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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

City sues owner of upscale Uptown apartments over lagoon discharge

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: December 27, 2013 - 3:58 PM

The city this week sued to block the owner of a controversial upscale apartment building in Uptown from pumping groundwater through the city sewer and into a nearby lagoon that's part of the Chain of Lakes, saying that makes ice unsafe.

The city asked Hennepin County District Court to declare illegal and bar the pumping of groundwater from the lower level of the upscale building's underground parking into the city's sewer, which enters the lagoon. The city also  asked for a penalty of $1,000 per day for allegedly violating the city's storm drain ordinance, and other unspecified damages.

The 56-unit apartment building opened two years ago at 1800 W. Lake St., a location that some residents regard as the western gateway to Uptown. The proposal stirred debate in 2009 over the appropriate height for buildings near lakes Calhoun and Isles under a land use plan adopted in 2008, after construction of a taller building across the street.

Developer Daniel Oberpriller said development firm Lake and Knox LLC is trying to figure out the right thing to do, but referred comment on the lawsuit to the firm's attorney.

Lake and Knox LLC obtained temporary state and city permits that allowed it to pump enough water to build the building's foundation several feet below the surrounding water table, according to the city lawsuit. But its application to the state said the temporary dewatering would end after 90 days, and the city permit was timed for the same period.

The city alleges that pumping to drain groundwater from the completed apartment building has continued at a rate of at least 240,000 gallons per day. That's impairing the lagoon, the city alleges, by causing thin ice and open water that imperils cross-country skiers and other lake users, while marring the scenic view. The city also alleges that the pumping uses sewer capacity that's needed for rain and snowmelt, and interferes with the operation and maintenance of a city grit chamber that's designed to reduce sediment flowing into the lake.

Ironically, the building's profile was lowered, pushing its garages deeper, in order to accommodate neighborhood objections. One sign of the intensity of the debate was that four adjoining neighborhoods took the unprecedented step of jointly appealing to the City Council the Planning Commission's approval of variances and other approvals the project needed. That appeal failed.

The rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the building ranges from $1,500 to $1,800 monthly, and a two-bedroom unit costs from $2,200 to $2,900 monthly. 


School site getting poked and prodded

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: July 24, 2013 - 3:14 PM

The sale of the school district’s former headquarters at 807 Broadway St. NE is now halfway home.

Hillcrest Development, selected by the school board as the preferred developer for the sprawling site, has signed a purchase agreement for the Logan Park neighborhood site. The district said that happened June 27; the developer said it happened last week.

The price hasn't yet been disclosed because state law allows that until the deal reaches its final stage, which the district estimates at four to five months. The district said there may be further neogitaitons over price.

The developer began investigating on July 8 the condition of the site  as part of the environmental checks it will make before a planned closing on the property later this year. Hillcrest expects testing and analysis of the buildings for asbestos, lead, and other potential contaminants to last into the fall.

The developer plans to fill the rehabbed brick building with commercial tenants, although it expects to tear down some of the back shop areas of the site.  The Logan Park neighborhood strongly backed commercial reuse of the site to restock the supply of jobs lost when the district last July moved its headquarters to 1250 Broadway Av. across the Mississippi River.

Minneapolis could gain more power over problem businesses

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: February 12, 2013 - 3:01 PM

By Maya Rao

Minneapolis could soon wield more power over troublesome bars, clubs and other businesses. A City Council committee approved regulatory changes on Tuesday that would allow Minneapolis to impose mandatory conditions on businesses that don’t cooperate to fix ongoing violations.

Under the new rules - which require approval from the full City Council - the city could put limitations on hours and locations where liquor can be sold in the building, the occupancy level in all or parts of the business, and the admittance of people under age 21 to areas where liquor is not sold.

The changes grew out of concerns last year about drunken mayhem and violence at bar closing time downtown during the weekends. In July, after a surge in violent crime downtown, Minneapolis pressured clubs to stop hosting under-21 parties on Sunday nights and enhance security. And after threats to revoke their licenses following multiple violations, Envy Nightclub and Bootleggers surrendered them and shut down.

Since then, officials have held seven public meetings with more than 100 business representatives to discuss suggestions for the city to tackle problem businesses.

But several businesses pressed their concerns at Tuesday’s meeting of the Regulatory, Energy and Environment Committee that the new rules could be too vague and even discourage investment.

John Barlow, an owner of Epic Entertainment, said the language of the ordinance was overly broad and unclear about how many violations a business would have to rack up before the city stepped in.

“The more people you have, the more propensity for troubles, for problems,” said Barlow, whose business is a large downtown venue. “I don’t think it’s fair for us to put them in one category.”

