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

MPRB OKs downtown park deal despite pleas

Posted by: Steve Brandt under Parks and recreation, Politics and government, Urban living Updated: December 17, 2014 - 9:09 PM

Minneapolis park commissioners voted Wednesday to assume the role of absentee landlord for a planned downtown park to be built near the Vikings stadium, despite efforts by a flock of speakers to tie bird-safe glass to the issue.

The 7-2 vote means that the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will take ownership -- in name only -- of the planned park of less than two city blocks. The proposal needed a super majority of six votes because it involves buying the land -- for a token $1 -- as well as leasing it back to the city for between 30 and 50 years. The City Council approved it last week.

The vote followed pleas from 21 speakers that the agreement be conditioned on installing bird-safe glass in the $1 billion stadium. Supporters said locating a park virtually next-door to the reflective glass of the stadium would create conditions that would draw migratory birds to smash into the building's 200,000 square feet of glass.

"It's cruel, it's gory and it's sad," said Michelle Schroeder, one speaker. Proponents of glass that's more visible to birds have taken their case to Gov. Mark Dayton and to the Minnesota Sports Facilities Commission without winning their requested substitution that costs an estimated $1.1 million. The team has said it will work with 3M to test a film that might make the glass safer, but opponents say they doubt how real that product is.

Commissioners voting for the sale-leaseback arrangement were Meg Forney, John Erwin, Steffanie Musich, Jon Olson, Anita Tabb, Scott Vreeland and Liz Wielinski. They generally argued that the Park Board can't force changes in the design of a stadium negotiated by the team and the authority. The park deal was opposed by Annie Young and Brad Bourn.

An effort by Bourn to send the deal back to committee to develop new terms for the park failed for lack of a second. The Park Board months ago passed a resolution urging bird-safe glass be incorporated in the stadium.

The park agreement is intended to meet a legal requirement in the city charter -- reinforced by a judge a year ago in an aborted challenge to the stadium -- that the Park Board has authority for parks in the city.  The $1 sale to the Park Board will take place by mid-2016 after Ryan Companies finishes construction in the area. The leasing of the land back to the city allows it to have a third-party conservancy oversee use of the park.

The Park Board refused earlier this year to develop and run the park due to the expected cost of maintaining it and the estimated 80 days per year when it would be reserved for use by the team or the authority, under a deal negotiated by the city.

Proponents of the sale-lease said the upside is that decades from now the Park Board will have a substantial downtown park after the deal expires. They said that turning down the arrangement would mean the city would go ahead with the park, forcing the park system to sue to preserve its charter authority.

But bird advocates pressed with arguments for hinging the deal on changing to bird-safe glass.  "No one has more responsibility to protect migratory birds than you," state Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, told commissioners. "It will become a killing field for birds."

"To say you have no power is a copout," Kahn said. "'No' is a very powerful word and you should use it."

     

MPCA narrows riverfront particle search

Posted by: Steve Brandt under Politics and government, Public safety, Urban living Updated: December 16, 2014 - 9:40 AM

The search for firms contributing to a recent air quality violation in the upper riverfront of Minneapolis is narrowing to a smaller number of firms, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The agency reported in late November that its air quality monitor located just off the river’s West Bank  south of the Lowry Avenue Bridge had twice recorded violations of the state limit for total airborne particles.

Further examination found that iron particles made up the preponderance of airborne metal particles collected by the agency’s sampler, not surprising considering the number of metal recycling firms in the area.

Jeff Smith, director of the agency’s industrial division said it is currently looking at six to 10 firms within a one-quarter mile radius of the sampler as potential contributors to the particulates.  It’s now collecting information from them about their outdoor operations during the late October and early November sampling when the violations were recorded.

“Everyone within that quarter-mile range, we’re looking at very closely,” Smith said. He said the agency wouldn't discuss specific firms as potential violators during this investigative phase.

The violations were recorded little more than three weeks after the MPCA added monitoring for total particles to its sampling station in October.  It previously ad been checking for more harmful finer particles hourly since the start of 2013. The total particle count is a 24-hour sample collected every six days.

Smith said the agency’s goal is to reach company-by-company agreements for corrective action that will be transparent to all firms operating in the area.

The two violations haven’t been repeated to date, Smith said.  But they’re already causing changes in monitoring.  The initial plan was to stop monitoring for total particles by the end of this year, but Smith said monitoring will continue for at least a year.

