes dispute at a public board that typically is otherwise enmeshed in the nuts-and-bolts progress involving the Vikings’ $1.062 billion stadium in downtown Minneapolis. And as before, the debate centered on Kelm-Helgen’s full-time role and how it meshed with Ted Mondale, the authority’s executive director, who earns $162,245.

At one point, Kelm-Helgen traded heated comments with John Griffith, a board member who has been an executive vice president at Target Corp. She said Friday that Griffith had earlier this year privately warned the board’s attorney that he would publicly criticize Kelm-Helgen if she insisted that she be included in a pay equity report that might lead to another pay increase.

She said that Griffith told the attorney to warn Kelm-Helgen that “if you do not agree to take yourself out of the equity report, I am going to make an issue of her” job. Kelm-Helgen added that she had “never felt more threatened by board members.”

Griffith denied he had made a threat, and pointed a finger at Kelm-Helgen during one exchange. “I never made any threatening comments to you to be passed along to the chair,” said Griffith, who directed part of his response to Jay Lindgren, the board’s attorney. “I have built a reputation in this city for 30 years.”

Lindgren agreed, and added that “I don’t believe that was done in a threatening tone.”

But Kelm-Helgen quickly added: “It felt threatening to me.”

She also accused Griffith and others of continually trying to diminish her role, telling her she should instead “just go be a talking head and a lobbyist” for the project instead of immersing herself in the stadium’s many intricate details.

“I am a full-time, benefited, regular employee,” she added moments later. She also made public a written memo Friday saying she would “hereby waive any interest in additional compensation for my service as MSFA board chair at this time.”

The meeting came two days after Dayton had joined in the controversy, criticizing a House Republican proposal to eliminate Kelm-Helgen’s salary.  Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, the chair of the House State Government Finance Committee, said the stadium authority seemed to have an executive director and a “pseudo executive director,” referring to Kelm-Helgen.

“So now you have a House committee popping off and saying, well, she can’t be paid a salary?” the governor said. “It’s none of their business.”

During a lull in Friday’s meeting, which ended with both sides trying to downplay any long-term political rift, Mondale declined comment on the dispute. ‘’I’m going to go back in right now,” he said as he sidestepped reporters and headed back into the meeting. “Things are a little hot in there.”

Nekima Levy-Pounds announces candidacy to become NAACP leader

Posted by: Libor Jany under People and neighborhoods Updated: April 16, 2015 - 8:39 PM

Nekima Levy-Pounds holds the M. Shanara Gilbert Award from the Association of American Law Schools.

Pledging to “shift the paradigm in Minneapolis and the Twin Cities for people of color,” Nekima Levy-Pounds, a college law professor and civil rights activist, announced her candidacy today for president of the Minneapolis NAACP chapter.

The outspoken Levy-Pounds, who has been at the forefront of the local “Black Lives Matter” movement, turned her sights on the leadership of the beleaguered chapter, announcing her candidacy in a Facebook post on Thursday. The incumbent, Rev. Jerry McAfee, has come under criticism in recent months for letting the chapter slip into dormancy, IBNN News reported.

Minnesota NAACP chairman W.C. Jordan said in an interview with the website that he had been “instructed and given the authority” by the organization’s national office to call a special election this spring for McAfee’s seat. The election will be held on May 2.

"As many of you are aware, communities of color in Minnesota are facing intolerable racial disparities in every key indicator of quality of life," Levy-Pounds said in the statement. "Well frankly, I feel that enough is enough."

The statement continued:

"I am tired of politics getting in the way of justice. I am tired of people making excuses about the gaps in unemployment and education. I am tired of seeing African Americans being criminalized and unfairly punished at every hand. And I am tired of folks being comfortable with the status quo. It is for these reasons that I have decided to run for president of a long-standing and important community institution, such as the Minneapolis branch of the NAACP."

She declined on Thursday to discuss the leadership situation, but said that she intended to “address racial disparities in the criminal justice system and inadequate access to economic opportunity.”

