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

Mobile parking payment likely coming in 2015

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: September 19, 2014 - 1:13 PM

Pay-by-phone parking meters are coming soon to Minneapolis.

Several months after the city requested proposals from companies willing to provide the service, city staff are recommending Georgia-based Parkmobile USA.

If approved by the City Council, the technology will be rolled out in 2015. That's following a limited field test later this year.

Mobile payment systems allow drivers to easily add more money to their parking meters using a smartphone app or through a phone call.

Some additional benefits envisioned by city staff include using text messages to alert users their space is about to expire and allowing users to pay for a parking space while inside their car during inclement weather.

Other cities, including Seattle, Washington, D.C. and Houston, already have similar systems.

Implementing the system is expected to have "minimal to no cost," according to a staff report. They expect it may reduce parking capital costs, since there may be less need in the future for physical pay stations.

Other companies that submitted bids include CALE, IQA, MobileNow, Pango, Parkmobile, Passport, Software for Good.

Parkmobile's website shows they already provide services for a number of private lots in Minneapolis. See the map at left.

The city's transportation and public works committee will discuss the contract on Tuesday.

Minneapolis approves Ryan Cos. for downtown east development

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: September 19, 2014 - 3:52 PM

Ignoring a last-minute offer from the Minnesota Vikings, the City Council voted to give Ryan Companies the right to develop a key parcel of land in downtown east Friday.

If Ryan completes the apartment building they have proposed for the site, the developer would pay the city $3 million for their use of the parcel tucked beside a new, publicly-financed parking ramp. That's $2.6 million less than they promised this spring, before a more complex deal including a hotel fell through.

Hoping to win the rights away from Ryan, the Minnesota Vikings offered $8.1 million in a modified proposal distributed to council members during Friday's meeting. That's up from a previous offer of $4.6 million.

The council did not acknowledge the Vikings' new offer during Friday's deliberations, however.

Precisely how much is garnered from the air rights is important for city officials, since that money is needed to fund a great deal of the downtown east park across the street. That park will cost between $6.3 and $10.5 million, only about $2.1 million $1 million of which is accounted for without the development rights money.

“We want to build something as big as we can and as fast as we can to generate these benefits for the city," said Council Member John Quincy.

The parcel in question sits on 4th Street between Park and Chicago Avenues (see diagram below). That site is now occupied by a building formerly owned by the Star Tribune. The block will eventually be home to a parking ramp required by the stadium legislation.

Ryan still faces hurdles ahead, such as reaching a deal to build an extra level of parking above the stadium ramp for its tenants. The Vikings have expressed concern about how that will impact game day traffic, though the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority -- which will own the ramp -- is optimistic that it won't kill the deal.

"Although this was an important milestone, it's still the first part in a very complex project," said Ryan vice president Tony Barranco after the vote. "And we still have to get to work tomorrow with all the same stakeholders involved."

Ryan had previously hoped to use some of the 1,600 spots in the stadium parking ramp for its tenants, but was told this was not legally possible. Those spots are expected to accommodate stadium attendees as well as Wells Fargo employees.

How often the stadium ramp gets used is important, since its parking revenues are committed to paying back the city's debt on the project. Ryan has backed any shortfalls for the first 10 years.

The Vikings said in a statement that the city missed an opportunity, but it will work to make the multi-faceted downtown east project a success.

“In the team’s view, our proposal provided the City and its taxpayers with the best bargain and certainty of performance,” said Vikings stadium project executive Don Becker. “The City’s decision today to move forward on the developer’s proposal will not alter the Vikings steadfast commitment to working with the City and other stakeholders to ensure that the Ramp is built without delay and in a manner that protects the significant public and private investment in the stadium, its operations and the City Park.”

Council cuts food-liquor ratio rule

Posted by: Erin Golden under Local business, People and neighborhoods, Politics and government Updated: September 19, 2014 - 11:55 AM

A city ordinance requiring some restaurants outside of downtown to maintain a careful balance of their food and alcohol sales has been scrapped by the Minneapolis City Council.

The council voted 12-0 Friday to overhaul the rules governing alcohol sales for restaurants located along commercial corridors like Uptown. Those restaurants had been required to ensure that at least 60 percent of their revenues came from food sales, and to cap alcohol sales at 40 percent. Council members said the popularity of higher-priced craft and local beer, wine and cocktails had made it almost impossible for businesses to comply with the rule.

