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Mpls opens its last barge shipping season

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: April 1, 2015 - 1:00 PM

The Patrick Gannaway approached Lower St. Anthony lock on Wednesday morning with a tow of two barges destined for Aggregate Industries in north Minneapolis.

The barges represent one of the first commercial loads through Minneapolis in a barge shipping season that opened Sunday at the twin locks of St. Anthony Falls.  It's also the last shipping season under a congressional mandate to close the upper lock by June 10 in an effort to stem the migration of invasive carp up the Mississippi.

The Becky Sue was the first commercial boat through Minneapolis on Sunday, pushing two empty barges upriver to Northern Metal Recycling for loading. The much busier St. Paul port saw its first upriver load on March 25.

The Patrick Gannaway is ferrying sand and gravel to Aggregate Industries Yard D near the Burlington Northern Santa Fe bridge, where it likely will go into ready-mix concrete. The loads are quarried at the firm's Grey Cloud Island quarry and shipped through St. Paul. The firm is trying to ship four barges daily through the falls to build inventory at the yard before the lock closure, which is predicted to put more trucks on Twin Cities roads

The last upper lock season will be the 53rd since the locks opened in 1963. The lower lock and Ford lock will remain open on limited hours, which helps pleasure craft, but all commercial loads headed for Minneapolis went to the upper harbor. A citizen advisory committee recently recommended that the Park Board develop portages around the falls locks for potrtable craft such as canoes and kayaks.

(Photo: The Patrick Gannaway nears the Lower St. Anthony lock, which is just upstream of the 10th Avenue and 35W bridges, on Wednesday morning.Staff photo by Steve Brandt)

Council seeks reassurance of help for laid-off Target workers

Posted by: Erin Golden Updated: March 18, 2015 - 3:03 PM

Glen Stubbe / gstubbe@startribune.com

About a third of the 1,700 workers laid off by Target this month are Minneapolis residents, according to an official with the state's dislocated worker program.

Anthony Alongi, director of the Minnesota Job Partners' Dislocated Worker Program, updated the Minneapolis City Council on Wednesday on the work his agency is doing to ensure the laid-off workers get help polishing their resumes and finding new jobs.

He fielded questions from council members, who said they want to ensure the state is doing enough to help the workers move on -- particularly the workers who want to continue to both live and work in the city. Alongi said he expects about half of the former Target employees will seek help from his office, while many of the others will be successful in finding new employers on their own.

"You can expect a large number, particularly at a high-skill corporation like Target, to find work without any intervention at all," he said.

Council Member Lisa Bender, who represents Uptown and neighborhoods just south of downtown, said she knows many people moved to neighborhoods like those in her ward to work for large companies like Target with offices downtown. She said those workers often selected their homes so they could commute easily by bus, bike or a short walk, and now could be facing the project of finding new jobs that come with fewer transportation options.

"Losing those jobs in the downtown core in terms of the regional transportation connection is a significant piece, in and of itself," she said. 

Alongi said his team is aware of the issue and is working to keep jobs in and around Minneapolis' downtown a focus of their efforts. He said it's also important for the layoffs not to be confused for a larger problem in the city's economy.

"It's a very safe place to find a job," he said. "The economy is doing incredibly well. This is a strategic restructuring and not an overall impact of a weak economy."

Positions harden in Graco easement impasse

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: March 12, 2015 - 1:55 PM

Both sides have buttressed their positions as they prepare for a meeting next week to see if an impasse can be resolved involving an easement for a riverside trail over land owned by Graco Minnesota Inc.

Representatives of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the city and Graco are scheduled to meet next week to try to resolve a situation in which Graco is insisting on buying part of a nearby piece of Park Board property before it grants an easement for a trail that has been scheduled for construction later this year. It's the first meeting involving all three parties in at least a year, Park Board President Liz Wielinski said.

The company faces a high bar in seeking to buy two acres of parkland on the north side of the Plymouth Avenue Bridge in northeast Minneapolis. The Park Board reached a $7.7 million purchase agreement for the 11-acre site in 2010 and plans to recreate as wildlife habitat an island that existed historically

"I don't sell parkland," said Wielinski, the area's commissioner.. There's also a high bar in the law.  Six of the nine commissioners must vote for a land sale for it to go ahead, and a district judge's approval is required in a proceeding in which any citizen can intervene. 

The company has offered a additional argument for why it wants to build corporate offices on a portion of nearby Park Board land that was purchased by the Park Board from Scherer lumber.

Although Graco has large amounts of open space on its campus of more than 20 acres, spokesman Bryce Hallowell said the company wants a strip of Scherer property to buffer the park from its factory and loading dock area. Hallowell said Graco is concerned that developing the Scherer property without a buffering strip of offices could create pressure from park users against Graco's operations.

"What do you think the pressure will be to do something with Graco?" he asked, describing trucks running past the park from the loading dock across the street. "Let's all work to make this the best park," Hallowell said. He said that Graco still sees the Park Board selling part of the Scherer property as a condition for granting an easement.

