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Minneapolis marks record year for conventions, events

Posted by: Erin Golden Updated: January 28, 2015 - 1:27 PM


American Idol contestants are interviewed by producers for the show before judges Jennifer Lopez, Harry Connick, Jr. and Keith Urban arrive at the Minneapolis Convention Center to judge the local American Idol auditions in September. LEILA NAVIDI / leila.navidi@startribune.com


Minneapolis filled more hotel rooms and snagged more big events in 2014 than in any other previous year, according to the organization that handles the city's convention and tourism business.

Meet Minneapolis said this week that it hit record levels in four areas: the number of hotel room nights booked for future events, room nights booked for leisure, revenue from sponsorships and revenue from the Minneapolis Convention Center. The facility took in $16.6 million in revenue as the city hosted a record 534 meetings and conventions. 

Much of the good news is tied to hotel bookings for future events, including more than 71,000 room nights that have already been booked for the 2018 Super Bowl and more than 52,000 bookings for the NCAA Men's Final Four basketball tournament in 2019. 

Melvin Tennant, the president and CEO of Meet Minneapolis, said in a statement that Minneapolis' 72 percent annual hotel occupancy rate stands out among other cities. Maintaining a rate of 70 percent, he said, is considered "nationally enviable."

The organization also noted that Minneapolis' Target Center was ranked No. 6 among all U.S. arenas based on event tickets sold in 2014, according to the agency Pollstar. It ranked No. 17 in the world. 

Events scheduled for 2015 include the National Senior Games in July, which is expected to draw 35,000 people to Minneapolis, St. Paul and Bloomington. 

"We certainly hope to replicate the past year's successes in the future," Tennant said. 

Mayor releases 'Cradle to K' plan

Posted by: Erin Golden Updated: January 27, 2015 - 4:40 PM

Expanded housing for poor families, additional home visits for new parents and more spots in "high-quality early learning programs" are among the recommendations released Tuesday by Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges' cabinet on young children.

The mayor's Cradle to K Cabinet was convened in May and tasked with coming up with strategies to improve health, housing and childcare opportunities for the city's youngest residents. The group of academics, nonprofit and health leaders and parents drafted a 37-page preliminary report, posted on the city's website Tuesday. 

The plan offers a handful of key goals, along with suggestions for expanding funding on some programs and researching new ways to pay for others. It does not provide an estimate of how much it would cost to meet the goals, or which portion could be the responsibility of the city, rather than another government agency or private group.

Among the suggestions: increase the number of clinics participating in an early childhood screening program, develop a plan to identify mental health needs in children under age three and find funding to develop 10 affordable housing units for poor families by the end of next year.

The group will now take comments on its plan, both online and in a series of public meetings, before releasing a final report this spring. 

Hodges said the process "puts some meat on the bones" of child-focused work already underway in the city. Because stepping up those efforts will require the help of outside agencies, she said it's important to have a specific plan in writing.

"I want to make sure that everybody has buy-in to what we're doing, that everybody has investment in what we're doing and that it is a call to action to our entire community," she said. "What happens with our youngest people in Minneapolis is important to every age of person in Minneapolis."

Carolyn Smallwood, co-chairwoman of the cabinet and executive director of Way to Grow, an early education-focused nonprofit, said the panel doesn't intend to replace or duplicate the work of other organizations. She pointed to home visiting programs as an example of something that should be expanded. One of the group's recommendations calls for added funding for "evidence-based and culturally relevant home visiting practices and standards."

"There are other initiatives going on throughout the state and in the city that certainly can complement this," she said.

Hodges said she expects she can find support for the goals among state legislators -- even those with very different political leanings. 

"I would say one of the benefits of talking about children (ages) birth to three is that everybody cares about children birth to three," she said. "And so the conversation starts from a place of care and attention and agreement that those are important people in our world."

Weather throws Mpls Loppet a curve again

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: January 27, 2015 - 4:20 PM

For the second time in four years, unseasonably warm weather is forcing a last-minute change of venues and routes for this weekend's City of Lakes Loppet, the signature outdoors winter event in Minneapolis.

Event organizers announced Tuesday that they're shifting most events to the loop at Wirth Park with snow-making equipment, just as they did in 2012. The notable exception is that the popular luminary lopped, a candlelit ski and snowshoe recreational event, will stay at Lake of the Isles, where it will be a walking-only event.

The change from skis to foot traffic means that the luminary event will be able to accommodate more than the 7,000-person cutoff it had already reached. "You can only have so many people with six-foot-long skis and poles," said John Munger, executive director of The Loppet Foundation.

The foundation directed participants in its events, as varied as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, skijoring, dogsledding, snow biking and "lawn" games to its website for updated information about times and places of events.

"We're trying to make the best of things," Munger said.  "We're trying to dust off the things we did in 2012."

The loppet's signature ski races will be run on multiple circuits of Wirth's hilly competitive ski course rather than the traditional courses that stretch from that park to Lake Calhoun.

"We tried our best [Monday],  We had pickup trucks with plows," Munger said of a loppet call Monday for shovelers to volunteer to help prepare the course. But with four inches of water atop the ice, "we went out and had a beer instead."  

