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

Board suspends chief executive of Community Action of Minneapolis

Posted by: Alejandra Matos Updated: October 14, 2014 - 1:20 PM

The board of Community Action of Minneapolis has suspended its longtime chief executive without pay after a state audit found the agency had misspent taxpayer dollars.

The board approved Bill Davis’ suspension Monday. It is in place indefinitely.

“That’s all I can say right now,” said board chair Mike Anderson. “We will have another meeting later on.”

The suspension comes two weeks after the organization was shut down by the state after an audit by the Department of Human Services found leaders of the organization misspent more than $800,000 between 2011 and 2013 in taxpayer money on travel, a celebrity cruise, spa visits and a personal car loan to Davis.

Davis could not be reached for comment.

In an interview last month, Davis defended the financial management of the organization, which gets about half its funding from tax dollars. He said they sent the state more than 100 pages of documents to refute the most damaging findings, but state leaders never included it in the final report. Davis has not provided that document to the Star Tribune after numerous requests.

The board of directors that approved the suspension was only made up of four members. Numerous board members have resigned since the audit was obtained by the Star Tribune, including Sen. Jeff Hayden and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison. Both served during the time covered in the audit, but had appointed alternates.

Despite denying that he was involved in any misspending, Hayden was hit with an ethics complaint by Senate Republicans who allege that Hayden participated in the misuse of funding.

DATA: Neighborhoods and their fund balances

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: October 13, 2014 - 1:46 PM

The Star Tribune reported this weekend that a sudden windfall was raising questions about how to spend millions of dollars earmarked for neighborhood purposes.

Our story included a map (above) of how much each organization has received since 2011 and how much of their historical allocation remains "uncontracted."

Some expressed interest in seeing this data in its raw format, which shows the flow of money in more detail.

That breakdown, provided by the city's finance department, is embedded below. Some on the City Council have focused on the "un-contracted" category, which shows unspent funds.

"Uncontracted" does not necessarily mean the money is not tied to a specific future project, the city's neighborhood and community relations director David Rubedor said in a recent e-mail. In some cases those funds may have been set aside for a project that has not yet reached implementation phase.

In the spreadsheet below, "CPP" refers to the Community Participation Program, which replaced the Neighborhood Revitalization Program in 2011.

A city spokesman also provided this explanation of the "balance" category, which includes some funds that are nonetheless under contract:

Most of the fund balances represent funds that are allocated to specific programs through their approved neighborhood action plans, and contracted (but not yet expended). For example, many neighborhood organizations have dollars allocated to housing programs, which are contracted through other agencies. However, the dollars stay at the City until used.

New uses for the city's upper river

Posted by: Steve Brandt under Local business, Parks and recreation, People and neighborhoods, Politics and government Updated: October 13, 2014 - 9:58 AM

The Park Board in August took public comment on its plans for a Marshall St. NE property it bought on the Mississippi riverside, which includes a warehouse.

MPLS couldn't help but wonder if the Park Board was contemplating a new revenue source for its cash-strapped parks when the following summary of a citizen comment appeared in the board's minutes, presumably as a typographical error: 

"Shannon Weed, 60 Logan Parkway, asked how a storage whorehouse in the proposed location would support the above the falls plan."

McClellan building fades after a century downtown

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: October 13, 2014 - 2:59 PM

It's rare that an older building is demolished in Minneapolis these days without an extensive review process examining its historical uses and notable architectural features.

But that's precisely what occurred in downtown east last week, where the one-time home of the McClellan Paper Company was torn down after standing for 99 years at the corner of 4th Street South and Park Avenue.

Unlike the nearby Star Tribune headquarters (which will be demolished next spring) the McClellan building did not receive a historical review because it fell under the purview of the state's stadium legislation, superseding local land use rules, according to the city's architectural historian John Smoley.

So what do we know about the so-called "McClellan building"? Here's what we at MPLS were able to find:

The McClellan Paper Company was founded in 1884. A newspaper article in the 1930s described it as "one of the oldest and largest wholesale paper houses in the northwest." It was believed, the article said, that McClellan was the largest distributor of toilet paper in the northwest.

McClellan's original Minneapolis offices were located at 245 First Avenue North, beside what is now the McKesson Building, based on a 1910 photograph from the Minnesota Historical Society. Click here for a before/after of that property.

Above: Image courtesy of Hennepin County Library.

In 1915, the company built the new building in downtown east (above) to house their general offices, warehouse and shipping rooms. A display room was added in the 1920s, featuring cabinets displaying "practically every conceivable design in the art of printing, from the artistically printed advertising folder or neatly designed business card to that of an elegantly finished catalogue in which the company's goods are used," according to an article in the American Stationer and Office Outfitter.

