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

New uses for the city's upper river

Posted by: Steve Brandt 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."

City weighs office building as visitor center site

Posted by: Erin Golden Updated: October 2, 2014 - 5:31 PM

The Hotel Tallmadge -- now a city-owned office building -- as seen in an April 1960 Star Tribune photo.

A small, late 19th-century building tucked near the Minneapolis Convention Center could play a key role in encouraging convention-goers to get out of the skyways and explore the city.

For three decades, the brick building at 1219 S. Marquette Ave., once known as the Hotel Tallmadge, has been owned by the city and leased out to private businesses for office space. But as convention and tourism officials look for new ways to market the city —and prepare for an overhaul of the nearby Nicollet Mall — they say the Tallmadge might be better used as a visitor center. 

In a budget hearing Thursday, Jeff Johnson, the Convention Center’s executive director, told City Council members that his department has had recent success in attracting major conventions and improving its financial situation. This summer, the facility posted its highest-ever revenue month in history and its request for support in next year’s city budget — $8 million — is the lowest in more than a decade. 

Now, he said, the city needs to focus in on how people who come to those conventions spend their time in Minneapolis. Without many options for food, entertainment and local information near the Convention Center, Johnson said visitors often stick to the skyways and restaurants near their hotels, rather than exploring nearby destinations like Loring Park or other parts of downtown. He said a facility that could provide information — or even have an amenity like a restaurant – could provide some direction.

The city typically provides $200,000 each year for the Tallmadge Building. Officials project it will bring in about $97,000 in revenue next year. Johnson said the city hasn’t been actively seeking new tenants in recent years, since the building’s future is uncertain. Much of the space is currently vacant.

“Having the Tallmadge Building be what it is now is not going to have a future,” Johnson told council members. “So to go into that next step is a really important part of our growth and our connection to the city going forward.

Some council members were skeptical. 

Council Member Lisa Goodman said she’s spent time trying to launch an affordable housing project in the Tallmadge. So far, those plans have stalled out, but she said she still thinks affordable housing should be a higher priority than entertaining visitors.

“We do not need to be competing with the private sector in the restaurant (and) rental market industry,” she said. “If we think this is something that can’t be affordable housing, than we should sell the building, keep the money, and do something else with the money.”

Goodman said a visitor center should be located in a more central part of downtown. MEET Minneapolis, the group that works with the Convention Center to market the city, has been in talks about developing such a facility downtown.

Park Board to spend up to $500,000 on tunnel study

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: October 1, 2014 - 9:33 PM

Minneapolis park officials will spend up to $500,000 to hire engineering talent they hope will find that a Southwest light-rail tunnel is a reasonable alternative to a new bridge at the Kenilworth channel.

The Park and Recreation Board voted 5-2 Wednesday night to authorize the engineering study in hopes of challenging the project's environmental studies, potentially suing for their alternative.

The board voted after outside attorney Byron Starns told park commissioners that they need to spend more money on engineering expertise rather than lawyers for now. But he assured the board that it is is in a solid position to challenge the proposed Kenilworth bridge if it can show that a tunnel beneath the 101-year-old channel is feasible.

Under federal law, park officials hold a trump card in that they must consent that a federally funded transportation project has only a minimal impact before it can proceed.  The same law authorizes taking parkland only if there's no feasible and prudent alternative.

The studies authorized Wednesday are intended to determine whether a tunnel is technically feasible and to provide a closer estimate of its cost.

The dissenting votes came from commissioners Brad Bourn and Steffanie Musich, who merely wanted the board to follow its usual process of waiting two weeks for public notice for a vote before drawing down $500,000 from its reserves. But park staff argued that haste is necessary to make detailed findings ready when a supplemental environmental impact statement for the project is released early next year.

The board has voiced objections since late 2012 to putting freight and transit rail service and recreational trails on a bridge over the channel dredged in 1913 between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles. It has an easement for the channel running under the bridge.

Jennifer Ringgold, a planning supervisor, showed the board drawings of the existing and proposed bridges that showed the width of the crossing growing from 45 to 85 feet. The proposed crossing would actually consist of two bridges, one for freight and the other shared by transit and people using bike and foot trails. There would be a narrow gap between them.

The board voted Sept. 17 to hire outside legal help for $22,000 to evaluate its options for fighting the proposed crossing.  Key officials got a briefing Monday, and met Wednesday with Metro Council officials, while drafting the resolutions to hire engineering help mere hours before the meeting.

