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

U raises bar for revealing suspect's race in crime alerts

Posted by: under Public safety Updated: February 25, 2015 - 3:33 PM

Authorities prepare student protesters for transport after their arrests. (Mark Vancleave/StarTribune)

After a wave of student-led protests, including one earlier this month in which protesters staged a sit-in in president Eric Kaler’s office, University of Minnesota officials have agreed to end their policy of always publishing the race of suspects in campus crime alerts.

From now on, the bulletins triggered by serious crimes like robbery and aggravated assault will only include the suspect’s description “when there is sufficient detail that would help identify a specific individual or group,” U vice president Pamela Wheelock said Wednesday in an email to students, faculty and staff.

“For some, knowing they have all the information available about a crime, including the complete suspect description, makes them feel better informed and increases how safe they feel,” Wheelock said. “But others – particularly Black men – have shared that suspect descriptions negatively impact their sense of safety. They express concern that Crime Alerts that include race reinforce stereotypes of Black men as threats and create a hostile campus climate.”

On Feb. 9, about 16 members of the campus advocacy group Whose Diversity? – some lugging sleeping bags – took over Kaler’s second-floor office in Morrill Hall, vowing to stay until their demands were met. The sit-in ended nearly eight hours later with the arrests 13 people.

Among their demands was greater racial and ethnic diversity in university hiring practices and more money for the school’s ethnic studies program, which they contended Kaler had promised would happen by the end of last year.

The university's announcement Wednesday didn't appear to address these issues.

Kaler said in a statement that he reached the decision after conferring with outgoing university police chief Greg Hestness, Wheelock and other school leaders, and reviewing "the practices of a number of other colleges and universities."

"This new approach advances public safety while recognizing the harm caused by using race in otherwise limited suspect descriptions," Kaler said. "While not all will embrace our new approach, I want to assure you that we have heard and sincerely considered the diverse voices and opinions that have been shared."

The protest group didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

Residents eye roads as Downtown East Commons takes shape

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: February 25, 2015 - 6:29 PM

Above: Conceptual renderings of how Portland Avenue may intersect the Downtown East Commons, looking east. The trees and park land are not intended to reflect the actual design of the park (Stantec).

A crowded public meeting Tuesday night imagining the future of the Downtown East "Commons" frequently returned to a topic that has little to do with parks: Roads.

Specifically, Park and Portland avenues. Those three-lane, one-way roads now cut through the two blocks slated for the Commons, which will become downtown Minneapolis’ showcase outdoor attraction. It’s expected that the roads will remain open after the park is constructed, though likely narrowed by one lane in the case of Portland.

Eight of 12 presentations made by tables of residents following brainstorming sessions included concerns about how the roads would divide the park and impact the otherwise the tranquil space. The crowd was also full of other ideas for the Commons, from a sit-down restaurant a la New York City's Tavern on the Green to rock climbing walls and bird-friendly structures.

“We would like some kind of connection over those roads that are in between [the two blocks]," said one group representative, addressing the room. "Whatever could be done so it makes that connect better. Whether it’s a tunnel under or it’s a bridge over.”

The bridge option, raised by three groups, is likely impossible given the project's $15 million budget. Others suggested somehow slowing the traffic and making the roads blend into the park.

The county has opposed closing the two arteries, noting that they serve the nearby hospital, medical examiner's office, juvenile detention center and fire station. City staff is also recommending leaving them open because of commuter gridlock that would result on nearby streets, said Jon Wertjes, the city's director of traffic and parking services.

But Council Member Jacob Frey, who represents the area, said he would like see Portland Avenue closed.

"We’re investing all this money into this beautiful green space," Frey said. "We’ve got the primo architecture and design firm. It makes sense to have one connected green space.”

The city's public works department hired a consultant, Stantec, to develop concepts on how to redesign the streets around the park assuming they remain open. The concept for Portland Avenue, still subject to approvals, would eliminate a drive lane and two lanes of parking, while incorporating some sort of bikeway. The Park Avenue concepts leave all three drive lanes, but eliminate a lane of parking.

