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$46,000 kick-starts Rice Park renovation plan

Posted by: Kevin Duchschere Updated: August 18, 2014 - 10:25 AM

St. Paul leaders are taking the first steps towards a full-scale renovation of Rice Park, the downtown square that fronts on the Ordway and Landmark centers.

On Monday morning, the St. Paul Garden Club is giving the city a $46,000 check to begin the planning process for the 120-year-old park, which is regarded as one of the most beautiful urban squares in the country. Its fountain and large leafy trees provide the backdrop for numerous events and festivals.

Officials and community leaders said, however, that more events and more visitors are taking a toll on the park. The Ordway is adding a $75 million concert hall and the Landmark Center is undergoing a $4 million restoration, making it the right time to take a new look at how the park functions, said Amy Mino, president of the Rice Park Association, a private group dedicated to enhancing the park area.

"Rice Park is a jewel in downtown and requires a commitment from both the city and neighborhood groups to keep it looking beautiful," Mino said.

Following a public engagement process, a conceptual plan will be developed for the park that includes an estimated cost and a timeline for how the plan would be implemented.

The St. Paul Garden Club first planted 1,700 tulips in Rice Park in 1927, and has helped maintain the park’s growth since. Most recently, it purchased and installed 140 yew shrubs in the park.

Woman grateful after man saves family from burning St. Paul duplex

Posted by: Nicole Norfleet Updated: August 5, 2014 - 2:32 PM

Richard Johann and Vanessa Pryor spoke to the media outside a duplex that caught fire Monday.

Vanessa Pryor stood in front of the burned duplex that used to be her North End home Tuesday afternoon and said she was thankful.

Her sister and 6-month-old niece were able to escape the fire that ravaged the home at 1210 Albemarle St. on Monday night thanks to a man who pulled them from a window.

Pryor, 31, had been at a park with her children when she received a call around 7:30 or 8 p.m. Monday saying that her house was on fire. She went back to the home worried that her younger sister, who had been visiting with her daughter, could be hurt.

"First thing that went through my head is my sister," Pryor said.

When she got to the home, her sister and niece had already been rescued. Other witnesses told her that there had been two boys who had taken lighter fluid and set fire to a couch in the abandoned unit next to her's, Pryor said.

Richard Johann said in a story in Tuesday's Star Tribune that he was standing outside the nearby Tin Cup restaurant when he saw black smoke down the block and realized something was wrong. After he ran to the home, he pushed on the screen of an open window and saw Pryor's sister standing there holding a baby. Johann told her that she had to get out, and the woman handed the baby to him and he handed the baby to his friend. As emergency crews arrived, Johann grabbed the woman and got her out as well, he said.

"I just wanted to see if I could assist in any way," Johann said on Tuesday, as Pryor stood next to him.

Pryor said her sister saw boys sitting on the porch of the duplex and noticed the smell of smoke, but she hadn't realized the seriousness of the fire. She had been in Pryor's bedroom when she was rescued.

"Scary...There's a chance that she could have not made it out of there," Pryor said.

St. Paul Fire Marshal Steve Zaccard said Tuesday that the cause of the fire was still under investigation. A sign on a tree in front of the duplex said that the fire was suspected to be the result of arson and that rewards were available for information leading to the identification of those responsible.

If children started the fire, Pryor said she hopes they are taught a lesson but not placed behind bars.

"They're kids...They don't know better," she said.

Pryor is trying to figure out what she will do next. She wasn't able to recover anything from her home, and she didn't have renter's insurance. She is staying in a hotel for a few days with the help of the Red Cross, but she's not sure what she will do after that.

"I'm still lost right now," she said.

Funds to help Pryor and her family can be deposited at any Wells Fargo Bank by giving her name.

A duplex fire last week in the city was also suspected to be the result of arson. A 16-year-old boy helped save someone from that fire which broke out on St. Paul’s West End on July 21.

Nice Ride launches Neighborhood Program in East Side, Frogtown and North Mpls.

Posted by: Nicole Norfleet Updated: July 25, 2014 - 3:21 PM

Photo courtesy of Nice Ride Minnesota

Photo courtesy of Nice Ride Minnesota

St. Paul residents are getting used to seeing the green Nice Ride bikes being pedaled down city streets. But this week, Nice Ride has introduced orange bikes to some of the most underserved areas in the Twin Cities.

As part of the Nice Ride Neighborhood Program, 145 orange bikes are being distributed to cyclists in Frogtown and the East Side as well as North Minneapolis. The goal of the initiative is to cultivate new cyclists, said Paul Stucker, the Neighborhood Program coordinator for Nice Ride.

"We’re looking at different tools to serve different communities...We’re really looking geographically at what areas are cut off and need a different tool," Stucker said.

