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

VIDEO: St. Anthony Falls lab completes renovation

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: September 16, 2014 - 5:52 PM

The Mississippi River is no longer the primary driver of industry in Minneapolis, but it's powerful current remains the focal point of the University of Minnesota's St. Anthony Falls Laboratory.

The lab, built as a Works Progress Administration project in 1938, sits just below the falls on the east bank of the river. It harnesses 2,200 gallons of river water per second to drive a myriad of experiments.

"It is unique in its design to utilize the 50-foot drop of St. Anthony Falls," said director Fotis Sotiropolous. "Essentially the same reason that the laboratory is here, for the same reason the city of Minneapolis grew around here."

Leaders at the facility offered reporters a first-person look at their work Tuesday, following a major renovation that was funded with $7.1 million in stimulus funds and another $9.1 million from the University.

Researchers were busy studying how waves can generate energy, the effectiveness of water-based wind turbines, algea growth patterns and how river deltas are formed.

See the video above for a tour of the facility.

City's first "parklets" pop up in parking spots

Posted by: Erin Golden under Local business, Parks and recreation, People and neighborhoods, Urban living Updated: September 16, 2014 - 2:27 PM
Council Members Blong Yang, Jacob Frey and Lisa Bender marked the debut of the city's first portable parks at 2007 Emerson Ave. N., one of three of the "parklet" locations.

Council Members Blong Yang, Jacob Frey and Lisa Bender marked the debut of the city's first portable parks at 2007 Emerson Ave. N., one of three of the "parklet" locations.

Prime parking spots outside a handful of Minneapolis business have been transformed into tiny, portable public parks -- complete with tables, chairs and plants.

The city's first three "parklets" made their official debut Tuesday, as three council members checked out purple tables and chairs parked in front of Juxtaposition Arts and Urban Homeworks at 2007 Emerson Ave. N. 

Council Member Lisa Bender said the city's goal is to create places along commercial stretches where people feel comfortable gathering and chatting with their neighbors. The spaces are hosted by businesses, but open to the public. Other cities, including San Francisco and New York, have installed dozens of them. 

"Parklets are a really simple, but extraordinary way to transform public space," Bender said. 

Minneapolis' other parklets are located at 212 Third Ave. N., hosted by Martin Patrick 3 and Transwestern, at the Colonial Warehouse, and at 2451 Nicollet Ave. S., in front of Spyhouse Coffee. They'll remain on the streets through October, packed up for winter, and reassembled in the spring. 

Phillips apartment stymies developers

Posted by: Steve Brandt under Local business, People and neighborhoods, Politics and government, Urban living Updated: September 11, 2014 - 5:48 PM

It looks handsome on the outside, but let developers into the onetime luxury apartment building at 628 E. Franklin Av, and they shy away from taking on this rehab project.

The job of making the gutted 1904 building habitable again for the first time in 18 years attracted only one offer when the city asked developers for proposals.  That offer will likely be rejected because it doesn't meet the city's financial terms, according to Cherie Shoquist, a city project coordinator.

But she said the city hasn't given up hope for bringing the hard-luck building it owns back to life, although she was surprised there wasn't more interest.

“It’s a beautiful, beautiful building that we thought the time was right for," she said.

One reason she's still optimistic is that one contractor might have bid on the project but for a cash-flow crunch caused by a delay in closing on the sale of a duplex he's selling. Charlie Browning said he's not surprised others shied away.

“There’s not a whole lot of people like myself that are ambitious about restoration work," he said. "When you walk in there and see a few dead pigeons and a dead hawk and you don’t have a vision.it's a little intimidating.”

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.

'Woonerf' may be headed to W. 29th Street

Posted by: Steve Brandt under People and neighborhoods, Politics and government, Urban living Updated: September 11, 2014 - 5:07 PM

It's looking like W. 29th Street may look considerably different in Uptown if the city can find added money to make that happen. 

Council Member Lisa Bender has focused attention on a potholed six-block section of the side street one block north of Lake Street, and the city has $750,000 set aside in 2016 to start work.

But the design liked best by area residents likely could cost closer to $2 million.

That's because the top option among about 30 people attending a presentation of design alternatives was a woonerf. That's a traffic-calming street, popular in parts of Europe, that uses street obstacles such as curbing, planters or throating to discourage and slow traffic. They're considered pedestrian-friendly.

Creating a one-way street without parking got almost no support, but there was more liking for a one-way with parking, especially in the westernmost blocks of 29th west of Colfax Avenue. But the woonerf option got the biggest support, especially if it encourages active street life.

Creating a woonerf will involve more curbing than other options, plus outlays for other appurtenances to slow traffic.  One option discussed was flexible use of the street in which obstacles like planters could be rolled in during period when activities such as a farmers' market or street fair are planned, but also be moved to allow more car access.  

But creation of more amenities will also require more money and neighborhood buy-in to help program the space, cautioned Don Pflaum, a transportation planner.  That could entail seeking outside grants for alternative transportation projects. Lighting and curbs would be assessed.

Bender said the design preference of the crowd reinforces the area's interest in a flexible street.  "Now we have to figure out how to make that happen," she added.

The section under discussion exempts the block between Dupont and Emerson avenues because that's been vacated for use by the Cub grocery store.

(Photo above: One example of a woonerf in Trondheim, Norway.)

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Walgreens robbery suspect says he held up 13 Twin Cities stores

Posted by: Erin Golden under Public safety Updated: September 11, 2014 - 11:30 AM

A 23-year-old Minneapolis man nabbed by police after a robbery at a Walgreens on Hiawatha Avenue has confessed to 12 other robberies at drug stores and gas stations in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Brookyn Center.

Robert Abraham Lee was arrested Sept. 8 after Minneapolis police were called to the Walgreens at 4547 Hiawatha Av. Lee had allegedly demanded  Xanax from a clerk while showing the handle of a Taser -- which the clerk thought was a gun. He later forced a cashier to provide money from a drawer before walking to the nearby light rail station and hopping a bus.

Police stopped the bus and arrested Lee, who later confessed to a string of robberies that began Dec. 29 at the Winner Gas Station at 3333 Cedar Av. S. Lee said he also robbed six separate Super America stations and two Walgreens in Minneapolis, along with a CVS in Brooklyn Center and three Walgreens in St. Paul. 

Five of the robberies were committed on one night: New Year's Eve. Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder said Lee sought drugs and money in his robberies.

Until this week's robbery, Elder said police had plenty of footage of Lee's crimes but no leads on a suspect. He credited the quick work of officers and bystanders who reported the latest incident and let police know Lee was headed to a bus stop. 

Lee has been charged with four counts of first degree robbery in connection with the robbery of the Hiawatha Avenue Walgreens, and more charges are pending. 

"We solved a lot of crimes and that's why it was a big get for us," Elder said. 

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