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

Posts about People and neighborhoods

Minneapolis pushes for organics recycling customers

Posted by: Erin Golden Updated: April 20, 2015 - 3:57 PM

More than 10,000 Minneapolis households have already signed up for a new organics pickup service that will launch in August in some parts of the city and next spring in others.

That amounts to about 10 percent of eligible homes. The city is hoping to increase that number to 40 percent when the program begins in about a quarter of the city later this year. Officials are encouraging all households with city service to sign up now, so they can design efficient pickup routes and prepare for distributing the new green bins.

Standing in an alley in Minneapolis’ Seward neighborhood on Monday, Mayor Betsy Hodges and Council Members Cam Gordon and Kevin Reich showed off one of the 32-gallon bins. The mayor said the new addition to city waste pickup — for which all eligible residents are already paying a new $48 fee — is the next step for a city that “loves to recycle.”

“Now (residents will) have the blue cart, the black cart and the green cart, and between those three things ... we’re going to be able to have a big impact on our recycling and trash stream,” she said.

Among the items eligible for organics collection: food waste, including eggshells, meat, fish and bones, paper plates and cups, pizza boxes and other food packaging, tissue paper, cotton balls, dryer lint, popsicle sticks and plant trimmings.

Hodges noted that she’s a veteran of organics recycling; her southwest Minneapolis neighborhood has been part of a years-long pilot project by the city. That experiment helped figure out what size of bin to offer residents.

The initial rollout of the program will be spread across the city. A map of neighborhoods included in the first phase is available at the city’s website.

Gordon noted that residents will still have the option of hauling their own organics to one of several designated collection sites. That’s still the only option available for people who live in multi-family buildings.

Residents interested in signing up for the service can do so by phone at 612-673-2917 or email: SWRcustomer@minneapolismn.gov.

Above: Council Member Cam Gordon, Mayor Betsy Hodges and Council Member Kevin Reich show off one of the city's new organics recycling bins.

City protected bike lane plan goes to public

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: April 17, 2015 - 4:15 PM

Is there a protected bike lane coming to a Minneapolis block near where you work or live?

A draft plan for which streets on which to create the city’s goal of 30 miles of such protected lanes by 2020 has been forwarded to the City Council. It will be discussed on Tuesday before an open house scheduled for April 29. Here's a link to that proposal.

A protected bike lane is separated from motorized traffic by flexible plastic posts, parked cars, medians, curbs or planters.  The few such lanes in Minneapolis typically use the posts spaced every 30 feet, but one downtown bike lane uses cars for separation. A planned protected lane on SE Oak St. will use both cars and posts.

The proposal caps almost a year of discussion and feasibility analysis that began with an open house and an online survey to gain suggestions.  It will be adopted later this spring by the council as an amendment to the city’s 2011 bike master plan, which makes the proposed segments more likely to attract outside funding.

The proposed new protected  lanes are concentrated in the city’s core. That’s because traffic volumes are heavier there and bikers often compete for space with cars at tighter places such as bridges over freeways or railroad tracks or the Mississippi River, according to Anna Flintoft, the former city transportation planner who oversaw the proposal.

The proposal represents a bet by the city that increased investment in the lanes will attract additional riders, especially in higher-volume streets where some may fear to ride without the additional margin of separation.

The council's Transportation and Public Works Committee takes up the proposal in a meeting at Tuesday at 9:30 am in room 317 of City Hall. The open house is scheduled for 4:30-7:30 pm at the Central Library.

Nekima Levy-Pounds announces candidacy to become NAACP leader

Posted by: Libor Jany Updated: April 16, 2015 - 8:39 PM

Nekima Levy-Pounds holds the M. Shanara Gilbert Award from the Association of American Law Schools.

Pledging to “shift the paradigm in Minneapolis and the Twin Cities for people of color,” Nekima Levy-Pounds, a college law professor and civil rights activist, announced her candidacy today for president of the Minneapolis NAACP chapter.

The outspoken Levy-Pounds, who has been at the forefront of the local “Black Lives Matter” movement, turned her sights on the leadership of the beleaguered chapter, announcing her candidacy in a Facebook post on Thursday. The incumbent, Rev. Jerry McAfee, has come under criticism in recent months for letting the chapter slip into dormancy, IBNN News reported.

