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

W. River Parkway trails to get rehab detours

Posted by: Steve Brandt under Parks and recreation, Urban living Updated: August 18, 2014 - 5:13 PM

The already detoured W. River Parkway will get added trail detours this week with trail reconstruction between Plymouth and Franklin avenues.

The work will mean trails closings through the rest of the construction season and into 2015, park officials said.

The 3.2 miles of trail in some spots include the original paving when portions of the bike and pedestrian trails were created. The trail ranges from as old as 38 years on spots of the parkway to as new as 16 years old in the newest segment of central riverfront parkway opened in 1998. Some of the latter area also was repaved after the construction of the new Interstate 35W bridge.

The parkway and its biking and walking trails have been closed just south of S. 4th Street since a June 19 mudslide. Minneapolis Park and Recreation officials have said that section of parkway near the University of Minnesota’s West Bank campus may not reopen by the end of the year, while they attempt to devise a means of stabilizing soil that continues to wash down the hill.

According to the most recent bike counts available, the parkway bike path is used by about 1,400 cyclists a day near the Hennepin Avenue Bridge.

The work is being paid for by $2.2 million in state and federal funding. Work is scheduled to begin with tree removal on the project’s Franklin end, with removal of trail paving following next week, working upriver initially.

Completion of the entire project isn’t expected until next summer. Among the trail improvements planned as part of the project are better connections to the Stone Arch Bridge and the Cedar Lake Regional Trail, replacement of some warped or rotting planks opposite the Mill City Museum area, and a new trailhead with a kiosk and drinking fountain at the south end of Bohemian Flats.

City authorizes legal action against developer

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: August 15, 2014 - 4:44 PM

The city is preparing for possible legal action against a developer it says reneged on a loan from 2008.

Following a closed-door session Friday, the City Council took the unusual step of authorizing the city attorney to initiate a lawsuit or foreclosure action against entities headed by developer Don Gerberding. The loan relates to Gerberding's redevelopment of a parcel at 2nd Street and West Broadway that now houses his company, Master.

Precisely what the city intends to do remains unclear. A city spokesman said he would inquire about the city attorney's preference following today's vote.

Unrelated to the loan dispute, Gerberding is currently trying to develop a property a Franklin and Lyndale Avenues -- a project that has garnered a lot of attention.

The city granted Gerberding a ten-year, $350,000 loan in 2008 to transform a site once occupied by Irv's Bar, which had attracted many police calls. Gerberding developed the parcel -- though not to the city's original specifications -- but soon fell into default on the loan, according to city documents.

The city agreed to a forbearance, reducing the minimum monthly payments on the loan. The city says Gerberding then failed to meet one of the conditions of that new agreement: paying property taxes when they are due.

As a result, the city put the loan back into default and accelerated the repayment requirements in November 2013, according to a letter sent to Gerberding that month. The letter requested a payment of $405,500, which accounted for interest on the loan.

“We are a patient lender," said the city's community development chair, council member Lisa Goodman, following Friday's meeting. "We believe in the community development objectives. But a complete disregard for us as a lending institution is not acceptable."

Gerberding expressed suprise at the City Council's action when contacted Friday, saying he was complying with the terms of the renegotiated agreement. "[The company] has been making it’s monthly payments and is current," Gerberding said.

He said he did not recall receiving the November letter removing the renegotiated agreement, adding that he has entered into a payment plan with Hennepin County to pay off delinquent taxes over three years.

After contacting the city Friday, Gerberding later said he does not expect legal action to be taken. "It seems as if there's some miscommunication," Gerberding said. "There will be a resolution."

City approves new towing contracts

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: August 15, 2014 - 5:29 PM

The City Council approved a new batch of towing contracts Friday, adding language aimed at keeping private towers in line during chaotic snow emergencies.

The new contracts come nearly six months after the Star Tribune reported that towing was not being enforced equally throughout the city, illustrated by zero towing cars in Southwest Minneapolis during one particular snow emergency (right). At the time, the city and one of its towing companies, Rapid Recovery, accused each other of being at fault.

The city never fully investigated what caused the problems between the contractor and city field supervisors, public works officials said. Rapid Recovery was awarded the same territory in the new round of contracts.

