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

More interviews likely for Washburn, South top jobs

Posted by: Steve Brandt under People and neighborhoods, Minneapolis South, Minneapolis Washburn Updated: April 4, 2014 - 5:51 PM

Two Minneapolis high schools still will get new principals this spring, a district spokeswoman said this week, in a subtle shift from the goal of naming those two leaders for South and Washburn in April.

The latest schedule calls for the two new principals to be named during the week of May 5, according to a posting Friday on the web sites of the two schools.

Last fall, Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson set an April target for filling the jobs in a letter to parents at the schools outlining the process for selecting a principal. But a timeline posted in February called for the two new principals to be announced next week.

Spokeswoman Rachel Hicks said each site has interviewed three applicants previously vetted by the district , and that the district will refer more more candidates for school interviews soon. The district wants school interview teams to rank the applicants, and then the area superintendent will recommend a principal to Johnson. A new union agreement with principals gives her new incentives for recruiting and retianing principals.

Going slower may be prudent given that the district got burned last August when it named Patrick Exner as Washburn's principal.  He then was accused of in an anonymous e-mail of changing student test answers at a charter school where he worked, a charge he flatly denied before the district cut him loose during the first week of school. That led to criticism of the district by some parents for not doing background checks thoroughly. This year, candidates for both jobs are being put through a day-long set of screening tests.

Assistant Principal Linda Conley has been Washburn's interim principal, while retired principal Willarene Beasley has done the same at South. The Washburn opening originally occurred after Principal Carol Markham-Cousins was reassigned, while the South opening occurred when Principal Cecilia Saddler was made southwest area superintendent.

Proposal to transform LRT stop at Lake and Hiawatha gets warm reception

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: April 4, 2014 - 10:43 AM

Updated at 10:40 a.m.

A proposal to build the first mixed-use transit village along the Hiawatha light rail line -- featuring apartments, offices, retail and a public market -- received a largely warm reception from a packed community meeting Thursday night. 

The 6.4-acre project would transform the intersection of Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenues, an area that has failed to live up to development goals that were set during light rail planning. It would be built in phases at the intersection's southwest corner, where Hennepin County plans to purchase land currently owned by the Minneapolis school district and sell it to a private developer.

"There are a lot of wins here," Hennepin County commissioner Peter McLaughlin told the room of about 150 people, most wearing "Build it green!" stickers. He observed the potential for transit-oriented development, having retail front Lake Street and finding a permanent home for the Midtown Farmers Market.

The county plans to use the office space as the South Minneapolis hub of its social services operations, which are being decentralized from the downtown Century Plaza office. The county's finance and budget director, David Lawless, said the purchase price from the school board would likely be between $7 and $9 million.

Previous discussions to redevelop the site were hampered by the school district, which has to move its adult basic education and English courses out of the building. Current plans envision keeping the building for a number of years as the phased development takes shape, followed by a demolition.

Anywhere from 600 to 800 people of varying may eventually live on the site, depending on the final number of units, said Jack Boarman, CEO of BKV Group, part of the development team putting the project together. Portions of the space would be geared toward senior housing and affordable housing.

The goal is that many residents would use transit, including an adjacent light rail line, bus routes along Lake Street and possible future options along the Midtown Greenway.

“There’s really a need for those people coming to the Twin Cities to live next to transit, because then they don’t need a car," Boarman said. "And then that makes our city even better.”

The center of the project would feature a 1.3-acre urban plaza that would house the Midtown Farmers Market "But it’s also going to be the celebratory platform for ...community cultural events and opportunities," Boarman said.

Several people questioned why the project includes extensions of the street grid, versus making the entire site a pedestrian-oriented space. The development team responded that the street extensions are partly intended to serve the farmers market, but Boarman added that they also want the space to feel connected to its surroundings.

Other attendees raised concerns about how the project's parking plan would accomodate so many varying uses without parking spilling into adjoining neighborhood streets or creating additional congestion. "I think parking's going to be an absolute nightmare here," said one woman who noted that the adjacent YWCA already brings many vehicles to 22nd Avenue. Boarman said they intend to perform a transit, parking and traffic study of the area.

Another man asked about what would be done to ward off gentrification. Boarman said they plan to have many units sized under 700 square feet, allowing for lower rents. He later added that having shared parking for the site's mixed uses will also help lower rents.

Other points were raised over the visibility from Lake Street, adding pedestrian improvements to the intersection and ensuring the educational programs continue at a convenient location.  Eric Gustafson, executive director of the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization, said their board is on record from 2011 supporting inclusion of the education programs in the new space or another location in the neighborhood.

Robert Doty, the school district’s chief operating officer, emphasized that both the adult basic education and the Transitions Plus program – which was slated to move into the building – have new homes.

“We are looking at…6 or 7 different options,” Doty said.

That was the primary concern for a woman named Elsa, who told the crowd that she is finally returning to school after raising a family and sending her to sons to college.

“But where will I go if this school is going to be closed?” Elsa said. “Let us know where we will go, because I’m speaking [on behalf of] the hundreds of students who participate here.”

The project is still in very early phases. The neighborhood has not taken a formal position on the new proposal, and both the school board and county board will need to sign off on their final agreement.

Bad weather strikes Mpls schools again

Posted by: Steve Brandt under Politics and government Updated: April 4, 2014 - 9:24 AM

It’s going down as the school year when Minneapolis can’t catch a break when it comes to the weather.