Above: A proposed concept for how Portland Avenue may divide through the commons, as seen from above (Stantec).

As for the stadium, Wertjes said that studies have concluded that pre-game closures are viable, but post-game closures are not. “The postgame was difficult because of the exiting all at once of the customer base for the stadium event," Wertjes said.

Mary Margaret Jones, the president of Hargreaves Associates, which is designing the park, told the audience Tuesday night that the streets will be an integral part of the design.

“Sometimes the Commons will be perceived to include the streets. Sometimes maybe even actively including the streets -- where the streets might be closed for special events,” Jones said. “Certainly we want to think about the streets as a part of this public realm.”

She pointed to a project they have completed at the Shaw Center for the Arts at Louisiana State University, which incorporates a road into a plaza. She also cited CityGarden in St. Louis, a similarly sized sculpture garden that features a road through two blocks (below).

Above: CityGarden in St. Louis (from Flickr user clio1789)

The park is now anticipated to cost $15 million to build, most if not all of which is expected to be covered through private fundraising. A conservancy formed by the Downtown Council, Greening Downtown Minneapolis, recently hired New Partners to lead that fundraising.

The primary fundraising won't likely begin until detailed concepts are released on April 8, said Downtown Council President Steve Cramer. The total fundraising goal is $20 million, which includes some reserve funds to cover some operating costs.

Frey said he expects the park will cost about $800,000 to $1 million a year to operate and maintain. Concessions will help cover that, Frey said, "but do we have enough of the prime days to generate adequate funds from those concessions? The answer is probably no."

The city is still wrestling with where the rest would come from, though assessments on property owners are one option. "I don’t anticipate a public [property tax] component going for operations and maintenance," Frey said. "I may be wrong when we run the numbers.”

St. Paul man acquitted in '99 grocery store killing

Posted by: Libor Jany under Public safety Updated: February 25, 2015 - 4:24 PM

By Rochelle Olson

A 33-year-old St. Paul man won acquittal on a first-degree murder charge in the 1999 killing of a man in front of a Minneapolis grocery store.

After nine months in jail in lieu of $2 million bail, Earl Vang left the Hennepin County District Court a free man on Tuesday.

Last year, Vang and Tou Lu Yang were indicted in the murder of Miguel Destiny McElroy in front of a store on the 2300 block of Lyndale Avenue N. on July 9, 1999. McElroy’s father was also wounded in the shooting.

After a trial in front of Judge Tamara Garcia, the jury took less than four hours to acquit Vang. During the trial, defense lawyer Earl Gray strongly questioned the reliability of witness identifications of Vang in police photo line-ups.

"Justice was done and my client was able to go home to see his family," Gray said by telephone on Wednesday.

Vang was indicted only last year because of a twist in the case related to Yang, who was convicted previously of second-degree murder in the death.

In 2014, Judge Bruce Peterson ordered a new trial for Yang based on ineffective assistance of counsel, a new witness statement and new evidence identifying other possible suspects.

After further investigation, County Attorney Mike Freeman won first-degree indictments against Yang and Vang. At the time, Freeman said witnesses “confirmed Mr. Vang was part of the murder.”

But the jury didn’t believe his witnesses.

Freeman expressed disappointment Wednesday. “We would not have prosecuted Mr. Vang if we didn’t think he was guilty. But we respect the jury process and accept their verdict,” he said in a statement.

According to the prosecution, McElroy’s brother met with two men who gave him $60 to buy marijuana. The complaint alleged that the defendants later demanded that McElroy get their money back from his brother.
The complaint said the two men pulled out guns and started shooting.

Walkers, cyclists meet their City Hall voice

Posted by: Steve Brandt under Parks and recreation, People and neighborhoods, Politics and government, Public safety, Bikes and cars, Urban living Updated: February 25, 2015 - 11:35 AM

Matthew Dyrdahl arrived at The Wedge Table Wednesday morning dressed in a gray suit, but with a folding bike in tow. And he wore a helmet.