“I’m not sure that we’ll ever come to the exact bottom line of the root problem,” said Jon Wertjes, the city's director of traffic and parking services. “But I think globally we could all agree that there was maybe miseducation, miscommunication among both parties, that would suggest we can both do it better.”

The contracts (which can be renewed until 2020) now contain more explicit language specifying that contractors must follow the direction of city staff. It also specifies the city can require the contractors to use its towing software, allowing staff to more easily see whether the companies have deployed enough trucks.

“Three quarters of the battle is implementing this and enforcing the language,” said Mike Kennedy, the city’s transportation maintenance director. “There didn’t need to be a ton of contract language change, as much as our understanding the authority we have and exercising it.”

The city expects to pay the five bidding towing companies a combined $2 million annually. The two prime contracts for year-round towing went to Wrecker Services, Inc. and Rapid Recovery. The other contractors, who only work during snow emergencies and street sweeping, are Corky’s Towing, Inc., Twin Cities Transport and Recovery and Williams Towing Inc.  

The contracts were last opened in 2008. Since then, Rapid Recovery has decreased their price slightly per tow (to $58.94), while Wrecker Services has raised it nearly $5 (to $44.65).

The City Council’s Transportation and Public Works committee chair, Kevin Reich, said in February that he would like to see stiffer penalties for contractor noncompliance in the new contracts. But most of the key penalties remained the same in the new contract.

“That was an initial response at the time,” Reich said of his earlier comments. “What tools can we use to get the outcomes we want. Staff has endeavored to explore, develop and implement some other tools that are contractually enforceable.”

Reich said the mandatory use of the towing software will be an important accountability tool. “We will be able to make things a little more efficient,” Reich said. “We will be able to track them and redirect them where there are gaps that show up from the data that we receive.”

Reich said the new contract allows the city to call in other companies in the event that a contractor is understaffed. But a comparison of the two contracts shows the city already had that ability, and the language has not changed.

Here are the expected payments annually, by contractor. A map of the zones and districts are located on page 26 of the contract language, attached below.

Wrecker Services, Inc.                                   District A/Zone 3                   $666,490.55

Rapid Recovery, Inc.                                      District B/Zone 5                   $632,838.78

Corky’s Towing, Inc.                                       Zone 1 & Zone 4                    $415,120.00

Twin Cities Transport and Recovery                  Zone 2                                  $141,000.00

Williams Towing, Inc.                                      Zone 6                                  $119,691.00

Towing Bid 2014

Minneapolis lags on black history listings

Posted by: Steve Brandt under Minnesota History, Parks and recreation, People and neighborhoods, Politics and government, Urban living Updated: August 15, 2014 - 1:41 PM

The recent addition of the Arthur and Edith Lee house to the National Register of Historic Places highlights the paucity of black-oriented Minneapolis sites on the prestigious federal list.

St. Paul boasts five of the state's nine national register sites associated with black history.  The Lee home at 4600 Columbus Av. S. represents only the second such black-oriented listing for Minneapolis on the national list. It was the site of mob gatherings of thousands in 1931 when a black family bought the home in an all-white neighborhood.

To be sure, there may be additional sites that have been designated as worthy of historic preservation as important parts of the city's heritage under a local preservation ordinance. But one can use the city's searchable map of such landmarks to scan areas of long significance historically for black residents, such as the South Side area around Hosmer library, or the entire North Side, without finding a single locally designated site with an obvious association with black history or residents. That's aside from the city's lone other national regisrter site associated with black history, the Lena O. Smith home.

But one group has no trouble finding a collection of sites associated with or commemorating black history. That's the Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota, a group of black cyclists.

The club is sponsoring its annual Dark2Dawn ride on Aug. 23. The all-nght ride begins at 9 p.m. at Martin Luther King Park, 4055 Nicollet Av. S., winds to about a dozen sites in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and ends with a 6 a.m. breakfast. Registration is required for the $25 event that's a fundraiser for the club, named after the legendary black cyclist who competed professionally at the turn of the 19th century, setting world records for speed.

