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Minneapolis adding positions in equity effort

Posted by: Erin Golden Updated: January 23, 2015 - 10:57 AM


City Coordinator Spencer Cronk, who is overseeing the hiring of several new equity roles, attends a meeting in September. DAVID JOLES/STAR TRIBUNE

Two efforts touted as key to Minneapolis' work on racial equity are nearing a launch -- once the city finds the people to lead them.

Next week, the City Council will vote on one proposed new position: a director of an "innovation delivery team," who would oversee work funded by a multimillion-dollar Bloomberg Philanthropies grant. The grant, announced late last year, will provide up to $2.7 million over three years. The city primarily plans to spend it assessing how it provides services -- things like towing cars or cleaning up graffiti -- and analyzing if all residents get the same level of service.

City Coordinator Spencer Cronk said the director position will be the first of several the city will add to help with that work. In total, the city plans to add six full-time positions, all of them funded by the grant money and designed to last only until those funds run out.

The proposed salary range for the director position is $100,167 to $118,092. Descriptions for the other jobs have not yet been released.

The council will get a full update on plans for the grant at its Wednesday meeting of the Committee of the Whole. The council will likely vote on the director's job description Jan. 30, and then he'll post the job for applicants. Grant requirements stipulate that a director must be appointed by the end of February.

Cronk said the grant will provide the city with a "really important asset that we can bring to our residents."

"We've seen during some tough financial times that the city had to cut back in a lot of areas," he said. "And one of those areas was a strong data analytic capacity."

As the city gathers that data, he said residents can expect to be kept in the loop and given opportunities to share their thoughts.

"A lot of the philosophy behind Bloomberg Philanthropies is to be much more transparent and engaging, and to make sure this is an interactive tool you can use with city residents," he said. 

Meanwhile, Cronk's office will soon add another two staff members, who will focus on racial equity efforts. Those positions are separate from the grant. 

The city has set aside $250,000 for its additional equity work which became a topic of controversy in the final stages of the council's budget approval process. Some council members questioned the role the new positions would play solving problems with racial inequities in the city, but the council ultimately voted to spare the new positions from the chopping block.

Cronk said his office expects to hire those two new staff members in the near future.

Council approves Lake-Knox settlement

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: January 16, 2015 - 12:38 PM

A settlement that's aimed at ending the pumping of groundwater into the Chain of Lakes from a luxury apartment building in Uptown won City Council approval Friday.

The consent agreement sets a March 31 deadline for Lake and Knox LLC to end discharge from 1800 W. Lake St., a 57-unit building. It is required to fill the lower of its two basement parking levels by then so that pumps can be shut off. The owners plan to offer valet parking for tenants until that lost parking can be replaced on an adjacent lot.

Area Council Member Lisa Goodman said the settlement's chief environmental contribution is ending the flow of an estimated 75 pounds annually of algae-feeding phosphorus borne by pumped groundwater into the lake. But she said it sends a signal to developers that ignoring city orders to halt such pumping won't be tolerated.

“I don’t think anyone else would be stupid enough to take this route,” Goodman said. The deal is expected to win Hennepin County District Court approval.

The city and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources already have issued permits that allow the pumping to continue legally during the basement work. Lake and Knox also is required to apply to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and its mortgage holder for permission to proceed.

If that approval doesn't come by Monday, when construction is scheduled to start, the owners get up to a two-week extension, but the March 31 deadline doesn't change.

If Lake and Knox misses that deadline, it faces a $5,000 daily penalty while it keeps pumping. But that penalty is cut to $1,000 daily if it's because HUD and its lender didn't act in time.

The agreement levies a total of $205,710 in penalties against Lake and Knox, with another estimated $78,000 to come. That represents city costs for extending piping onto Lake Calhoun to minimize unsafe ice in the lagoon between Calhoun and Lake of the Isles, the extra cost of cleaning a sewer grit-collecting chamber, and a fee for using city sewers. The Park Board separately is claiming about $32,000 for its costs.

Lake and Knox LLC consists of developers Nick Walton and Daniel Oberpriller, along with other unnamed investors. It still has financial claims pending against engineering firms that provided soil and engineering studies for the project.

The issue began when the city and state approved temporary permits for pumping away groundwater during construction, and grew into a public controversy when that continued after the project was finished to keep the lower garage from flooding. That led the city to take the rare step of filing its lawsuit in December, 2013..

(Above: A pipe, later extended farther, carried pumped groundwater from the apartment building onto the lagoon.)

Minneapolis moves up in ranking of 'creative' cities

Posted by: Erin Golden Updated: January 14, 2015 - 1:13 PM

Mixed-media artist Andy Saczynski works on a billboard in downtown Minneapolis in August 2014. ELIZABETH FLORES/STAR TRIBUNE

Minneapolis' array of "creative" jobs and organizations -- and its spending on everything from books to theater tickets -- has helped the city move up the list of the most "creatively vital" cities in the country.

A report delivered to the City Council on Wednesday showed that Minneapolis ranked No. 5 based on a comparison of the largest 100 cities' spending, sales and jobs in the arts. Last year, the city was No. 6. 

