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A forgotten 29th Street getting new attention

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: July 11, 2014 - 12:57 PM

A street that Minneapolis has turned its back on is finally headed for a little love.

29th Street stutter-steps its way across much of south Minneapolis, running a few blocks then vanishing completely only to re-emerge a few blocks away.

It’s pocked with potholes, curbs have eroded completely in some blocks, and its once-decorative fencing has turned rusty or filled with chain-linked gaps. That’s especially true between Lyndale and Hennepin avenues. It's a normal uninterrupted street only east of Hiawatha Avenue.

“It’s really not a street that I would walk down alone after nine at night. It’s very alley-like,” said Kayla Mueller, who has lived in Uptown for the last two years.

She’s one of several people who focused attention on the street during a recent discussion of how to improve connections between Lake Street and the Midtown Greenway sponsored by the Lake Street Council and Midtown Greenway Coalition. Four more such sessions are scheduled.

The worst section of street is also the focus of a series of three charrettes organized by Tenth Ward Council Member Lisa Bender. She’s focusing on the Lyndale to Hennepin section, which is scheduled for public improvements in 2016.

“I think it’s basically falling into the earth, Bender said.  “The whole thing is in terrible condition.”

That’s not the best advertisement for a hot stretch of real estate that’s added almost 3,000 housing units along the greenway in the past 10 years.

29th has a quirky personality in that stretch. The block behind the Rainbow (now Cub) grocery is vacated.  The west end dead-ends into the Mozaic complex. Bender said she’s heard public sentiment for a resplitting of space that allows vehicles and meets needs of property owners but gives more priority to pedestrians. The streets could potentially be used more flexibly for gatherings like a farmer’s market, she said.

Original greenway planning called for a promenade along the linear park’s north lip but little more than sidewalks emerged from that. One complication will be the fence next to the greenway trench, which is regarded by some as a protected historical artifact. It combines concrete pillars and iron railings.

The next charrette session focusing on the Hennepin-Lyndale section of 29th will be held on July 21 from 6 to-7:30 p.m. at Walker Community Library, 2880 Hennepin Av. S. Beder said it will feature several possible configurations.  A final design will be discussed at a fall meeting.

Meanwhile, Joyce Wisdom, Lake Street Council executive director, is hoping that the series of joint council-coalition meetings will generate support for something she’s been advocating since greenway planning began some 15 years ago. That’s improvements designed to help Lake Street shoppers find the greenway, and greenway users find businesses on Lake.

Interestingly, although a majority of those who filled out a council survey reported feeling fairly safe between Lake Street and the greenway, their second biggest priority is increased lighting, something nearly two-thirds favor. That was topped only by adding bike markings or lanes between Lake and the greenway. Better wayfinding signs to businesses and other destinations, and protected intersections were also supported by more than half of those surveyed.

The remaining Lake Street-greenway workshops are scheduled for July 21, 5-7 p.m., Heart of the Beat Puppet and Mask Theatre, 1500 E. Lake St; July 29, 5-7 p.m., Harriet Brewing, 3036 Minnehaha Av. S.; July 30, 7-9 p.m., Midtown Greenway Coalition office, 2834 10th Av. S., greenway level Suite 2; and Aug. 4, 5-7 p.m., Safari restaurant, 3010 4th Av. S.

(Photo: This section of W. 29th Street shows its crumbling curb and dented fence. Staff photo by Steve Brandt)

Convention Center to get $14.5 million in work

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: June 25, 2014 - 4:42 PM

The Minneapolis Convention Center is headed for $14.5 million in renovations and improvements over the next two years, some of which are aimed at helping networking among people attending events, convention officials said Wednesday.

One change is the addition of a mezzanine in the center's main lobby. It could be used for events, and will have seating and a lounge where people attending events can meet with other people, according to Kristin Montag, spokeswoman for Meet Minneapolis, a convention and visitor promotion nonprofit. There are also plans to add a bar there.

The center's visitor center also will move within the main lobby to be closer to the main entrance on 2nd Avenue S. That will increase its visibility and make it more helpful to visitors seeking information about exploring the city, Montag said.