“I have a track record for pushing for police accountability and fighting for repeal of low level ordinances which are leading to the unjust criminalization of poor people of color, particularly on the North side,” she said in a text message. “I hope to engage philanthropic organizations in working more collaboratively with grass roots organizations to build their capacity to deliver high quality services within their own community.”

Born in Jackson, Miss., Levy-Pounds, who was named "Attorney of the Year" by Minnesota Lawyer in 2014, is currently a law professor at the University of St. Thomas. She entered the public consciousness when last fall she became one of the faces of Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, which, like its counterparts around the country, first sprouted in the wake of police shootings of unarmed black men that drew national attention and outrage.

Last building in Grain Belt complex redeveloped

Posted by: Steve Brandt under Local business, People and neighborhoods, Politics and government, Urban living Updated: April 17, 2015 - 2:46 PM

After a quarter-century of effort by city development officials, all buildings in the Grain Belt complex in northeast Minneapolis are now redeveloped and occupied – with new housing next door to boot.

That milestone was celebrated Thursday in the Sheridan neighborhood with an open house at the former Grain Belt office. The 1893 building was renovated by Everwood Development under its successful 2011 development proposal to the city that also built 150 units of new market-rate apartments next door.

“It looks like what you always thought it could be,” said longtime Sheridan activist Jenny Fortman as she gazed up at the skylight in the airy 1910 addition to the office building.  That skylight was covered by a roof in recent decades but once provided light for the brewery’s accountants, according to David Dye, an Everwood principal.

The firm has moved into part of the building’s upper floor from Little Canada, while representatives of Steven Scott Management will run the main floor rental office. Residents will get the skylighted area for a community room with wi-fi. They'll also have access to the brewery’s former hospitality room in the basement which retains a vintage German beer hall style bar, and adds pool tables.

Everwood’s proposal was selected over three competing developers, and it paid the city $1.55 million for the property. That included the office building, bare land for apartments that the city earlier cleared of two single-family houses a duplex and a warehouse, and a site that contains the foundations of the city’s first brewery. The office and housing development represent a $29 million project.

Dye said the apartment complex of two four-story buildings is 92 percent leased. One-bedroom units range between $1,300 and $1,500, two-bedroom units from $1,700 to $2,000, and three-bedroom units between $2,100 and $2,500.

The rental emphasis was a marked turnaround from an early 2000 competition for development rights for the Grain Belt complex. The winning developer then proposed 273 units of ownership housing in several phases across the former brewery grounds. But that deal never materialized and a new request for proposals was issued in 2011.

Dye said that the condo market was still in its recessionary hangover then.  He said he’s potentially interested in developing housing on other portions of the site. However, city officials haven’t decided if they’ll seek proposals for other bare-land sections of the complex.

There are site conditions that complicate building more housing at Grain Belt. One is a high-voltage transmission line that bisests the riverfront portion of the complex where higher-buck townhouses have been suggested in the past.  A rail line also bisects the complex. Using a parking lot on Marshall for housing likely would require an expensive ramp.

“I don’t know if it’s practical or not,” Dye conceded. Still, he added, “I’ve looked at a couple of sites and dreamed about them.”

Still, the Everwood project completes the rehab of the complex’s seven historically significant buildings.  The massive former brewhouse was redeveloped by Ryan Companies for RSP Architects. A former bottling house and a warehouse are occupied by artists. Other former buildings in the complex are incorporated into a Hennepin County library.

Brewing in the complex stopped in 1975 and it was bought by businessman Irwin Jacobs.  The city bought it from him in 1989 after twice blocking his plans to raze the buildings.

The office building, which housed some workers in the city’s development agency for about 10 years, proved the toughest to redevelop. That’s partly because it leaked copiously – through the roof, through the basement and even through walls, according to Kevin Carroll, the only one of four city development employees who worked closely on the redevelopment who hasn't retired. The others are Judy Cedar, Jerry LePage and Steve Maki.

It was Cedar who lined up state grants that supplied much of the nearly $300,000 the city sunk into trying to keep the building dry. That involved repairing the roof, improving sump pumps, clearing clogged window well drains, and making a better storm sewer connection.