Minnesota NAACP chairman W.C. Jordan said in an interview with the website that he had been “instructed and given the authority” by the organization’s national office to call a special election this spring for McAfee’s seat. The election will be held on May 2.

"As many of you are aware, communities of color in Minnesota are facing intolerable racial disparities in every key indicator of quality of life," Levy-Pounds said in the statement. "Well frankly, I feel that enough is enough."

The statement continued:

"I am tired of politics getting in the way of justice. I am tired of people making excuses about the gaps in unemployment and education. I am tired of seeing African Americans being criminalized and unfairly punished at every hand. And I am tired of folks being comfortable with the status quo. It is for these reasons that I have decided to run for president of a long-standing and important community institution, such as the Minneapolis branch of the NAACP."

She declined on Thursday to discuss the leadership situation, but said that she intended to “address racial disparities in the criminal justice system and inadequate access to economic opportunity.”

“I have a track record for pushing for police accountability and fighting for repeal of low level ordinances which are leading to the unjust criminalization of poor people of color, particularly on the North side,” she said in a text message. “I hope to engage philanthropic organizations in working more collaboratively with grass roots organizations to build their capacity to deliver high quality services within their own community.”

Born in Jackson, Miss., Levy-Pounds, who was named "Attorney of the Year" by Minnesota Lawyer in 2014, is currently a law professor at the University of St. Thomas. She entered the public consciousness when last fall she became one of the faces of Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, which, like its counterparts around the country, first sprouted in the wake of police shootings of unarmed black men that drew national attention and outrage.

Last building in Grain Belt complex redeveloped

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: April 17, 2015 - 2:46 PM

After a quarter-century of effort by city development officials, all buildings in the Grain Belt complex in northeast Minneapolis are now redeveloped and occupied – with new housing next door to boot.

That milestone was celebrated Thursday in the Sheridan neighborhood with an open house at the former Grain Belt office. The 1893 building was renovated by Everwood Development under its successful 2011 development proposal to the city that also built 150 units of new market-rate apartments next door.

“It looks like what you always thought it could be,” said longtime Sheridan activist Jenny Fortman as she gazed up at the skylight in the airy 1910 addition to the office building.  That skylight was covered by a roof in recent decades but once provided light for the brewery’s accountants, according to David Dye, an Everwood principal.

The firm has moved into part of the building’s upper floor from Little Canada, while representatives of Steven Scott Management will run the main floor rental office. Residents will get the skylighted area for a community room with wi-fi. They'll also have access to the brewery’s former hospitality room in the basement which retains a vintage German beer hall style bar, and adds pool tables.

Everwood’s proposal was selected over three competing developers, and it paid the city $1.55 million for the property. That included the office building, bare land for apartments that the city earlier cleared of two single-family houses a duplex and a warehouse, and a site that contains the foundations of the city’s first brewery. The office and housing development represent a $29 million project.

Dye said the apartment complex of two four-story buildings is 92 percent leased. One-bedroom units range between $1,300 and $1,500, two-bedroom units from $1,700 to $2,000, and three-bedroom units between $2,100 and $2,500.

The rental emphasis was a marked turnaround from an early 2000 competition for development rights for the Grain Belt complex. The winning developer then proposed 273 units of ownership housing in several phases across the former brewery grounds. But that deal never materialized and a new request for proposals was issued in 2011.

Dye said that the condo market was still in its recessionary hangover then.  He said he’s potentially interested in developing housing on other portions of the site. However, city officials haven’t decided if they’ll seek proposals for other bare-land sections of the complex.

There are site conditions that complicate building more housing at Grain Belt. One is a high-voltage transmission line that bisests the riverfront portion of the complex where higher-buck townhouses have been suggested in the past.  A rail line also bisects the complex. Using a parking lot on Marshall for housing likely would require an expensive ramp.

“I don’t know if it’s practical or not,” Dye conceded. Still, he added, “I’ve looked at a couple of sites and dreamed about them.”

Still, the Everwood project completes the rehab of the complex’s seven historically significant buildings.  The massive former brewhouse was redeveloped by Ryan Companies for RSP Architects. A former bottling house and a warehouse are occupied by artists. Other former buildings in the complex are incorporated into a Hennepin County library.