The same article described its president, Fred L. McClellan, as "one of the most progressive business men in the Twin Cities." Born in Canada, McClellan (pictured below in 1931 after his retirement) arrived in Minneapolis in 1882 -- when the city's population still hovered around 46,000. He served as a clerk at a hardware store and later worked at a paper wholesaler before founding his company. His house still stands northwest of Lake of the Isles.

McClellan was a member of the local Rotary Club, entertaining fellow members at the paper house in 1920 with a speech titled "Paper and its evolutionary influence on civilization." But the Rotary Club wasn't all business: in 1921 McClellan captained a winning team in a cracker eating competition.

He ran for the city's Park Board in 1921, losing a four-seat race by about 4,000 votes, according to meticulous records curated by the Minneapolis Election Trends website.

Newspaper clippings about the company -- dredged up by Hennepin County Library researchers -- show McClellan Paper often made the news for its celebrations and banquets. For its 25th anniversary in 1919, the company called in its traveling representatives for a 100-employee party at the Hotel Radisson, where dancing and music lasted until midnight.

Around 1940, Chicago-based Butler Paper Company bought McClellan paper and made slight changes to the downtown east building to "enable the company to expedite deliveries and render better service," according to a newspaper article.

Thirteen years later, the company moved to a new building near the Convention Center and Interstate 94 that appears to have since been demolished. In 1969, Butler moved its operations to Roseville.

The Star Tribune bought the building (also known as the Butler building) several decades ago, said company spokesman Steve Yaeger, though the precise date could not be determined. The paper printed its TV guide booklet there until the mid-1980s. It served as the downtown distribution depot from about 2000 to 2010, Yaeger said.

In its place, Ryan Companies will build a 1,600-stall parking ramp for stadium activities and a high-rise apartment building.

Here are some pictures of what the building looked like before it came down late last week.

Here is video of the demolition, taken by fellow reporter James Shiffer:

Tool for Mpls. residents to shape development clears hurdle

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: October 9, 2014 - 1:54 PM

Above: The Linden Crossing condomium development in Linden Hills, which residents said was too big compared to its surrounding neighborhood.

It is a common refrain at public meetings on major developments in some parts of Minneapolis: This building will change the character of our neighborhood.

Soon, homeowners may have a new tool to define precisely what that character is – and fight back against proposals that clash with it. A new process for creating these so-called “conservation districts” cleared a key committee Thursday, along with protections to ensure the process isn’t used too liberally.

The proposal by council member Cam Gordon was controversial when it emerged publicly this January. Some warned that it would be used as a tool to merely stifle development. But more defined language assuaged many critics, including the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors and Zoning and Planning Committee Chair Lisa Bender.

“I certainly would not be involved in this if I thought this was going to be a tool for NIMBYism gone wild,” said council member Kevin Reich Thursday, referring to the acronym for “not-in-my-backyard.” “I’m a pro-development council member. And this is a pro-development council.”

Conservation districts cannot be used to save specific buildings, but rather preserve the “visual character, land use, or activity evident in [the area’s] notable architectural detail, building type or development pattern.” It is less cumbersome than a historic district, however, which can severely limit what alterations homeowners can make to their properties.

It may only address exterior building features and cannot prohibit uses otherwise allowed in the zoning code – except to regulate building bulk. So a district with some high-density zoning could not prohibit high-density developments, but the height and massing of a new apartment complex could be limited.

The districts must span at least two or more streets, with 75 percent of properties sharing the distinct characteristics. Interested residents would need to obtain consent from one-third of property owners in the district to begin the process, and two-thirds after it has been examined. The City Council has final say on whether districts are created, however.

“I think it could help us better and more planfully...grow our city in the right way by adding this little tool,” said Gordon, whose constituents in Prospect Park had expressed interest in the idea. “I think it’s appropriate that we just move into it slowly and we’ll see how it goes next year.”

To prevent a flood of applications from consuming tremendous staff time, the ordinance says no more than two applications may be considered in 2015. After that, no more than five may be considered simultaneously.

Council Member Lisa Goodman said she was supportive of the slower approach, since preservation can be a sticky issue among neighborhoods. She hoped the process would not become a tool for neighbors to fight with each other over things like siding material and brick color.

“Conserving visual character is subjective,” Goodman said. “One person’s visual character is different than another person’s visual character.”

Bender said she would support more design guidelines across the city. But in the interest of staff time, the most focus should be placed on high-growth commercial centers.

Some residents recently waged a fierce battle to stop demolition of a rooming house in Bender’s ward – though staff determined it did not warrant historic designation –to build an apartment complex. A district would have only required consideration of whether the new development fits with the guidelines of the district before demolition could commence.

“This is a design guideline tool,” Bender said. “And really not a tool that preserves buildings.”

Julia Paranteau, public affairs director with the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors, said they initially expressed concerns because the ordinance language was overly vague. They’ve since removed their opposition.

The ordinance must be approved by the full council next week before taking affect. No conservation districts will be considered in 2014, however.

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