Over on the East Side. there aren't any urban bike shares, Stucker said. While there are green bikes in Frogtown and the North Side of Minneapolis, they haven't been as popular as in other areas, he said. Of the 145 orange bikes, 51 went to residents in St. Paul.

Nice Ride partnered with several local organizations to identify program participants. The partners in St. Paul are Aurora/St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation, Hmong American Partnership, Model Cities, St. Paul Public Housing, and Vietnamese Social Services. In Minneapolis, the partners are Emerge, Minneapolis Urban League, NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center, and Redeemer Center for Life. All of the orange Neighborhood bikes have been committed to participants for this year.

Besides attending an orientation, orange bike cyclists are also encouraged to participate in community events such as last weekend's Rondo Days to connect with other participants. The orange bikes aren't linked to the urban bike sharing system at all, Stucker said. The chosen cyclists keep their bikes until October, when they turn them in and help evaluate the program, he said. Feedback and engagement could determine what the program looks like next year as well as provide information for potential Nice Ride expansion, Stucker said.

Bumpy streets in St. Paul to get repaved in time for winter

Posted by: Kevin Duchschere Updated: July 24, 2014 - 11:50 AM

Just in time for winter, St. Paul city officials have agreed on a plan to strip and repave 11 of Mayor Chris Coleman’s “Terrible 20” arterial streets in critical need of repair.

On Wednesday, the City Council approved Coleman’s proposal to spend $2.5 million this summer to improve the roads, which include some of the city’s most highly-traveled – Cretin, Fairview, Grand and Hamline avenues, among others.

The work should be done by November.

Coleman thanked the council. “We do not want to repeat the winter and spring we had this past year,” he said, in a statement released Wednesday. “No one wants another polar vortex and everyone wants the roads to be better in St. Paul.”

The plan will use $1 million transferred from closed-out projects and areas such as street sweeping, along with $1.5 million already authorized for the work.

It wasn’t the council’s first choice on how to address growing problems with the washboard-like streets, which many people have been blaming for flat tires and out-of-whack suspensions.

Last month, six council members united around a plan to spend $22 million in bonding proceeds to start rebuilding the streets, rather than simply repairing them. The streets required more than just a short-term fix, they said.

But Coleman maintains that reconstructing all arterial streets will cost about $20 million a year for the next 10 years. His plan to spend $2.5 million now on repairs will buy the city some time until a long-term solution can be found – something he plans to offer in next month’s budget address.

That sounds good to Council President Kathy Lantry. “We believe there needs to be a large infusion of money into rebuilding our roads in the future and we look forward to working with the mayor to identify a plan we can all get behind,” she said.

The streets chosen for repairs this year, based on condition and traffic volume:

  • Cretin Avenue (from Interstate 94 to Marshall Avenue, and Summit Avenue to Ford Parkway)
  • Eustis Street (from the Hwy. 280 off-ramp to the I-94 on-ramp)
  • 11th Street (from St. Peter to Jackson streets)
  • Fairview Avenue (from Shields to Summit avenues)
  • Grand Avenue (from Interstate 35E to W. 7th Street)
  • Hamline Avenue (from University to Selby avenues, Portland to Grand avenues, and St. Clair to Randolph avenues)
  • Johnson Parkway (from Minnehaha Street to I-94)
  • Lafayette Road (from E. 7th to Grove streets)
  • Rice/W. 12th Street (from University Avenue to Wabasha/St. Peter streets)
  • Wabasha Street (from 6th to 7th streets)
  • Wheelock Parkway (from Edgerton to Arcade streets)

C-SPAN looks around St. Paul

Posted by: Kevin Duchschere Updated: July 23, 2014 - 4:54 PM

C-SPAN has St. Paul in its camera lens this week.

The national cable public affairs network, perhaps best known for its unblinking (and sans commentary) coverage of congressional debates and hearings, is in the capital city this week for a series on St. Paul’s history and literary life that it plans to air in September.

C-SPAN executive producer Mark Farkas popped in on Wednesday’s City Council meeting to talk about what his crew was doing and to thank the city for its hospitality. The crew will return to Washington, D.C., next week to produce 16 to 18 pieces on St. Paul, he said.

Sure to be included: the Hmong culture, the State Capitol, the Minnesota History Center, poet laureate Carol Connolly, a gangster tour with author Paul Maccabee, and F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Summit Avenue district. Visits also were made to Fort Snelling, the Alexander Ramsey house, and Garrison Keillor’s Common Good bookstore.

St. Paul is one of several cities across the country on which C-SPAN is training its spotlight this year. Last weekend, Des Moines was the featured city on C-SPAN’s 2014 Cities Tour. St. Paul’s turn will come the weekend of Sept. 20-21.

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