The main lobby stairs are being replaced with added elevators that are intended to add accessibility to that area. The visitor center area will also have two sets of stairs, one to the mezzanine and one to all levels, Montag said. The escalators serving three of the center’s exhibition halls will be replaced as they near the end of their life expectancy with versions that are more energy-efficient, continuing earlier upgrades elsewhere in the building.

The building will also get art from local artists through Corporate Art Force, to be displayed on a six-month rotation. Center Executive Director Jeff Johnson said the displays will add visual interest to the building and highlight local artists.

The center normally gets about $10 million annually in building improvements or renovations, Montag said. The center is financed by operating revenues and an assortment of local sales taxes, some of which also will help to pay for the new Vikings stadium.  

Minneapolis school district approves deal to sell Hi-Lake site

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: May 27, 2014 - 9:20 PM

School board members in Minneapolis Tuesday night authorized selling a key district-owned building at Hiawatha Avenue and East Lake Street to clear the way for redevelopment in exchange for assurance that key programs can remain there for up to eight more years.

The sale of 2225 E. Lake St. for about $8 million to Hennepin County would open the way to redevelop with housing, offices, a farmer market and a county social services hub at what is regarded as one of the most significant redevelopment opportunities along the Hiawatha Line. The building there is the former  home of Brown Institute.

The school board also approved a resolution that sets a late August deadline for determining a future location for the building’s immigrant-focused adult basic education program serving South Side students, and for Transition Plus students who were slated to move to the building under the district’s enrollment plan. Transition Plus is a program that prepares older special education students for work and independent living. The approval also commits the district to securing a building for those programs by mid-2017.

The district said it is looking elsewhere in the Hiawatha-Lake area near South High School for space.  Council Member Alondra Cano said that search will focus on purchasing and redeveloping the half-block between South’s athletic field and Lake Street.  That’s the north half of the block directly west of the Midtown YWCA.

Although the county is named in the district resolution as the buyer of the district’s 2225 building, it likely would serve as a pass-through buyer.  L&H Station Development has proposed 500 units of housing, 100,000 square feet of office space and 10,000 square feet of retail on the 6.4-acre site. Is proposal also includes space for the Midtown Farmers Market.

The school resolution authorized Chief Operating Officer Robert Doty to work out final details with the county on the sale. Doty said he’s hoping for a closing with the county in 90 to 120 days.

The school district previously tried to find affordable space for the 2225 programs in the area or even by leasing space in the redeveloped site, but decided that the costs were beyond its budget.  Since then, more players, including Hennepin County, have gotten involved.

Mark Bollinger, Doty’s deputy, said in an interview that the districts wants Transition Plus and adult basic education to stay in the Hi-Lake area because of metro bus and rail connections.  That also makes the Brown site attractive to developers.   

Adult basic education students in south Minneapolis used to be schooled in the Lehman Center 2.6 miles west on Lake Street. When the district sold that building to a housing developer to help pay for the new district headquarters, they moved to 2225.  North Side students were in the Broadway school building before it was torn down for the new district headquarters, then moved to North High School temporarily before moving into the new headquarters. Transition Plus is in the Wilder building at 3320 Elliot Av. S., but was scheduled to move to 2225 in 2015.

(Top photo: Existing former Brown building at 2225 E. Lake St.; right: proposal for redevelopment of the site. This article includes material from staff writer Eric Roper.)


Council committee votes against renewing Champions' liquor license

Posted by: Maya Rao Updated: February 25, 2014 - 4:03 PM

A south Minneapolis bar fighting accusations that it has enabled violence and drug-dealing lost a bid to renew its liquor license today from a regulatory committee of the Minneapolis City Council.

The panel voted 5-0 against granting another liquor license to Champions Saloon and Eatery at the corner of West Lake Street and Blaisdell Avenue South, after city regulators and attorneys contended that allowing the bar to continue serving alcohol was not in the public interest.

The move follows Administrative Law Judge Jeanne Cochran’s findings in a report this month that Champions failed to provide adequate security. She recommended either not renewing the bar’s license or renewing it with strict conditions that could keep patrons safe.