The moderately paced ride of about 50 miles is billed as a tour through African-American historical geography, and will feature speakers at each site.  In Minneapolis, the tour includes the Lee house, the historically black E. 38th Street and 4th Avenue S. business district, the Minnesota African American Museum, Bassett Creek and the Van White Bridge, the J.D. Rivers garden, the Homewood subdivision in the Willard-Hay neighborhood, and Morrill Hall at the University of Minnesota. St. Paul sites include St. Peter Claver and Pilgrim Baptist churches, the Hallie Q. Brown complex with Penumba Theatre, Minnesota History Center, and Union Depot. More information is at: http://tinyurl.com/m9kzhso

Until the Lee house designation, the only national register listing associated with black history in Minneapolis was the home of Lena O. Smith, an early black lawyer, and a longtime leader in the Minneapolis branch of the NAACP. She also representated the Lees in their negotiations with the the white-dominated homeowners association.

One black-oriented business long at the corner of 38th and 4th, the 80-year-old Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, is being considered for local designation.  More may emerge next year. That's when the city's heritage preservation staff hopes to focus more on properties associated with people of color, according to city planner John Smoley.

(Photo above: The Lena O. Smith house at 3905 5th Av. S., was the only Minneapolis site associated with black history on the National Register of Historic Places until July.)

        

Student designs aim to activate downtown spaces

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: August 15, 2014 - 10:15 AM

Photos: Student projects arranged downtown, courtesy of Streetscape Lab 2014

Can innovative street furniture improve the way people perceive downtown?

That was the question at the heart of a recent collaboration between the Downtown Improvement District and the University of Minnesota College of Design, which tasked undergraduate students working in an empty City Center retail space to activate public space and solve problems for downtown pedestrians.

Their rough prototypes were put to a field test for several weeks to see how the public would react. The projects included a standing counter for the food truck lunch crowd, free wooden chairs on Nicollet Mall, a hose spraying mist at hot pedestrians, signs featuring walking and biking times to local destinations and a wiffle ball field in Peavey Plaza.

"In many cases in downtown Minneapolis… a public place is less successful because of how it’s designed or programmed or the adjacent uses," said Ben Shardlow, the director of public realm initiatives at the DID, which is funded through assessments on downtown properties. "And in some cases, it’s because the street furniture that’s there is configured in such a way that it doesn’t work. Or, in more cases, it’s because there’s nothing there. There’s no furniture, there’s nowhere to sit, there’s no greenery.”

Shardlow said rather than try to refine the student prototypes into full-fledged models, they will use the findings to inform future designs about improving public space. Use of the counter, for example, will factor into future discussions about the facilities needed to support outdoor lunches downtown. Other collaborations downtown, such as a "parklot" on Hennepin Avenue, are supplying similar information.

“By making public places more livable and inviting, then it will increase use of those spaces," Shardlow said. “And fostering more positive activity is crucial in creating safe, lively public places.”

After arranging their projects, students watched from a distance how people interacted with them. Tom Oliphant, one of the course instructors, said it was thrilling to see pedestrians extend their hand to grab some mist from a hose arranged near Peavey Plaza.

“It was just this really teeny little intervention, and it just made their life better," Oliphant said during an exhibit of the projects last week.

In addition to free wooden chairs that were placed on 6th Street and Nicollet Mall, the DID put its own metal chairs near its office at the Young-Quinlan Building.

"It took a while for people to realize that they could sit down," said Kathryn Reali, the DID's chief operating officer. "I think people felt that … I must have to buy something before I can sit down in these chairs.”

Undergraduate Andra Zerbe, a rising junior, designed street signs that inform walkers and bikers how long it would take to reach nearby destinations. She was considering visitors to the All-Star Game who were unfamiliar with the city.

“Someone’s coming in, they want to know where to go. Here’s a suggestion," Zerbe said. "You use Google Maps afterwards to figure out exactly where you’re going. But here’s something that maybe you weren’t thinking about."

Instructor James Wheelers' class focused more on Peavey Plaza, where they created an ad hoc wiffle ball field replete with scoreboard and beside giant jenga sets and the Swedish game Kubb. The reflecting pool in the below-grade plaza is not currently active, giving people few reasons to venture down into the space.

“It was really about kind of figuring out how people would want to interact in a space that’s really kind of underutilized," Wheeler said. "And just trying some things out.”  

The ball field got some use during the All-Star Game festivities, from a little league team waiting to march in the parade to a group of men who discovered it later at night.

"We know that Peavey Plaza isn't going to become a wiffle ball field," Shardlow said in an e-mail. "But what did we learn about what happens when you give people something to do there other than sit?"

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