Deal ends Uptown apartment pumping by March 31

Posted by: Steve Brandt under Parks and recreation, Politics and government, Urban living Updated: December 15, 2014 - 4:51 PM

A proposed agreement to halt the pumping of groundwater from an Uptown luxury apartment building into the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes was outlined Monday afternoon in Hennepin County District Court.

The tentative agreement calls for Lake and Knox LLC, the owner of the 57-unit apartment at 1800 W. Lake St., to cease pumping groundwater by March 31, by which time it expects to have filled its lower parking level before letting it flood.

The building’s pumps annually send 90 million gallons of groundwater to a nearby lagoon. That’s enough to fill the seating area of Target Center.

The city of Minneapolis and the Park Board a year ago sued the building’s owners, arguing that the groundwater pumping was both illegal and harmed the quality of nearby waters, particularly Lake Calhoun and the lagoon between Calhoun and Lake of the Isles. Judge Philip D. Bush ruled the pumping illegal on three different grounds.

The Park Board is not a party to the settlement, and its attorney, Brian Rice, is scheduled to discuss its litigation with the board in a closed session on Wednesday.  It is seeking damages to offset the impact of extra algae-feeding phosphorus that city and park experts say is carried by the pumped water into the lake.

“We’re very pleased with this settlement,” Rice told Bush.

The general agreement hammered out by attorney Charles Nauen, representing the city, and Del Ehrich, for Lake and Knox, now will fleshed out. It’s expected to be submitted to the City Council for approval in mid-January, and then submitted to Bush for formal approval.

“It appears this is a workable solution to a difficult solution,” Bush said after hearing the tentative agreement.

The deal calls for the building owner to reimburse the city $130,709 for extra sewer cleaning and to reroute the pumped water from the lagoon out onto Calhoun to minimize unsafe ice conditions for the City of Lakes Loppet ski races. It will also pay about $75,000 more for rerouting the flow in the coming winter.

Lake and Knox said in court filings that it plans to use valet parking temporarily and build a new underground ramp next-door within a year to replace the parking it loses when the bottommost of two basement levels of parking in the building floods. That level was built below the water table; Lake and Knox is now seeking damages from several of its technical consultants on the apartment project, which was completed in 2011.

The replacement parking is outside the scope of the agreement, but Lake and Knox said it is crucial to replace parking to keep tenants and enough cash flow to finance the work.  It plans to remove mechanical and electrical components from the lower parking level, fill it with sand and gravel and then seal it off from remaining basement parking. The firm said that work is crucial to ensuring the building remains stable. It estimates the work will cost about $1.2 million, while adding new parking is expected to cost about $2 million.

“This is a big construction project, lot of moving pieces.  Everybody expects it will be implemented,” said Ehrich.

“It is turning the basement into a much deeper footing for the building,” Bush said. He’ll keep jurisdiction over the implementation of the deal if disputes arise.  Nauen said the deal contains a clause allowing for act of God delays.

 

Grant will help city take stock of core services

Posted by: Erin Golden under Politics and government Updated: December 15, 2014 - 1:00 PM

Minneapolis will receive up to $2.7 million to fund a team that will analyze how the city delivers its primary services -- and help ensure it does so equitably.

The city announced today that it is one of 12 communities selected to participate in Bloomberg Philanthropies' Innovation Teams program. Minneapolis will get a grant of $900,000 per year for up to three years, and will use it to assess how the city distributes services, like towing cars or cleaning up graffiti. 

The money will fund an "i-team" of consultants that will sort through data and work with the city to fix gaps in how it provides services. 

In a statement, Mayor Betsy Hodges said the grant fits will with the work the city is already doing. The mayor and several council members have made made racial equity one of the most-talked-about goals at City Hall this year. The budget approved last week calls for the creation of a new Office of Equitable Outcomes, which will include two new staff positions.

"This grant recognizes the commitment we have made to increasing equity in our city," Hodges said. "The analytical capacity that we build in partnership with Bloomberg will also be available to apply to issues beyond equity."

Other cities set to get the grants are Albuquerque, N.M., Boston, Centennial, Colo., Jersey City, N.J., Long Beach, Calif., Los Angeles, Peoria, Ill., Rochester, N.Y., Seattle, and Syracuse, N.Y. 

This is the second round of cities to receive the additional funding. In a news release, Minneapolis officials said other cities have already seen measurable results, including fewer retail vacancies in Memphis, Tenn., minimizing unnecessary ambulance trips in Louisville, Ky., and reducing the murder rate in New Orleans.

Bloomberg Philanthropies oversees the charitable work funded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The organization will spend $45 million expanding its Innovation Teams program over the next few years.

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