Champions attorney Ed Matthews vowed to appeal the decision to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, arguing before council members that the matter was similar to the city’s case against Gabby’s Saloon and Eatery. The appeals court in 2009 sided with that bar, which has since closed, and directed the city to award it a settlement of more than $200,000, claiming that Minneapolis had gone too far in penalizing the establishment for what happened off the premises.

The Community Development and Regulatory Services Committee also denied Champions’ move to stay the action during the appeals process. The matter now goes to the full City Council for final approval.

Owner Rick Nelson said he would keep the restaurant open even without selling alcohol, which now accounts for about 70 percent of his sales. The bar employs 25 people.

Matthews argued that the bus stop right outside the bar had brought in a lot of crime, and that the police department’s prohibition on Champions continuing to employ off-duty cops made the problem worse. But assistant city attorney Joel Fussy said the bar refused to accept responsibility for escalating criminal and nuisance activity, which came to a head last August when a man was shot to death inside Champions while it was packed.

Headlines and deadlines from 2013 in the Mill City

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: December 31, 2013 - 3:16 PM

The year 2013 certainly didn't lack for drama in Minneapolis, from a 35-candidate dogpile to replace R.T. Rybak as mayor to an unexpected gusher in downtown, and the standoff so far over the Southwest rail line. Remember the heat wave that forced a quick end to an early school start? The advent of a $1.1 million ash-removal tax? 

Here's a top 10 list of 2013 Minneapolis headlines, plus a bonus track, compiled from suggestions by the folks who cover the city beat for the Star Tribune. You may add your comments on other notable events. We also list some notable residents who died this year.  

So long, Rybakapolis: In an electoral shift as epochal as 2001, the city is getting a new mayor and a new council majority. Although the shift from R.T. Rybak to Betsy Hodges in the mayor’s chair appears more of a change of style than ideology, the council turnover is more seismic. The council’s median age will drop by 14 years, it will have three immigrants for the first time since 1947, and it brings a more pro-density stance. The massive turnover was sparked by mayoral ambitions, ward development issues, anti-stadium sentiment among some voters and the emergence of Somalis and other ethnic groups as political forces.

Due for a break: Property taxpayers got a break that hasn’t happened in 30 years when the City Council in December cut the 2014 levy by 1 percent at Rybak’s recommendation. The mayor attributed the tax break to the impact of the stadium deal, but the legislature also restored a healthy chunk of the state aid the city lost during the Tim Pawlenty years.

Goodbye Dome, hello park:: The largest city-assisted  development deal since the razing and rebuilding of the north Minneapolis projects won year-end approval  from  the outgoing City Council. The $400 million project includes two office towers to be owned by Wells Fargo, apartments, retail, a parking ramp and a nearly two-block public park. Much of that will be on land to be sold by the Star Tribune, which plans to shift its offices to rental quarters.  The city is on the hook for up to $65 million to build up to a 1,600-stall parking ramp, plus a basic park. And we hear a new stadium is being built nearby.

Target Center makeover: Target Center is headed for a makeover to the tune of $97 million, with the city’s share coming from a shift in the use of city-generated sales taxes. The money will improve the building’s public spaces, upgrade technology and overhaul the facade. The city, which purchased the building in the mid-1990s, also is committed to $50 million in ongoing capital costs. The Timberwolves contribute $43 million and the arena’s operator another $5 million.

Hear that lonesome whistle blow: The fight over routing of trains through the Kenilworth corridor of Minneapolis set off alarms from the suburbs to the governor’s office.  Minneapolis wants existing freight trains to be re-routed out of the corridor and through St. Louis Park, while Kenilworth residents have raised questions about the routing of the Southwest light-rail line through their area. There’s a city-suburban split, with debate over the impacts of the project on the lagoon connecting Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake. Gov. Mark Dayton endorsed a 90-day halt to further study impacts on the lakes and lagoon and to exhaust other alternatives for re-routing freight.

