What’s making news in Minneapolis, reported by the Star Tribune’s team of city reporters. Send news tips to baird.helgeson@startribune.com.

Posts about Public safety

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.

City advises using 311, not 911, to report fireworks complaints

Posted by: Maya Rao Updated: July 2, 2014 - 10:52 AM

Minneapolis is telling residents to call 311 to report complaints about fireworks, but don’t dial the hotline on July 4. It won’t be open.

An advisory from crime prevention analyst Luther Krueger said Minneapolis 911 fields 300 to 400 calls an hour on a typical July 4 evening – at least three to four times more than on a normal day – mostly for noise complaints. Police can’t respond to such a large volume of calls.

“Folks can help make sure emergency calls are answered as quickly as possible, by not calling 911 with fireworks noise complaints,” the email said. Instead, they should call or report complaints online to 311, it said, and dial 911 in situations where fireworks have injured someone, landed on a building or wooded area and pose a fire risk, or people are involved in unruly behavior.

In a separate email, Krueger told the Star Tribune that the emphasis is on reporting to 311 online.

Citizens can also report complaints to 311 through July 4 through a mobile app. City staff will review those and may follow up with the property owner, but will not dispatch a police squad.

And citizens can still call 311 through 7 p.m. Thursday, and starting at 8 a.m. Saturday.

“Most of the fireworks complaints are not 911 issues,” said Don Stickney, director of Minneapolis 311. “It’s not an emergency, it’s a nuisance.”

Bike, ped changes may be coming to crosstown pair

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: July 1, 2014 - 2:40 PM

Two prominent cross-city commuting routes are likely headed for bike and pedestrian improvements as part of a planned 2015 paving of the twin one-way streets.

That’s why the city is asking for feedback at a series of open houses about what pedestrians, drivers, bus riders and bikers want changed on 26th and 28th Streets.  The initial repaving will happen between Hiawatha Avenue and Interstate 35W, but the planning connected with the open houses will extend west to Hennepin, for possible future work.

The first open house will be from 6-8 p.m. on July 14 at American Swedish Institute, 2600 Park Av. S. That meeting is designed for sharing ideas and concerns about the streets.  Follow-up meetings are planned at the same time and place for Aug. 6 and 27 to gather feedback on design concepts for bike and pedestrian changes.

According to John Wertjes, the city’s director of traffic and parking services, an asphalt overlay is scheduled for 26th, while 28th is due merely for sealcoating.

Some bikers have advocated for installing buffered or protected bike lanes on the two streets. The latter is how the paving project is listed on the city’s capital projects list, but that’s a placeholder until there’s public input, officials said.

What done with bike lanes could be determined by money.  The city has $400,000 in hand for pedestrian and biking improvements in the paving project, Wertjes said. That’s enough to pay for striping buffered bike lanes, like the painted extra-wide bike lanes installed when Portland and Park avenues were reduced from three to two one-way motorized traffic lanes for most of their length south of downtown.

But the city would need to compete for added outside grant money to be able to afford more protected bike lanes, in which bollards, curbs, elevated pavement or parked cars are between the bike and motorized traffic lanes.

Wertjes said that he also expects the open houses to produce calls for managing and slowing traffic speeds.    

(Photo: This vehicle plowed into a house on E. 26th Street in this 2000 accident. Staff photo by David Brewster.)

Mpls. residents asked to clean up graffiti

Posted by: Alejandra Matos Updated: June 6, 2014 - 1:53 PM

Minneapolis is asking residents to take graffiti clean-up into their own hands, literally.

City fire stations are offering free graffiti removal solvent, with instructions on how to use it on the city's website.

"Left alone, graffiti attracts more graffiti," city officials said in a press release.

The city reported 8,000 graffiti cases that cost over $1 million.

Before cleaning it, residents should report the graffiti to the city using the city's 311 smartphone app, where they can upload a picture with GPS coordinates. Residents can also call 311.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

Mpls shines at avoiding sewage overflows

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: June 6, 2014 - 5:19 PM

While some metro metro communities are blaming aging infrastructure for the discharge of raw sewage into area waters after heavy rains last weekend, the Hennepin County community with the oldest sewers didn’t spill a drop of sewage.

In fact, Minneapolis has had only two small sewage overflows since 2006.  Those 2010 discharges of 200,000 gallons pale in comparison to the 360 million gallons spilled in 1984.

The city’s stellar record is the result of a long and costly investment in separating its stormwater and sanitary sewers. The job isn’t done, but most of the heavy lifting was completed between 1960 and 1995.

“We’ve made amazing progress in separating our sewers, even relative nationwide to comparable cities,” said Kelly Moriarty, an engineering supervisor for the city.

Mound and the Metro Council were blaming each other in the wake of last weekend's rains for the pumping of untreated sewage into Lake Minnetonka.

In the old days, both sewers that carried stormwater and those carrying sewage emptied into the Mississippi River and other natural waters.  By the late 1930s, household and business sewage headed to the new Pigs Eye metro sewage plant.

New developments got dual piping to handle the two flows. But that left hundreds of miles of older streets where sewers still had combined roles. It wasn’t until a massive Minneapolis street reconstruction program that began in the 1960s that those older streets got separate storm drains. The city also worked to take out connections where sewage can cross from one pipe to another.  The separation accelerated after 1986, both under pressure from environmental regulators and because state and federal aid supplemented utility bills paid by customers. To preserve capacity, property owners also were required to disconnect downspouts from sewers, and property owners have been encourage to adopt practices to hold back rain flow..

Overflows can happen when it rains or there’s heavy snowmelt because excess water reaching waste sewers flows into storm sewers that head directly to the Mississippi.  When sewage pipes reach capacity, regulators divert waste flow into the river. Otherwise pipes would burst from pressure or sewage would back up into basements.

The job of separating sewers in Minneapolis is 95 percent done, but separating remaining links has gotten harder and the remaining fixes are the most expensive. However, that degree of separation is sufficient to eliminate all but rare overflows.  

(Photo: Workers for the city work at finding breaches and repairing the city's storm tunnels. Photos by Richard Sennott.)


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