Graco's concern for a buffer was rejected by Third Ward City Council Member Jacob Frey. "I think that's silly. Nobody's pushing Graco out of there," Frey said. "They've been good neighbors. They made an agreement and they need to live up to it."

Moreover, Wielinski said, concept plans for the Scherer site already outline a building that would shield park users from Graco's closest operations. The idea is that this building would offer park would house recreation-related services and generate lease payments to help finance park operations.

Graco agreed to grant the trail easement in a 2000 redevelopment agreement with the city that allowed Graco to devote some of the taxes generated by its expansion to financing site improvements. Graco argues that commitment ended in 2009 when the city certified that Graco had completed "all building construction and other physical improvements" in the redevelopment agreement. The easement is listed as a public improvement in the agreement.

But the city's development agency asserted in an e-mail to the Star Tribune that it has not waived the easement requirement, although it didn't respond when asked for its reasoning. Graco agency met last Friday with development agency representatives, but not the Park Board, which met Tuesday with agency officials. The development agency didn't respond to an inquiry this week about whether progress was made at that meeting,

Graco's Hallowell said, "The dialog was welcome and constructive as we try to work toward an approach that is holistic on riverfront development." But the firm still wants to buy the Scherer buffer in exchange for the easement.       

One new factor Frey revealed this week is that the easement is also required under the conditional use permit the city granted Graco for its expansion. "That conditional use permit is still enforceable 150 percent," he said. "I'm confident we can work something out, but that doesn't mean we don't have some serious tools in our shed."

The Park Board already has voted to condemn Graco land for the easement if it doesn't;t get that permission through negotiations. But it also needs to weigh the legal cost of doing so, as well as the easement price that could be awarded by a court. Park commissioner John Erwin said he doesn't think that Minneapolis taxpayers should have to bear those costs. Erwin said he's asked Park Board legal advisors whether it would have a breach-of-contract case against Graco.

Graco needs to weigh the public beating it has taken from some northeast residents who charge that it reneged on a deal for an easement that was a sop to those who felt that its two-block-long factory just south of the Broadway Avenue Bridge was too close to the river.

The issue now has some additional time to play out. Park officials said they earlier faced a May 31 deadline under a $1 million federal trail grant for getting control of trail right of way. More recent information indicates that the project must be ready for bids by Sept. 30.    


City again markets long-vacant apartment building

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: March 11, 2015 - 12:03 PM

Once again, city officials are seeking a developer to renovate the distinguished-looking hulk of a apartment building at 628 E. Franklin Av., but this time they even sound optimistic.

The just-released request for proposals from the city's development agency is the fourth time stretching over more than a dozen years that the city has sought a developer for a building that went tax-forfeit around 2000.

The latest solicitation for the building has the same selection criteria and same asking price of $75,000 for the building as the last solicitation last summer. That one was designed to test whether the housing market had recovered sufficiently to attract developers but the only proposal didn't meet the agency's feasibility test. It also sought a subsidy that the agency didn't consider warranted.

Cherie Shoquist, a city development project coordinator, said she's optimistic that two private and one nonprofit developers will submit proposals.

The fully gutted 1904 building sits in a prime location on Franklin near an entrance to Interstate 35W and Park and Portland avenues. It was built as luxury apartments, but has been vacant for 19 years. One handicap is that the building has only five parking spaces.

The city said it's seeking proposals for either commercial or housing ownership or rental use of the building, with priority to commercial or market-rate housing.

The property got caught up in the savings and loan debacle of the late 1980s. It went tax-forfeit twice. It went into foreclosure, and its ownership was disputed between two developers in court. The city had awarded development rights to the building to a Phillips-area developer, but he brought in another developer as partner. The city eventually bought the building from one of them through an intermediary nonprofit.

Minneapolis to join in White House tech initiative

Posted by: Erin Golden Updated: March 9, 2015 - 10:03 AM

Minneapolis is one of 20 communities that have pledged to join a new White House campaign to get more people hired in high-tech jobs.

Mayor Betsy Hodges was scheduled to join President Obama Monday morning as he announced his TechHire initiative at the National League of Cities' Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C. The program aims to boost potential employees tech skills through training at colleges, universities and online institutions along with coding bootcamps that provide more intensive instruction.

The White House says more than 500,000 of the 5 million jobs open in the U.S. are in information technology industries, ranging from software development to cyber security. It plans to launch a $100 million competitive grant program for "innovative" strategies that provide workers with training and employment. 

Much of the initiative, however, will be led by communities. Each city that has joined the program has provided a plan that outlines which companies or institutions it will link with to provide more training opportunities.

Minneapolis says it will work with three partners: Prime Digital Academy, an offshoot of The Nerdery, which provides an 18-week accelerated training program; Concordia University Bootcamp, a 12-week software development training that will provide eligible students with financial aid; and IT-Ready, an eight-week classroom training program operated by the Creating IT Futures Foundation.


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