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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. 


Police warn Hispanics being targeted in robberies, two of which involved weapons

Posted by: Suzanne Ziegler Updated: December 27, 2013 - 1:15 PM

Minneapolis police are warning residents of a spate of violent robberies that are targeting Hispanics in neighborhoods roughly along Interstate 35 W, south of downtown.

Police said five robberies took place between Dec. 20 and Dec. 23rd in areas that include parts of Whittier, Phillips West, Lyndale and Central neighborhoods.

In one case, a gun was shown, in another a knife. Police are advising residents to be aware of their surroundings, walk with someone else at all times and try to get a good description of the robber.

Here’s the five incidents. In all of them the victims were Hispanic:

Dec. 17 at 7:40 p.m.: A man forcibly took a woman’s purse as she walked at 1st Av. South and 28th St. E.

Dec. 20: 8:10 p.m. A man robbed a man in a parking lot at 38th and Nicollet Av. No weapons were involved.

Dec. 21 at 2:30 a.m.: Two men punched a male who was walking at Franklin Av. E and Clinton Av. S. They stole his backpack.

Dec. 22 at 2 a.m.: Two men approached a male, showed a knife and took his wallet and cell phone in the 27XX block of Nicollet Av. The victim was not hurt.

Dec. 23 at 12:38 a.m.: A male was leaving a city bus when a man displayed a handgun at 1st Av. S and 33 St. E. The suspect fled before taking anything from the victim.


Plow complaints bracket Rybak tenure

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: December 27, 2013 - 1:21 PM

As Mayor R.T. Rybak nears the end of his last term, it’s striking how much city residents are talking about their gripes in one area that office-seeker Rybak highlighted in 2001 as an area for improvement: plowing snow.

Rybak’s 90-day plan for taking office called for taking initial steps toward 24-hour plowing. That idea lasted longer that his coolness to a new Twins ballpark, which began melting the same month he was elected, but Rybak couldn’t persuade the council to revamp the plowing schedule and left 24-hour plowing out of his first budget. He said a series of community meetings gave him the feedback that pursuing the idea was wrong, especially in areas without sufficient garages or parking. Plus, 24-hour plowing would have left half of city streets available parking at a time, instead of the current one-third.

That’s not to say that there haven’t been some tweaks in plowing since the mayor took office.  The most notable is modifying rules to allow people to park on a side of the street as soon as it has been “fully plowed,” instead of waiting until that side’s no-parking period expired.     

Cynics question whether snow is ever fully plowed, noting that the edge of plowed snow often creeps several feet out from the curb as winter lengthens.  That could be in part due to another change in recent years that’s saved the city money. Public Works honchos are using more plow drivers who are shifted from other duties such as sewer, water or garbage services and hold the necessary truck license. Some experienced plow drivers say that makes a difference in how well snow is plowed, but the city says it can get by with fewer dedicated plow drivers that way.

Rybak made towing for snow removal the pilot topic for his statistical measurement system that evolved into Results Minneapolis. Although that study found geographic inequities in neighborhoods where vehicles were towed more frequently, one bright idea for relieving that issues – using SNOasis private lots temporarily – didn’t last long.

Still-common plowing complaints often focus on the ridges that plows leave behind, sealing a driveway or corner, despite the availability of plow gates that can minimize such barriers. One Como area property owner who is pushing 70 said she had to clear ridges four separate times last week.

If you’d like to vent, or just read what others say about plowing, go to the city’s snow emergency Facebook page.

Nicollet-Boom recreational bridge is closed to vehicles

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: December 23, 2013 - 5:58 PM

The 112-year-old railroad bridge linking Boom Island and Nicollet Island has been closed to all but foot and bike traffic due to advanced deterioration of the bridge below the deck that was detected by a city inspection.

The closing of the 175-foot crossing to vehicles isn't expected to have much public impact because the span is used mainly by maintenance vehicles of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, which plow trails that run across the bridge.

The 1901 through-truss bridge is safe for individuals, the Park Board said in a news release. Jersey barriers have been placed at either end of the bridge to block vehicles. It said that the Commitment Day 5K race scheduled for Jan. 1 will use the bridge as planned.

The bridge crosses the east channel of Nicollet Island, part of a corridor that extends down the east flank of the island's north half to where the line once connected with Burlington Northern tracks.

The 1901 through-truss bridge was for the Wisconsin Central Railroad as part of its railyard that replaced lumberyards on Boom Island that were destroyed in an 1893 fire. The railyards were cleared in the 1970s in anticipation of the routing of Interstate 335 across Boom Island before opponents stalled that project. Roundhouse foundations are buried in the park that replaced rails on Boom Island.  



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