The district announced Thursday that it’s cancelling field trips on Friday that were to serve as the capstone for a week of extra work over spring break by students striving to get ready for state tests. Classes will go on at the 13 participating schools.

That’s right, the pending snowstorm is even cancelling part of spring break.

One reason the district gave for holding its Spring Break Academy was bad weather earlier this school year.  That cost students days of preparation for upcoming state tests. All students have lost six days of schooling to cold or snowy weather. Students in schools that aren’t air-conditioned also lost two work days during record heat during the first week of school.

This week, students participated in lessons that were intended to dovetail with trips to such venues as the Minnesota Zoo, Science Museum of Minnesota and the University of  Minnesota’s Raptor Center. Some studied wildlife habitat, for example.

There was no immediate explanation from the district on why it was still transporting students to spring break classes, but not to field trips.

[Update: MPS wants to ensure students are in school for the final day of Spring Break Academy to continue the positive momentum of the past week. Due to the predicted snowfall, MPS canceled field trips on the final day to ensure the safety of our students and staff members. Morning pick up and afternoon drop off routes are short and concentrated to local neighborhoods. Field trip routes, however, would have involved much longer distances and greater amounts of traffic. MPS decided to cancel field trips to minimize travel and reduce the amount of time students and staff members were on the roads.]  

MAP: Where are downtown's surface parking lots?

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: April 3, 2014 - 11:31 AM

The city is embarking on an effort to beautify parking lots in downtown Minneapolis. But just where are they?

We took a list of licenses from the city's business licensing department and sketched this map (below) of the licensed lots in downtown Minneapolis. These are distinct from accessory lots, often free parking for customers, and multi-story parking ramps.

Several of these lots are already poised for development. Lots owned by the Star Tribune already being taken out of service to make way for the massive redevelopment of Downtown East.

The city has 125 licenses for surface lots that can charge by the hour, day, week, month or for a special event. Most of those -- about 70, by our count -- are located in the immediate downtown area.

While most of the lots are located outside the center of downtown, they remain a pervasive element of Hennepin Avenue and Downtown East.

City ordinances include a number of requirements for surface parking lots. Here are the highlights:

(1) A landscaped yard at least seven (7) feet wide shall be provided along the public street, sidewalk or pathway, except where a greater yard is required. If a parking facility contains over one hundred (100) parking spaces, the minimum required landscaped yard shall be increased to nine (9) feet in width.

(2) Screening consisting of either a masonry wall, fence, berm or hedge or combination thereof that forms a screen three (3) feet in height and not less than sixty (60) percent opaque shall be provided, except that where areas are devoted principally to the parking or loading of trucks or commercial vehicles of more than fifteen thousand (15,000) pounds screening six (6) feet in height and not less than sixty (60) percent opaque shall be required.

(3) Not less than one (1) tree shall be provided for each twenty-five (25) linear feet or fraction thereof of parking or loading area lot frontage.

Most lots are out of compliance with these requirements. Two lots owned by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, for example, exemplify compliance and non-compliance.

The lot below features no landscaping along the sidewalk and its cars abut a wooden fence.

This lot just adjacent to the one above is strikingly different. It includes a landscaped buffer yard, tree plantings and an ornamental fence.

Baseball fields to be named for civic all-stars

Posted by: Bill McAuliffe Updated: April 4, 2014 - 7:48 PM

Three baseball fields in Minneapolis will be named for Twin Cities sporting figures.

Two  fields, funded by Major League Baseball and the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, will be named for Hall of Famer and former Twin Rod Carew, and for Star Tribune sports columnist Sid Hartman.

Another will honor Eddie Phillips, businessman and grandson of the founder of the Jay and Rose Phillips Foundation, one of Minnesota's largest philanthropies, and a generous supporter of baseball in the city. The foundation contributed $1.3 million for renovations at Farview Park in north Minneapolis, where Eddie Phillips Field will be located. The Pohlad  Family Foundation and  the Twins Community Fund contributed $800,000 to the effort.

Eddie Phillips, who had been a catcher on the Stanford University baseball team, was known in business for developing luxury consumer brands from vodka to gelato. He also engineered a $10 million donation to the Mayo Clinic for research into Alzheimer's disease, which had claimed the life of his mother, advice columnist Abigail Van Buren, also known as "Dear Abby." He died in 2011.

The park board suspended its rules Wednesday to accomplish the renamings, in part because Carew and Hartman are still living, said board President Liz Wielinski.

Rod Carew All Star Field will be located on Xcel Energy property the park board leases at 2900 NE. Marshall St. 

Sid Hartman All-Star Field will be at Northeast Park, in a part of town where Hartman, now 94 and still cranking out sports columns and appearing on radio, said he had many friends as a youngster.

The news of the field naming  came as a surprise to Hartman.

"Tell them I said 'Thank you,' " he said.

One footnote: Wielinski added that ball fields are often renovated, or moved or otherwise changed, so the process of naming them doesn't need to be as rigorous as it is for names of parks and buildings. Sid Hartman All-Star Field, for example, was originally christened 33 Field, citing the number of former Twin, All-Star and American League Most Valuable Player Justin Morneau. Morneau was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates last year and now plays for the Colorado Rockies.

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