Dan DiNovis, who manages four venues with liquor licenses, said there are already rules in place for licensing staff to deal with problem businesses.

“But if a bunch of businesses have restrictions on their license, it makes it not a place for people to invest and do business … it’s bad for new and current business owners,” he said.

Less than 1 percent of licensees in the city have conditions, which were all negotiated. But on occasions when business owners resist making changes, officials said, the city’s only option is a laborious process to revoke or deny their license.

City officials stressed that they would resort to the new rules only in rare cases.

“Any business that has no problems is not going to have any problems with this change, and even those that have some problems will have no problems with those changes,” said Council Member Lisa Goodman, who represents downtown. “The only businesses that will have problems with this are those that thumb their nose at our attempts to get them to comply with the law.”

Under the changes, regulatory staff would meet with the business to negotiate a voluntary agreement about conditions that will be placed on the license in an effort to prevent future violations. If they can agree on terms, they sign a document that will go to the council’s regulatory committee for approval.

If they cannot agree, a quasi-judicial hearing is held before the regulatory committee, or it may be referred to an administrative law judge for a hearing and recommendation to the regulatory committee when significant facts are in dispute. The committee then votes on the recommended conditions and forwards the decision to the full City Council.

License-holders can appeal the decision to the Minnesota State Court of Appeals.

Businesses would have multiple avenues to contest the city’s action, said committee chair Elizabeth Glidden.

“Mandatory conditions are something that would be applied when a business is at the end of the line,” she said.


Competing plans shown for old Northrop school

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: February 4, 2013 - 10:42 AM


It’s been empty since 2005, but there’s now competition to buy the old Northrop school building on the South Side.

Neighbors from the area listened this week as two teams pitched competing proposals to buy and rehab the building at 1611 E. 46th St.  Both groups also hope to build on the playground area of the property, one now and one later.

One proposer was a familiar face to many.  United Properties returned after making a proposal earlier that wouldn’t work without city subsidies, which were not forthcoming. But this time, it said its revamped proposal will work without that because it's not planning to raze the school.

That’s because United proposes to rent the existing 1923 building to a start-up charter school, which hopes to open next fall.  It also plans to build about 65 units of new cooperative housing aimed at seniors in the area who are ready to sell their homes.  That's down from the 106 units it proposed earlier when it planned to demolish the school.

The other proposal comes from a growing network of highly regarded South Side charter schools that serves a student body that’s mostly Latino and low-income.
That’s Hiawatha Academies. It operates one elementary school in the school district’s former Morris Park school in the city’s southeastern most corner, and one middle school in a former parochial school in the King Field neighborhood.  Now demand for spaces is strong enough that it wants to launch a second elementary school opening in 2014, ahead of its previous timetable for expansion. It would eventually grow to 390 students once all grades are in place.

Eli Kramer, the network’s executive director, said the school is offering $1 million for the property and would invest $3-3.5 million in rehabbing the school, adding an extension and sprucing up the grounds. Kramer said the school needs a new roof and windows, plus some ceiling and floor work  He said that eventually Hiawatha would like to discuss adding a middle school on the current playground when demand warrants.

United’s Mark Nelson wasn’t as specific about how much his team plans to offer for the building and spend to renovate it, but his purchase offer is believed to be somewhat higher..

Although the school board is getting assistance from the city’s development arm in evaluating the financial feasibility of the two proposals, the board will make  the decision.

The United property would address the desire expressed by the neighborhood in earlier brainstorming for reuse of the site that senior housing be created. Another advantage to the United proposal is that its housing development will create tax base that the Hiawatha proposal won’t.

The Hiawatha proposal rests on the school being owned by Charter School Development Corporation, a multi-state charter financing nonprofit.  That’s because Minnesota law prohibits charter schools from owning their buildings.  The charter would pay the development corporation through annual lease payments, for which state aid is provided to charters. But nonprofits pay no property tax so that may be one factor influencing the board.

However, Hiawatha has been moving toward a closer relationship with Minneapolis schools, and Northrop is in the middle of the area from which Hiawatha draws most of its students.  Moreover, Hiawatha offers a charter operation with a proven track record, while Arches Academy, United’s proposed tenant, is a startup.  Another factor is that United would need to presell 60 percent of its units to qualify for the HUD financing it plans to use, something that helped to stall its previous proposal.  But  it has created similar developments in suburban cities.. 

Arches is being created by Angela Mansfield, a Minneapolis schools teacher with an impressive educational resume. She’s  working with Charter School Partners, a nonprofit group that seeks to replicate high-quality charters.

The school board is expected to act later this winter on the recommendation of its staff on which group should get the site.. 



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