Now, those businesses won't have to follow a food and beverage ratio. Instead, the city will employ new tactics aimed at ensuring the restaurants don't lead to problems in their neighborhoods. Restaurants will now follow new rules about the hours in which they must serve food, provide specific alcohol service training, and risk losing their entertainment license if problems crop up. 

Council Member Cam Gordon said he's aware of some neighborhoods' concerns that changing the rules could lead to problems from customers who have to much to drink. But he said he believes the city has provided enough checks and balances to avoid trouble.

"I challenge all the restaurants and all the bars and all the city regulators to prove how this is going to be better," he said. "And we're going to end up with less issues, and fewer problems."

A proposal for a similar change for restaurants tucked further into neighborhoods will be put to voters this November. Those restaurants are currently required to make 70 percent of their sales from food and limit alcohol sales to 30 percent. 

Separately, the council voted 12-0 to approve a change to the rules for business' restrooms. Now, businesses operating in the city will be allowed to have gender-neutral, single-user restrooms, rather than being required to have separate restrooms for men and women.

Council Member Andrew Johnson, who introduced the change, said the requirement sometimes proved to be a burden for businesses. He said restrooms not limited to a particular gender allows for more flexibility for families and an option for transgender customers. 

Residents, activists blast police chief for missing accountability forum

Posted by: Libor Jany Updated: September 19, 2014 - 1:46 PM

South Side residents and community activists had sharp criticism for Minneapolis police Chief Janeé Harteau after she pulled out of a community forum Thursday night on police accountability because of the “potential for physical violence."

In her absence, they directed their anger at an empty chair where Harteau would have sat, symbolically placed onstage next to the other panelists.

The crowd of about 200 complained that the chief has ignored their concerns about the department’s diversity issues and the quality of police service in the communities in which they live.

Harteau has come under mounting political pressure to reduce gun violence, particularly on the city’s North Side, where a 17-year-old boy was gunned down last week in what neighbors called an ongoing gang turf war. The chief was invited to defend her record at the “listening session” at Sabathani Community Center, 310 E. 38th St., but pulled out because of security concerns.

She said she remained committed to working with residents to address their concerns, citing her “long history of attending community gatherings that are progressive and productive.”

"The MPD received credible information from a long-standing community leader, in addition to a number of other sources, about planned physical disruptions at a 'community listening session' that I was scheduled to attend,” Harteau said in a statement released Thursday afternoon. “Based on these known threats, which were outright and open in social media forums, I have decided it is in the best interest of community public safety to cancel my appearance. I am disappointed because I looked forward to hearing from the residents of Minneapolis.”

Her decision didn't sit well with the audience, some of whom called for her ouster.

“For the chief to say that she’s scared to come here, when she has 700 or more security people makes no sense to me,” Lisa Clemons, a former Minneapolis police officer, told the panel, drawing loud applause.

Cookie Cart debuts bakery upgrade

Posted by: Erin Golden under Local business, People and neighborhoods Updated: September 18, 2014 - 5:55 PM

Police Chief Janeé Harteau, Council Member Barb Johnson, Hennepin County Commissioner Linda Higgins, Cookie Cart executive director Matt Halley, Cookie Cart employee Keondre Jordan and Mayor Betsy Hodges cut the ribbon at the grand re-opening of the Cookie Cart at 1119 W. Broadway Ave.  

A north Minneapolis bakery that aims to help develop teenagers' business skills unveiled a new, upgraded space Thursday -- and the news that it plans to put more young people to work. 

Cookie Cart, located at 1119 W. Broadway Ave., had been closed for several months as workers installed new equipment, built a cafe seating area and fixed the building's elevator. The business' re-opening was marked with a speech from Mayor Betsty Hodges, an open-house tour of the facility, and free cookies for the local dignitaries and neighbors who packed the bakery's ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Matt Halley, the Cookie Cart's executive director, said the revamped space will allow the organization to employ 200 teenagers. That's up about 50 young employees from last fall. 

"This bakery is really our classroom," he said. "It's where we teach life, leadership and employment skills."

Mayor Betsy Hodges proclaimed Sept. 18 as "Cookie Cart Day" in the city, and encouraged people to order the business' sweet treats to take to their own offices. 

"This is one of the leading social enterprises in the city of Minneapolis," she said. 

Keondre Jordan, a 16-year-old Cookie Cart employee, said he's been working in the bakery for two years. Once he got over the a few hurdles -- scooping out the cookie dough turns out to be tougher than it looks, he said --  the job made him think differently about what he could do after high school.

Before he showed up at the bakery, Keondre didn't think he'd go to college. Now, he's more certain it's something he could do.

"It's not just about selling cookies here," he said.

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