Although the change leaves just three days for organizers to adjust, the 13th annual event's history provides a rationale for waiting as long as possible for snow.  In its first year, only 30 people had registered six days before the race due to lack of snow, but that zoomed to 800 racers after snow arrived later that week.


Sculpture Garden concept mixes wildness, formality

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: January 27, 2015 - 5:37 PM

A group that’s advising the $10 million revamping of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is opting toward crossing its 16th-century formality with 21st-century sustainability.

That means reinforcing the formality of the garden’s south end and leaving the garden’s signature Spoonbridge and Cherry where it is. But it also means adding a wilder-appearing area at the garden’s north end for both artwork and stormwater, and some potentially radical changes for the heat-leaking glass conservatory.

The proposed new look for the north end would create three grassed circles with radii ranging from 45 to 75 feet in the midst of an area that will be sometimes wet, sometimes dry as runoff dictates. Stormwater handling improvements in the boggy area bring up to $1.5 million in watershed funding to supplement $8.5 million the Legislature appropriated for the renovation.

But the conservatory is likely to get a new look. Changes there could range from mere improvements to existing features such as bathrooms and floors to removing the walls and heat from throughout the energy-inefficient building.

Among the recommended changes from landscape architecture consultant Oslund and Associates and Snow Kreilich Architects are new entry ports around the garden.  The west side, now a parking lot, could get a school and tour bus dropoff area, with staging space for events. The north side could get a clearer entry off neighboring Dunwoody Boulevard. Bus riders on Lyndale Avenue would get a stairway at the southeast corner to replace cowpaths they’ve worn. Pedestrians would get two ramps leading down from the Lyndale sidewalk through a hillside of floppy fescue grass.

The more formal south entrance would retain a central stairway but it will be flanked by accessibility ramps. It would lead to granite slabs recycled from elsewhere in the garden.  More durable granite chips would replace the crushed limestone that’s proven dusty as it crumbles.  Other areas would keep sidewalks for wheelchair access and to support cranes needed to install artwork.

The southernmost and most formal of the garden’s spaces would have its formality reinforced with a series of changes that include strengthening its north-south and east-west axes. The four quads of that more 16th Century formality would be emphasized with rows of linden trees, plus ornamental grasses and trimmable euonymus, a shrub known for its corky flanged bark and flaming autumn foliage.

Some of the high-traffic areas will get a more engineered base under the grass that uses sand and fabric in an effort to make the turf more resilient.

Project manager Dana Murdoch said the design concept now will be refined for a final meeting of the citizen advisory committee that’s scheduled for Feb. 23 from 6:30-9:30 p.m.at Walker Art Center.

Fitting all those changes into the project budget will be challenging, representatives of the project team warned the advisory committee convened by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, which is working on the design with Walker Art Center. “It’s a series of choices,” committee Chair Margaret Anderson Kelliher said.  “Some things may be done in the short term and others may have to wait.”

Minneapolis picks up urban agriculture tips from Cuba

Posted by: Erin Golden Updated: January 26, 2015 - 4:04 PM



Members of a Twin Cities delegation visit a Havana co-op that specializes in compost using worms. (Photo courtesy of Ben Somogyi)

Two Minneapolis City Council aides were part of a Twin Cities group that recently spent more than a a week in Cuba, visiting co-ops and compost sites and picking up information on urban agriculture.

Robin Garwood, a policy aide for Council Member Cam Gordon and Ben Somogyi, policy aide for Council Member Lisa Bender, said the trip offered a chance to get a new perspective on agriculture efforts championed by both council members. The two joined 10 other people, several of them with Stone's Throw Urban farm, on the "food sovereignty" trip organized by think tank Food First.

The nine-day visit included visits to urban farms in and outside of Cuba's capital city, Havana. 

Garwood said the trip was organized months before the U.S. announced it was taking formal steps to open up relations between the two countries. It was selected because the country is known for innovation in how it grows and uses food, particularly in urban areas. For the last few decades, Garwood said, Cubans have been perfecting a system that uses very few pesticides or other chemicals, because they were unable to import them.

He said the Cubans he spoke with are interested in developing more of a self-sustaining, local food system.

"They want to reduce their imports, to the point they're not importing (much) food," he said.

Somogyi said Bender has been working on building up local opportunities for small-scale composting businesses, and the trip provided an up-close look at composting systems with a long history of success. Some of the stops on the tour included places that use worms for composting.

"Seeing what we could do to help have really good controls on allowing composting businesses in the city and also hearing what farmers are actually doing -- that, in particular was fascinating," he said. 

Minneapolis is rolling out a new compost program for residents this year. 

Somogyi funded the trip out of his own pocket, while Garwood covered half the expense. Gordon's office picked up about $2,000 of the tab. 

Both council staffers said they're working on a report on the trip that can be shared with other council members and local leaders. They said their observations from Cuba will be helpful in shaping city policies, including on the use of public land for community and market gardens.

Tracy Sides, the founder and executive director of Urban Oasis, a St. Paul sustainable food center, said the trip was a useful opportunity for food-focused leaders to get to know each other and share ideas about work that could be done in the Twin Cities.

She said Cuba has an "enviable" level of connection between neighborhood groups and local and national government when it comes to growing and sharing food -- and she'd like to see a closer connection at home.

"I do feel like there is some really great energy around strengthening our local and regional food system that is coalescing," she said.




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