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Posts about Politics and government

Key bike-ped link open on West Bank

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: July 14, 2014 - 3:25 PM

A key bike and pedestrian connection between the University of Minnesota and downtown Minneapolis is now open on the West Bank, and will get a ceremonial ribbon-cutting on Sunday.

The path links Bridge 9 over the Mississippi River with bike lanes and sidewalks on S. 2nd Street. That means the Dinkytown Greenway in the rail trench adjoining the main campus and farther on, the Transitway between Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses, will now be linked with bike routes into downtown. The link bypasses a steep drop down to W. River Parkway that previously provided a less-direct link.

The one-quarter mile link passes under the 10th Avenue Bridge and Interstate 35W (pictured in photo above). A culvert allowing the conenction was built into the reconstruction of the collapsed 35W bridge. The total cost of the link is $3 million.

Although the path has been usable since early July, city pols will hold an opening ceremony on Sunday.  Two groups of bikers will meet at Bluff Street Park near the west end of Bridge 9 at 1:30 p.m. One group will leave the Gopher football stadium, 420 23rd Av. SE, and the other will depart Gateway Park, N. 2nd Street and Hennepin Avenue, Both depart at 1 p.m.

(Staff photo by Steve Brandt)

94 ramp shift into downtown headed for approval

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: July 11, 2014 - 5:37 PM

A plan to reramp westbound access from Interstate 94 to downtown Minneapolis is headed toward key approval next week by the City Council.

The change would shift the 94 entrance ramp into downtown from S. 5th Street to S. 7th Street at an estimated cost of $10.5 million. The current plan is to start the project in mid-2015 and finish it later that year.

The reramping of the 94 access to downtown carries out a 2007 directive approved by the council when it adopted a downtown transportation plan.

The city’s traffic engineers said that 7th provides more direct traffic access to downtown’s core. The current 5th entrance ramp winds around the former site of the Metrodome, and through an intersection at Park Avenue complicated by crossing light-rail trains.

The city said that many drivers headed toward the downtown core already turn from 5th to 7th, creating further congestion on streets that connect them. So that’s why the shift was approved by the council’s transportation committee on Tuesday and is scheduled for a council vote next Friday. The 94 ramp would enter downtown where the Hiawatha Avenue ramp now enters downtown.    

The bulk of the project involves building a ramp bridge across Interstate 35W and adjacent ramps. It would then carry traffic through the Hennepin County Medical Center complex. The state is supplying $7.5 million of the cost through two programs, while the city will borrow $3 million for its share.

The project isn’t the only freeway change planned on downtown’s east side.  Plans also are pending to create a new northbound entrance to Interstate 35W from S. 4th St. Moreover, there has been discussion of converting the existing S. 5th Street ramp to better downtown access for the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

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)

It's try, try again for a faded apartment gem

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: July 10, 2014 - 3:06 PM

Is there a developer out there who can rescue a handsome old apartment building from more than 10 years on the city’s boarded building list?

City development officials this week asked for development proposals for 628 E. Franklin Av., nearly two years after the city took control of the building. The proposal deadline is Sept. 5.

The 1904 building appears to have decent bones but could use an extensive facelift.  The city’s development department said it’s open to business, and rental or ownership housing proposals. It said it will give priority to fully funded business or market-rate housing proposals.

The agency's Cherie Shoquist said it decided to seek proposals now because the city started getting inquiries from developers. She said she's expecting proposals for higher-end rental housing.

“The building’s so beautiful and has so much potential," Shoquist said.

But the neighborhood is feeling cut out. Ventura Village board chair Thor Adam said the neighborhood group learned of the agency's RFP from a reporter's call. "To be removed from that is concerning,:" he said. Years ago, the neighborhood group expressed a preference for ownership housing such as condos to offset the area's high concentration of rental housing, Adam said. He said the project also needs to be considered in the context of larger discussions about future use of city-owned lots in the area. 

Shoquist said the group will have an opportunity to review and comment on proposals, and that's better than ruling out potential usines of the building upfront. .  “We encourage the developers to contact the neighborhood and bring letters of support form the neighborhood," she said.

The structure was built as luxury apartments, but has fallen since on hard times. It sits not far from the 5th Avenue S. freeway entrance, between the major commuting routes of Portland and Park avenues.

The city in essence bought the building in 2012 from the Sabri family trust after Azzam Sabri, the building’s most recent owner, died of cancer in 2011. The purchase went through the Twin Cities Community Land Bank as an intermediary. Sabri got the building after a court fight with previous owner Jason Geschwind, to whom he provided financing.

The development agency insisted that he follow through with Geschwind’s commitment to create condos. Sabri wanted to switch to commercial reuse, but ignored the city’s requests for details on financing, marketing and other specifics.

Sabri's brother Basim, also a developer, said he has no interest is making a proposal to the city because he likes to work independently. "It's a gorgeous building," he said.

Minneapolis residents to vote on $500 mayoral filing fee

Posted by: Maya Rao Updated: July 2, 2014 - 6:06 PM

Minneapolis residents will face a ballot question in November about increasing the filing fee to run for mayor to $500, after the city’s charter commission approved the measure today.

City leaders have debated stepping up the requirements to run for office since 35 people ran for mayor last fall – with only $20 needed to land on the ballot. Critics complained that the system, also the first major test of ranked choice voting in Minneapolis, encouraged frivolous candidates and confused voters.

Last month, the City Council voted down a charter commission proposal to raise the filing fees for mayor and council to $250 and $100, after two council members opposed it. Changing the charter without a voter referendum would have required unanimous approval from the council.

Now, the charter commission’s action, approved 10-5, goes to the council, which will determine the exact language of the ballot question.

Voters will also decide whether to raise the filing fee – currently $20 for not just the mayor’s office, but all candidates – to $250 for candidates running for council, and $100 each for people running for the Board of Estimates and Taxation and the park board.

Mike Griffin, director of campaigns for Fair Vote Minnesota, expressed support for the move during the meeting, saying the organization wants candidates on the ballot who take the job seriously. But several mayoral candidates from last year testified against the move.

Bob Carney, a repeat city candidate, told charter commissioners today that he didn’t see the rush to raise the fee when the next municipal election is in 2017

“I’m very concerned about unnecessarily early action,” he said.  

Captain Jack Sparrow, who also ran for mayor, said raising the fee would create a government for those with money. After the vote, he said he couldn’t have afforded to run if it cost $500.

Candidates still have an option under state law to gather 500 signatures or 5 percent of the total votes cast in the last election – whichever is less – in lieu of paying the fee.

A motion to keep the fee for mayor and council at $100 failed today, as did a proposal to raise it to $250 for mayor and $125 for council.

Charter Commission Chair Barry Clegg said the city should keep its filing fee at the same level as St. Paul – which is also $500 and $250 to run for mayor and council, respectively – and noted that the fee has been the same for 60 years and probably won’t change for another 60.

“By that time, $500 will get you a small latte,” he joked.

Commissioner Jana Metge also voiced support for the plan, saying $500 amounted to 10 donations of $50 and that even if a candidate chose to gather signatures instead, that would amount to a half day’s work. She added that she couldn’t even organize a candidate forum last year because giving time to 35 candidates would have left time only for opening and closing statements.

“It was really hard to get good information at a community level, because there were so many people and folks wanted serious candidates,” she said. “Without a primary, it made it really difficult.”

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