It was subtle reminder that a winter commuter can dress for work, yet commute without hands on a steering wheel. Dyrdahl took a bus and then biked from his northeast Minneapolis home to the event in Whittier.

Dyrdahl spoke at an early-morning event arranged by Council Member Lisa Bender that drew about 25 people to the new Eat Street eatery.  He’s the city’s new bike-walk coordinator. His job within the Department of Public Works involves integrating walking and biking friendly features into city streets. He’s also car free, living in northeast Minneapolis and getting around by bus, bike and foot.

Bikers and walkers were curious to know how he felt about the various problems they perceive as holding back more active transportation by city residents, but Dyrdahl also got an earful of free advice.

Dyrdahl comes to the job with five years of experience helping to promote active living in Bemidji. “It was really great to see the progress cities can make when you invest in biking and walking,” he said. His ambition is to make Minneapolis rival European cities in 10 years when it comes to walkable, bikeable streets.

Part of that will be eliminating the fear factor felt by some more timid commuters. “I don’t think that biking and walking is the easy choice right now,” he said. One of his goals is creating spaces that are inviting places to walk or bike. The city goal of 30 miles of protected bike lanes by 2020 will be key in that effort, he said.

Some still regard winter biking as a mountain too tall to climb. Janne Flisrand told Dyrdahl and Bender that co-workers regard her biking 2.5 miles to work as something of a superhuman feat. Bender interjected that bikers need more consistent maintenance for winter bike lanes so they have routes on which they can rely. “It shouldn’t be this major conquest to bike to work,” Dyrdahl added. Tony Desnick said his sampling on social media of about 300 bikers, mostly from the Twin Cities, but also from around the world, found about three times as many were likely to be deterred by poor maintenance of roads as by extreme cold.

One suggestion for getting Minneapolitans to consider winter bike commuting came from Michael Peterson, who would like to see a winter Open Streets events with food trucks and people to answer questions about cold-weather commuting.  Open Streets are a creation of Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, which works with city officials to close major arteries temporarily to motor traffic. Minneapolis and St. Paul will host the fourth annual International Winter Cycling Congress in 2016.

Dyrdahl urged one questioner reluctant to invest in cold-weather biking gear because of the cost to weigh that against the cost of operating a car.  He also urged people to make the transition from driving to bus, bike or walking gradually.

“Don’t start by getting rid of your car.  End by getting rid of your car.”      

Minneapolis hopes to snag more sports in 2015

Posted by: Erin Golden under Parks and recreation, People and neighborhoods, Politics and government, Urban living Updated: February 24, 2015 - 4:48 PM

 

Members of the media wait for players to take the field for batting practice at last year's Major League All-Star Game at Target Field. Tourism officials hope to book more big sports events this year. 

 

Carlos Gonzales/ Star Tribune

Minneapolis convention and tourism officials say last year's record-setting success in landing big events, hosting visitors and booking hotel rooms will be hard to duplicate in 2015.

But at the annual meeting of Meet Minneapolis, the organization that sells the city as a destination, officials pointed to several major events they plan to bid for this year. Plus, they said, a long list of upcoming improvements like the makeover of Nicollet Mall and renovations at the Target Center are likely to help attract visitors.

Among the events the city hopes to secure in 2015: a college football playoff game in 2020, the USA Volleyball Boys' Junior National Championships in 2017, the USA Cycling Fat Bike National Championships and WrestleMania, a professional wrestling event.

Rob Moor, chairman of the Meet Minneapolis board and CEO of the Minnesota Timberwolves, said Minneapolis’ success in landing the 2018 Super Bowl and the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four in 2019 has put the city in an elite group.

Melvin Tennant, Meet Minneapolis’ president and CEO, said the city is also benefiting from the significant public and private investments that have been made in improvements ranging from hotel upgrades to the construction Metro Transit’s Green Line.

“I can assure you the team at Meet Minneapolis sees nothing but a bright future for the city,” he said.

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