Gülgün Kayim, the city's director of arts, culture and the creative economy, said the rankings are based on data from a national organization, the Western States Arts Federation. The city first received the report in 2013.

The latest report shows that residents and visitors are spending more on things like artwork and concerts. In 2013, total retail arts sales were about $520 million, up 13 percent from two years earlier. Per capita, Minneapolis residents spent $1,165 per year on the arts. By comparison, the report said sports-related sales in the city amounted to about $534 million in revenue in 2013.

Meanwhile, Minneapolis generated another $311 million in revenues from arts-related nonprofits. That total includes grants awarded to organizations or museums and ticket sales for those groups' events. 

Kayim said the report is useful as a city planning tool and as a selling point for the city; she reported that at least two art schools use it as a recruiting tool. 

"We have a highly productive creative sector ... this is information that can help us create strategies for the city as an attractor and as a competitive advantage," she said.  

The report found that 26 percent of the "creative" employment in the metro area is in Minneapolis. The top occupations were photographers, musicians and singers, writers and authors, graphic designers and public relations specialists. The fastest-growing fields: actors, fashion designers, sound engineering technicians and agents. 

Council members said they were glad to see the city tracking the creative side of the city's economy and wanted to see more information on related jobs and salaries. 

Council Member Kevin Reich, who represents an area of northeast Minneapolis known for its growing arts community, said he's glad the report uses data from across the country to give the city an idea of its progress.

"It's a very real tool in that sense," he said. 

The cities that ranked ahead of Minneapolis were, in order: Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, New York City and Boston. 


W. River Parkway may reopen next fall

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: January 9, 2015 - 3:14 PM

It’s not going to be cheap but the fix that will reopen West River Parkway is supposed to be done by next fall.

That’s the schedule outlined to the Park Board last week as it gave preliminary approval to a rough design that involves installing four retaining walls on the West Bank bluff where a mudslide last June closed car, bike and foot traffic. The early cost estimate of the fix is $6 million, including emergency response and design costs.

There will be two five-foot retaining walls installed near the bottom of the hillslide where 4,000 cubic yards of soil and debris collapsed. Another major wall that could reach 20-feet high will be installed near the property line between the Park Board property and the University of Minnesota Medical Center – Fairview, which sits at the top of the bluff.  A smaller wall will sit above that.

Commissioner John Erwin asked the question on the minds of the roughly 6,000 motorists a day forced  to find an alternate route: “We’re all getting asked -- why so long?”

Project Manager Deb Bartels said it’s taken since this long since the June 19 slide for detailed investigation of the 10,000-square-foot section of bluff. That that had to be done to weigh what type of fix would stabilize the remaining hillside. Those tests have included seismic and laser diagnosis and borings.

The wall work, along with replanting the hillside, is supposed to start in June and be done by fall. The pending approval of the design by the Park Board later this month will allow Barr Engineering to finish the design. The project is expected to include improvements in collecting how rain is handled near and at the site so that soils don’t slump again after becoming saturated.

The Park Board so far has committed more than $1.1 million to responding to the slide for costs ranging from hauling away debris to installing barricades to temporarily covering the hillside with semi-porous sheeting to minimize further erosion.  The biggest chunk of that has gone to Barr, hired by the board in September.

The Park Board expects federal disaster relief reimbursement for 75 percent of the cost, and is hoping for state disaster relief to cover the rest. That’s up to the Legislature.

The potential for graffiti to cover the new walls was raised by Commissioner Jon Olson when he viewed the design. Staffers said they expect the wall to be camouflaged eventually as vegetation grows in.

Just how the walls will be surfaced has yet to be defined with historic preservation officials, but it’s clear the design won’t mimic the area’s limestone Works Progress Administration walls that date from the 1930s. Imitation is a no-no with preservation officials, but the walls will be compatible, Bartels said.

(Illustration below by Barr Engineering shows hillside with approximate placement of new retaining walls before revegetation.)

Minneapolis shoveling scofflaws in for faster fines

Posted by: Erin Golden Updated: January 9, 2015 - 11:58 AM
KYNDELL HARKNESS / kharkness@startribune.com

Avoid shoveling your sidewalk after the next big snowfall and you'll risk getting stuck with the bill from city crews making faster sweeps through Minneapolis neighborhoods.

Residents are responsible for clearing their sidewalks after a storm, and the city sends warning letters to people who fail to shovel. Sidewalks must be cleared within 24 hours in front of houses and duplexes and within four daytime hours for other properties.

But this year, officials say they're going to respond more quickly to people who ignore those letters. City crews will be sent out to clear the snow, and they'll be there twice as fast as they were in the past.

Property owners will be billed for the city's cleanup work. And there's no escape; unpaid fines will be tacked on to property tax bills.

Meanwhile, Minneapolis is also changing the way it clears corners to ensure pedestrians can get around after a snowfall. Crews will start with "pedestrian priority corners," most of them along major streets, before continuing on to areas with less car and foot traffic. The city says it will have snow removed within three working days after a snow emergency ends, or after we get at least four inches of snow.

Officials suggest calling 311 or using the city's 311 app to report areas that haven't been cleared.

For more information on how to shovel snow and avoid fines, check out the city's video guide, also available in Spanish, Hmong and Somali.


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