Deadly decisions: Terrance Franklin decided to flee when police responded to a call of a suspected burglary on May 10, and the results were deadly. Police shot and killed Franklin in an Uptown basement where he hid after a 90-minute chase. Police said Franklin charged at them and used one of their guns to shoot two officers, before two others fatally shot him. A Hennepin County grand jury found no evidence to indict the officers involved. A motorcyclist also died when he collided with a late-responding police officer using lights and siren to cross against a red light at a busy intersection. Franklin’s parents question police conduct.

Costly cops: Police conduct continued to be an issue aside from the Franklin case. The Star Tribune reported that none of the 439 cases alleging police misconduct filed in the first year of a new oversight office resulted in discipline for an officer. The department was defending itself against 61 lawsuits alleging police used excessive force, including 53 filed from 2011 to 2013. The department at mid-year had paid nearly $14 million in payouts to settle misconduct allegations in the previous seven years, including $3.075 million to the family of a homeless man who died after police climbed on him while he was acting strangely at the downtown Minneapolis YMCA.

Attention, class: Minneapolis schools now have a five-year plan for handling an enrollment boom that it hasn’t seen in years. The plan adds some 4,500 seats, with additions pending at Southwest High School, Seward Montessori, Sanford Middle School and Cooper school.  The plan affects almost one-third of district enrollment, but few will switch schools. Some will see new programs in their schools or follow new paths to high school. It’s still the biggest change since a 2009 shift in school boundaries when the district was still shrinking.

New North Side doorway:The opening of a new link between the downtown and the North Side didn’t get much attention, but the bridge completing Van White Boulevard was freighted with symbolism.  It marks a major checkmark in the dwindling to-do list for completing the master plan for redevelopment of the former housing projects straddling Olson Memorial Highway. The boulevard connecting Dunwoody Boulevard/Hennepin Avenue with N. 7th Street was conceived to be a new front doorway to the North Side, while symbolically connecting that under-employed area to downtown jobs. It’s also the first direct north-south connection between Lyndale Avenue to the east and Cedar Lake Parkway to the west, build to withstand the valley’s poor soils. Although the bridge has only two of the planned four lanes, there are walk and bike paths.

Water, water everywhere: Just how much Minneapolis relies on an infrastructure we take for granted was forcefully brought home on Jan. 3 when a water main was breached downtown. The nick by a sub to a subcontractor working on an apartment project flooded the Gateway district with 14 million gallons, forcing water-less employers to send workers home early, impeding commuters and turning the area into a skating rink. The city estimated that it spent at least $325,000 for workers to address the leak and clean up; more than 50 private and postal vehicles were ruined in a nearby ramp. City lawyers are still dealing with the multiple parties involved in the construction project on recovering costs.

A streetcar desired: There’s no clear point when the streetcar line the city proposes for Nicollet Avenue can be said to have irresistible momentum, but hopes for a 3.4-mile starter line made considerable progress, even though polls show the public is split on the proposal.The city completed an alternatives analysis and committed $4 million for starting preliminary engineering next year. That’s still a long ways from landing state and federal funding needed for the $200 million project, but it will better position the city to compete for the money.

(Photos from top to bottom: Mayor R.T. Rybak takes one last dive; illustration of post-renovation Target Center; the late Terrance Franklin; middle schooler Hani (Sabrina) Muridi at Sanford Middle School; flooding from the Gateway district leak.)

Here's a roll call of some of the notable Minneapolis residents who died in 2013, along with the fields in which they made their mark:

John Wing Ackerman, 80, minister and activist
Ed Brandt, 81, legislator and political scientist
Sage Fuller Cowles, 88, dancer and philanthropist  
John B. Davidson, 81, co-founder of Children’s Theatre Company
Tom Dickinson, 78, fire chief
Mary Betty Douglass, 87, Romper Room’s “Miss Betty”
Richard Estes, funeral home owner and philanthropist
Lou Gelfand, 91, newsman and public relations
Keith Gunderson, 78, philosophy professor and poet
Al Haug, 64, folk musician and radio host
Burton Joseph, agribusinessman and Jewish activist
Sue McLean, 63, concert promoter
Hussein Samatar, 45, school board member and lender
Pat Schon, 86, champion of World War I vets
Muriel Simmons, 73, neighborhood activist
Phyllis Wiener, 91, painter and feminist


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