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Olson's role debated as Teamster strike recalled

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: July 18, 2014 - 9:53 PM

One of the more intriguing aspects of the 80th commemoration of the 1934 Teamster strikes is a rekindling of the debate over the response by Gov. Floyd B. Olson, a Minneapolis native.

Olson played a delicate role in the strike by Minneapolis truckers. He was elected as a left-leaning governor of the Farmer-Labor party. Yet he also had some support from business elements in Minneapolis for his vigorous prosecution of corruption on the Minneapolis City Council in the late 1920s, when he was Hennepin County attorney. Indeed, as one speaker this week recalled, a striker colloquially warned Olson that he was straddling a picket fence between the sides of labor and business, making any slip likely to be painful.

After open street warfare involving strikers and newly deputized lawmen, Olson mobilized National Guard troops during the May strike by drivers, but kept them on standby status.  That strike was resolved by an imperfect agreement that led to the climactic July strike, when more violence erupted.

Strikers were determined to stop truck movement, and business was determined to keep them running. After police opened fire on unarmed strikers trying to block a truck in the city’s market district, leaving two dead and dozens injured, many shot in the back, Olson mobilized the guard and declared martial law.

Farmer-Laborite Eddie Felien, editor-publisher of Southside Pride, argues that Olson’s actions maintained picket lines and preserved the strike when any other governor would have crushed the strike.

Others aren’t that charitable.  Bryan Palmer, the Canadian academic whose “Revolutionary Teamsters” advances study of the strike, spoke Thursday night at the downtown library. He addressed Olson’s role: “There was no question his actions were going to harm the strike when he brought in the National Guard.”  The guard issued permits for truck movements, seized strike headquarters and threw strike leaders into a military stockade. Palmer quoted one strike leader during this period as saying: “Trucks are moving.  They’re breaking the strike.” And another strike leader, Farrell Dobbs, simply titles one chapter of his 1972 memoir on this period “military strikebreaking."

Yet guardsmen never fired on strikers, unlike some other notable American labor confrontations.

Another historian, Mary Wingerd, who spoke on the same panel as Palmer, said she thinks Olson’s presence as governor played a significant role in strike psychology.  Despite being led by Trotskyist militants, the strikers likely mostly voted Farmer-Labor.  Having a governor of their persuasion in office — rather than a conservative hardliner -- likely made it easier for individual strikers to make the difficult commitment to put their jobs on the line in a strike, she said.

Palmer confessed that despite his research, he’s still somewhat mystified over how a strike that was starting to fray somewhat as it wound into August suddenly produced a settlement favorable to strikers. He gives more credit to President Franklin Roosevelt than Olson. Roosevelt clearly wanted the strike settled before the 1934 election; Palmer suggests that local bankers with substantial federal loans from the New Deal’s Reconstruction Finance Corporation put pressure on a key representative of recalcitrant employers.

The debate will keep historians busy for decades to come.

A forgotten 29th Street getting new attention

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: July 11, 2014 - 12:57 PM

A street that Minneapolis has turned its back on is finally headed for a little love.

29th Street stutter-steps its way across much of south Minneapolis, running a few blocks then vanishing completely only to re-emerge a few blocks away.

It’s pocked with potholes, curbs have eroded completely in some blocks, and its once-decorative fencing has turned rusty or filled with chain-linked gaps. That’s especially true between Lyndale and Hennepin avenues. It's a normal uninterrupted street only east of Hiawatha Avenue.

“It’s really not a street that I would walk down alone after nine at night. It’s very alley-like,” said Kayla Mueller, who has lived in Uptown for the last two years.

She’s one of several people who focused attention on the street during a recent discussion of how to improve connections between Lake Street and the Midtown Greenway sponsored by the Lake Street Council and Midtown Greenway Coalition. Four more such sessions are scheduled.

