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

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One step ahead, one back for North Side groceries

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: May 5, 2015 - 12:42 PM

Posted by Steve Brandt and Eric Roper

What’s headed for the old Kowalski’s grocery store site next to the planned Webber Park library that Hennepin County breaks ground on next year?

The leading candidate for the North Side project is another grocery.  That’s the proposal by Pillsbury United Communities, the social service agency not known for peddling groceries.

It is proposing to partner with Super Valu on the grocery aspects of the development. The grocery wholesaler and retailer would supply expertise on designing and operating a grocery and serve as its wholesaler.

Oppidan would be the developer and construction manager for the renovation of the 15,000-square-foot space at 4414 Humboldt Av. N.

Meanwhile, the fate of another North Side grocery proposal is up in the air.  Entrepreneur Glenn Ford missed a key deadline in his efforts to open a 30,000-square-foot Praxis grocery store at the corner of Plymouth and Penn Avenues N.

He didn't submit architectural plans to the city by April 28.  He met a Feb. 20 deadline for submitting a preliminary concept plan for city staff to review. He also submitted an application for $200,000 in Grow North forgivable loan incentives, and supplied preliminary, but not final, financing commitments from two investors, according to city staff.

City spokesman Matt Lindstrom said that city development officials are discussing possible next steps for the proposal, for which the City Council granted its second extension of development deadlines in January.  Area Council Member Blong Yang said then he wouldn’t support the project if it missed deadlines.

For the Pillsbury proposal, the County Board is scheduled to vote on May 12 on a staff recommendation to transfer the land from the county to its housing and redevelopment authority. Then a purchase agreement with milestones toward development would be negotiated by that authority.

That was a recommendation of Hennepin County staff after receiving six proposals to develop the site that’s surplus property from assembling the library site. Webber-Camden neighborhood sentiment favored restoring grocery services to an area that lacks a full-service store. The closest is the Cub on Broadway Avenue W. after the closing of a Rainbow store in Robbinsdale.

Also envisioned within the building is a wellness center with a medical professional providing nutritional counseling and diagnostic service. North Side residents suffer from higher rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity than the rest of the city.

The store would create about a dozen full-time jobs, but that’s a conservative estimate, according to Thatcher Imboden, a principal planning analyst for the county. In contrast, the 20,000-square-foot store that Seward Co-op is developing on E. 38th Street on the South Side estimates it will create about 90 jobs, with about two-thirds of them full time. Ford’s Praxis proposal calls for about 75 full time employees in 30,000 square feet.

More on the Grain Belt office stickup

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: April 27, 2015 - 12:34 PM

An item published in this space 10 days ago about the redevelopment of the final building in the Grain Belt complex included a coda about the big stickup there in 1941.

Because the Star Tribune has lacked a working machine to read its own microfilmed archives, it took a trip to the library by reference librarian colleague John Wareham to corroborate some of the details.

It turns out that the actual amount of the heist was $46,182 in cash, or about $742,000 in today’s dollars.  That’s a lot of money.  So why did the brewing company have so much on hand at its office that day?

According to the Star Journal, the cash was to be distributed to taverns in order to cash the payroll checks of presumably thirsty workers.

Moreover, the evidence suggested that the robbers knew exactly when to strike to grab that haul, and also probably had cased the place earlier since they seemed to know the layout, according to eyewitnesses.

One of the oddities of the robbery is that portions of it were broadcast live.  It happened that an ad manager was on the line to Hibbing station WMFG, still in business today, as the robber struck. Not knowing the cause of the ruckus, he laid down the phone to close his office door when one of the attackers shoved a gun in his face and declared, “This is a stickup.” That was heard over the phone at the station, which broadcast the news even before the robbers had fled.

The entire force of 40 police detectives was put on the case, which was believed at the time to be the work of hoodlums from the infamous Depression-era gangs.

Another interesting facet of news reports suggests that life was simpler back then. The bank’s surety company paid off the loss with a check a mere four hours after the holdup.

(Photo above: Telephone operator Minnie Gillis shows the switchboard at Grain Belt's office wrecked by the robbers to prevent calls for help.)

Copeland clears Sharing and Caring Hands for new facility

Posted by: Updated: April 23, 2015 - 5:05 PM


Staff Writer

Sharing and Caring Hands founder Mary Jo Copeland hopped into a bulldozer Thursday morning and made the first pass at tearing down the homeless shelter she helped build.

But it was a happy day. Copeland is embarking on a $5 million expansion and renovation to better serve some of Minneapolis’ needy residents.

“There's a bit of sadness,” said Copeland, wearing a hard hat, safety vest and a smile. "I spent so many years in that building. It's a lot of memories."

The renovation project will add space for youth centers and temporary housing. It is a dramatic expansion of a shelter Copeland built three decades ago to provide food, temporary shelter, clothing, transportation and other amenities to the city’s poorest residents.

The new facility is set to open in mid-July, adding family-size apartments to the facility’s upper two levels and new children and teen centers on its main floor. Most of the space’s occupants will be young, as Copeland said the existing space for the nonprofit’s 400 children needs an upgrade.

“This [project] is going to give some families that have really been in crisis and lost a lot of hope for another change, to stay a little longer,” Copeland said.

Sharing and Caring Hands’ temporary housing building, named Mary’s Place after the Virgin Mary, currently houses 92 residential units for people to live for a few months as they find permanent housing.

She said the remodeling project won’t displace any homeless residents, and staff has made space available in its community rooms for youth activities until its opening.

The organization spends more than $400,000 a month on the needs of the thousands of families and children, mostly with private funds.

Council Member Lisa Goodman said Copeland’s success with raising the private money and rarely approaching the city for help is impressive.

Goodman said throughout her almost two decades of knowing Copeland, she’s been inspired by the charitable work.

“You spend any time with her and you see her eyes light up when she can help the lives of children,” she said. “You can’t but want to help, too.”

Copeland's husband, Dick, said that though the building holds cherished memories, he's glad the facility is expanding to meet its growing needs.

"It's been a long run," he said.

Jessica Lee is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.

Sharing and Caring Hands coming down to make way for new facility

Posted by: Updated: April 22, 2015 - 3:25 PM
Sharing and Caring Hands founder Mary Jo Copeland will help tear down building.

Sharing and Caring Hands founder Mary Jo Copeland will help tear down building.

The bulldozers will begin tearing down Sharing and Caring Hands on Thursday morning, making way for a new and larger facility to serve some of Minneapolis' neediest residents.

“I spent a lot of years there, helping millions of people. Now, I’m going to miss my building” said founder Mary Jo Copeland, 72, who has earned national and local accolades for her charity work. “But I’m happy we’re building.”

Sitting in the shadows of downtown Minneapolis’ Target Field, Sharing and Caring Hands is in the midst of a $5 million renovating project to add space for youth centers and temporary housing.

Over the last three decades, the faith-based nonprofit has provided food, temporary shelter, clothing, transportation and other needs to Minneapolis’ poorest residents. But growing need has overtaken their more modest facility.

The new site is set to open in mid-July, adding family size apartments to the facility’s upper two levels and new children and teen centers on its main floor. Copeland said the remodeling project won’t displace any homeless residents, and staff made space available in its community rooms for children activities until its opening.

“This [project] is going to give some families that have really been in crisis and lost a lot of hope for another change, to stay a little longer,” she said.

Stadium authority erupts in controversy over leadership roles

Posted by: Updated: April 17, 2015 - 5:08 PM


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.”


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