One invisible bit of preservation was also accomplished by Everwood.  A piece of land fronting NE Marshall St. next door to the office building was protected with a membrane and grassed over.  That’s because it contains the foundations of the city’s first brewery, operated by John Orth, who began brewing in 1850. His brewery was one of four that combined to form Minnesota Brewing and Malting Company, which opened its new brewery in 1892.

One bit of arcana unearthed by Carroll points up the importance of the office building as the nerve center of Grain Belt’s operations. It was the place where beer salesmen turned in their receipts and also handled the company’s payroll. It was held up in 1941 by gunmen, reputedly Chicago gangsters, who made off with $50,000.  One employee, however, calmly remained in the basement hospitality room during the uproar, pouring himself another beer.

(Photos by Steve Brandt: Top: Community room in office building with new apartments through windows; Middle: Exterior office building entrance; Bottom: Hospitality room.)

Student sues police officer, saying he knocked her unconscious

Posted by: Libor Jany under Public safety Updated: April 17, 2015 - 10:08 AM

UPDATE: Police spokesman John Elder said in an email that he could not comment on pending litigation, but that "every allegation that is received by this department receives the most thorough investigation possible to determine the facts in each and every case."

Police union chief John Delmonico defended Barze, saying that use of force is justified in cases like this, where “it appears that she obstructed him doing his job.”

He continued: "If she obstructed the police officer we can use force and in the event of use-of-force...as long as he got her medical attention...then he did what he was supposed to do."

“It’s too bad with these civil suits that these allegations come out and they’re public and everybody wants to jump to conclusions that the cop did something bad, Delmonico said. “I believe that in the end, officer Barze will be absolved of any wrongdoing.”

    

ORIGINAL POST: A 23-year-old woman sued a Minneapolis police officer and the city on Wednesday, claiming that her civil rights were violated when the officer punched her during an arrest last June for failing to pay a taxi fare and left her “lying unconscious and bleeding in the street.”

The woman, Madelyn R. Milton, of Maple Grove, filed the lawsuit in federal district court Wednesday through her attorney, Robert Bennett, of Minneapolis. The suit maintains that the officer, Tyrone Barze Jr., used excessive force when he punched Milton in the face and knocked her unconscious as she tried to record him arresting several of her friends.

Bennett said Wednesday that the case revolves around “the repetitive conduct of an officer who is really the kind of officer that Mayor Hodges talked about in her open letter to the communities of Minneapolis last October, who violates the public trust and who acts this way with impunity,” referring to comments Hodges made last fall vowing to root out cops who abuse their power.

The city attorney’s office, which represents officers in civil cases, and a police spokesman didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit asserts that on June 1, 2014, Milton, a second-year doctoral student in physical therapy at the University of Jamestown in North Dakota, and a group of friends were returning by taxi from a night out when they started arguing with the cabdriver over a fare.

Barze arrived on the scene after the driver called police and ordered the group to pay the fare, according to the suit. When two of Milton's friends pulled out their cell phones to record the encounter, the suit alleges, he knocked their phones away and placed them under arrest.

Milton claims that Barze confiscated her phone after she too started recording him and when she “took a step or two after Barze” to get it back, he turned and punched her in the face, “knocking her to the ground, where she struck the back of her head and she lay unconscious and bleeding in the street.”

She suffered a traumatic brain injury when she hit her head on the street, according to the suit, which is seeking an unspecified amount in damages.

"As he has done several times in the past in efforts to cover up his unconstitutional misconduct, Barze falsely reported that Milton struck him multiple times in the back, among other false statements and exaggerations in his supplement," the suit read. Obstruction charges against Milton were later dismissed, her attorney said.

“These are medical students for crying out loud, this isn’t the Crips and the Bloods," Bennett said. "And he shouldn’t do it to the Crips or the Bloods either.”

Barze, a seven-year veteran of the force, has been named in at least four pending or past suits, including one in which he’s accused of "unreasonably" pepper spraying the general manager of a popular Uptown bar, a case the city settled out of court for $34,000.

He has also been accused of using a “neck restraint” to control a combative high school student, causing the teenager to lose consciousness, and applying excessive force when arresting an outreach worker outside a North Side Cub Foods and then threatening to shoot witnesses to the incident.

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