The worst section of street is also the focus of a series of three charrettes organized by Tenth Ward Council Member Lisa Bender. She’s focusing on the Lyndale to Hennepin section, which is scheduled for public improvements in 2016.

“I think it’s basically falling into the earth, Bender said.  “The whole thing is in terrible condition.”

That’s not the best advertisement for a hot stretch of real estate that’s added almost 3,000 housing units along the greenway in the past 10 years.

29th has a quirky personality in that stretch. The block behind the Rainbow (now Cub) grocery is vacated.  The west end dead-ends into the Mozaic complex. Bender said she’s heard public sentiment for a resplitting of space that allows vehicles and meets needs of property owners but gives more priority to pedestrians. The streets could potentially be used more flexibly for gatherings like a farmer’s market, she said.

Original greenway planning called for a promenade along the linear park’s north lip but little more than sidewalks emerged from that. One complication will be the fence next to the greenway trench, which is regarded by some as a protected historical artifact. It combines concrete pillars and iron railings.

The next charrette session focusing on the Hennepin-Lyndale section of 29th will be held on July 21 from 6 to-7:30 p.m. at Walker Community Library, 2880 Hennepin Av. S. Beder said it will feature several possible configurations.  A final design will be discussed at a fall meeting.

Meanwhile, Joyce Wisdom, Lake Street Council executive director, is hoping that the series of joint council-coalition meetings will generate support for something she’s been advocating since greenway planning began some 15 years ago. That’s improvements designed to help Lake Street shoppers find the greenway, and greenway users find businesses on Lake.

Interestingly, although a majority of those who filled out a council survey reported feeling fairly safe between Lake Street and the greenway, their second biggest priority is increased lighting, something nearly two-thirds favor. That was topped only by adding bike markings or lanes between Lake and the greenway. Better wayfinding signs to businesses and other destinations, and protected intersections were also supported by more than half of those surveyed.

The remaining Lake Street-greenway workshops are scheduled for July 21, 5-7 p.m., Heart of the Beat Puppet and Mask Theatre, 1500 E. Lake St; July 29, 5-7 p.m., Harriet Brewing, 3036 Minnehaha Av. S.; July 30, 7-9 p.m., Midtown Greenway Coalition office, 2834 10th Av. S., greenway level Suite 2; and Aug. 4, 5-7 p.m., Safari restaurant, 3010 4th Av. S.

(Photo: This section of W. 29th Street shows its crumbling curb and dented fence. Staff photo by Steve Brandt)

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

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: July 10, 2014 - 3:06 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, and that's better than ruling out potential usines of the building upfront. .  “We encourage the developers to contact the neighborhood and bring letters of support form the neighborhood," she said.

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.

City advises using 311, not 911, to report fireworks complaints

Posted by: Maya Rao Updated: July 2, 2014 - 10:52 AM

Minneapolis is telling residents to call 311 to report complaints about fireworks, but don’t dial the hotline on July 4. It won’t be open.

An advisory from crime prevention analyst Luther Krueger said Minneapolis 911 fields 300 to 400 calls an hour on a typical July 4 evening – at least three to four times more than on a normal day – mostly for noise complaints. Police can’t respond to such a large volume of calls.

“Folks can help make sure emergency calls are answered as quickly as possible, by not calling 911 with fireworks noise complaints,” the email said. Instead, they should call or report complaints online to 311, it said, and dial 911 in situations where fireworks have injured someone, landed on a building or wooded area and pose a fire risk, or people are involved in unruly behavior.

In a separate email, Krueger told the Star Tribune that the emphasis is on reporting to 311 online.

Citizens can also report complaints to 311 through July 4 through a mobile app. City staff will review those and may follow up with the property owner, but will not dispatch a police squad.

And citizens can still call 311 through 7 p.m. Thursday, and starting at 8 a.m. Saturday.

“Most of the fireworks complaints are not 911 issues,” said Don Stickney, director of Minneapolis 311. “It’s not an emergency, it’s a nuisance.”

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.)

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