A Metro Council e-mail received by the park Superintendent Jayne Miller minutes before the meeting said that completion of the required approval process by cities along the 16-mile route and preliminary engineering set the stage for the required analysis of parkland impacts. But Miller said there was no indication that the council is prepared to do the detailed engineering analysis of the tunnel that the Park Board says is needed to determine if that option is reasonable.

The council said in a statement after the meeting: "The Southwest Project Office has been working with the Park Board for the last two years and is committed to continuing to work with them on the landscape design of the Kenilworth Corridor, the design of the bridge over the channel and the design of the Penn, 21st and West Lake Stations."  

Council cuts food-liquor ratio rule

Posted by: Erin Golden Updated: September 19, 2014 - 11:55 AM

A city ordinance requiring some restaurants outside of downtown to maintain a careful balance of their food and alcohol sales has been scrapped by the Minneapolis City Council.

The council voted 12-0 Friday to overhaul the rules governing alcohol sales for restaurants located along commercial corridors like Uptown. Those restaurants had been required to ensure that at least 60 percent of their revenues came from food sales, and to cap alcohol sales at 40 percent. Council members said the popularity of higher-priced craft and local beer, wine and cocktails had made it almost impossible for businesses to comply with the rule.

Now, those businesses won't have to follow a food and beverage ratio. Instead, the city will employ new tactics aimed at ensuring the restaurants don't lead to problems in their neighborhoods. Restaurants will now follow new rules about the hours in which they must serve food, provide specific alcohol service training, and risk losing their entertainment license if problems crop up. 

Council Member Cam Gordon said he's aware of some neighborhoods' concerns that changing the rules could lead to problems from customers who have to much to drink. But he said he believes the city has provided enough checks and balances to avoid trouble.

"I challenge all the restaurants and all the bars and all the city regulators to prove how this is going to be better," he said. "And we're going to end up with less issues, and fewer problems."

A proposal for a similar change for restaurants tucked further into neighborhoods will be put to voters this November. Those restaurants are currently required to make 70 percent of their sales from food and limit alcohol sales to 30 percent. 

Separately, the council voted 12-0 to approve a change to the rules for business' restrooms. Now, businesses operating in the city will be allowed to have gender-neutral, single-user restrooms, rather than being required to have separate restrooms for men and women.

Council Member Andrew Johnson, who introduced the change, said the requirement sometimes proved to be a burden for businesses. He said restrooms not limited to a particular gender allows for more flexibility for families and an option for transgender customers. 

Cookie Cart debuts bakery upgrade

Posted by: Erin Golden Updated: September 18, 2014 - 5:55 PM

Police Chief Janeé Harteau, Council Member Barb Johnson, Hennepin County Commissioner Linda Higgins, Cookie Cart executive director Matt Halley, Cookie Cart employee Keondre Jordan and Mayor Betsy Hodges cut the ribbon at the grand re-opening of the Cookie Cart at 1119 W. Broadway Ave.  

A north Minneapolis bakery that aims to help develop teenagers' business skills unveiled a new, upgraded space Thursday -- and the news that it plans to put more young people to work. 

Cookie Cart, located at 1119 W. Broadway Ave., had been closed for several months as workers installed new equipment, built a cafe seating area and fixed the building's elevator. The business' re-opening was marked with a speech from Mayor Betsty Hodges, an open-house tour of the facility, and free cookies for the local dignitaries and neighbors who packed the bakery's ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Matt Halley, the Cookie Cart's executive director, said the revamped space will allow the organization to employ 200 teenagers. That's up about 50 young employees from last fall. 

"This bakery is really our classroom," he said. "It's where we teach life, leadership and employment skills."

Mayor Betsy Hodges proclaimed Sept. 18 as "Cookie Cart Day" in the city, and encouraged people to order the business' sweet treats to take to their own offices. 

"This is one of the leading social enterprises in the city of Minneapolis," she said. 

Keondre Jordan, a 16-year-old Cookie Cart employee, said he's been working in the bakery for two years. Once he got over the a few hurdles -- scooping out the cookie dough turns out to be tougher than it looks, he said --  the job made him think differently about what he could do after high school.

Before he showed up at the bakery, Keondre didn't think he'd go to college. Now, he's more certain it's something he could do.

"It's not just about selling cookies here," he said.

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