Brewing in the complex stopped in 1975 and it was bought by businessman Irwin Jacobs.  The city bought it from him in 1989 after twice blocking his plans to raze the buildings.

The office building, which housed some workers in the city’s development agency for about 10 years, proved the toughest to redevelop. That’s partly because it leaked copiously – through the roof, through the basement and even through walls, according to Kevin Carroll, the only one of four city development employees who worked closely on the redevelopment who hasn't retired. The others are Judy Cedar, Jerry LePage and Steve Maki.

It was Cedar who lined up state grants that supplied much of the nearly $300,000 the city sunk into trying to keep the building dry. That involved repairing the roof, improving sump pumps, clearing clogged window well drains, and making a better storm sewer connection.

One invisible bit of preservation was also accomplished by Everwood.  A piece of land fronting NE Marshall St. next door to the office building was protected with a membrane and grassed over.  That’s because it contains the foundations of the city’s first brewery, operated by John Orth, who began brewing in 1850. His brewery was one of four that combined to form Minnesota Brewing and Malting Company, which opened its new brewery in 1892.

One bit of arcana unearthed by Carroll points up the importance of the office building as the nerve center of Grain Belt’s operations. It was the place where beer salesmen turned in their receipts and also handled the company’s payroll. It was held up in 1941 by gunmen, reputedly Chicago gangsters, who made off with $50,000.  One employee, however, calmly remained in the basement hospitality room during the uproar, pouring himself another beer.

(Photos by Steve Brandt: Top: Community room in office building with new apartments through windows; Middle: Exterior office building entrance; Bottom: Hospitality room.)

Big changes urged for Cowles Conservatory

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: April 15, 2015 - 7:24 PM

The Cowles Conservatory of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden would lose its heat, its glass skirt, its current function and probably also its name under an advisory recommendation to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

The preferred option urged Tuesday evening by a study committee would keep glass in the building’s upper walls and roof, but remove it from the lower portion of the structure. That’s a compromise between greater sustainability and weather protection.

Regardless of whether you love or hate that idea, you’ll have less than 24 hours after the panel’s decision to react to the idea under an extraordinarily compressed time frame that puts the sculpture garden rehab plan before a Park Board committee for a public hearing at its meeting Wednesday evening.

Park officials chose to allow just one day for the public to absorb the latest recommendation in order to try to keep the overall $10.6 million project on track for a planned August construction start. The recommendation was the final piece in the citizen advisory committee’s five-meeting process of recommending how the garden renovation should proceed.

The main factor driving the conservatory decision is cost. The building brings in about $30,000 in rental income annually against an estimated $100,000 to heat and maintain it.

Eliminating heating will save on the expense side, and the group was told that selling warming and alcoholic beverages in the partially glassed building seasonally, plus rentals for weddings and other events, could boost the income side of the ledger.

The recommended option will cost an estimated $1.5 million, which fits within its allotment under the sculpture garden budget, which is already $600,000 over available funds.

The group rejected a different option that would have cost an estimated $400,000 more and heated only the central tower of the building, leaving its wings open. That would have cost more to operate.

It also rejected a more minimalist option that would have stripped the building of all of its glass, replacing it with some form of yet-to-be-defined covering for some protection from sun and precipitation.

The group was dubious about the weather worthiness of that proposal. Moreover, it was told that it that not removing all glass would be cheaper, leaving money that would allow restrooms and storage area to be moved to a new building. That would make the 60-foot square main hall more flexible.

The recommendation was made without full analysis of how well the various options will stand up to wind and the forces of cold and heat expanding and contracting an unheated building.

Olga Viso, director of the neighboring Walker Art Center, told the group that the structure’s capacity to bear the load of hanging art was even less than thought, and that an unheated building would be challenging for artwork.  But she said she’s discussed a potential lighted entrance installation with artists.

As for the building’s name, it will remain named after its Cowles family donors, but it will no longer serve as a botanical conservatory without heat.  Some members of the group suggested Cowles Pavilion as a more fitting appellation.

“It’s like Prince.  It will have a new name,” said panel chair Margaret Anderson Kelliher

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