What’s making news in St. Paul, reported by the Star Tribune’s team of city reporters. Send news tips to richard.meryhew@startribune.com.

Posts about Politics and government

Wanted: Food and rec services manager for Como Pavilion

Posted by: Kevin Duchschere Updated: September 11, 2014 - 12:47 PM

St. Paul will host a tour Friday morning of the lakeside pavilion at Como Park for vendors interested in managing food and recreational services there.

That wouldn't be especially interesting, except for the fact that the City Council a couple weeks ago agreed to spend $800,000 to sever ties with longtime pavilion manager Black Bear Crossings.

Black Bear's owners, David and Pamela Glass, had sued the city for breach of contract, claiming that parks officials had wrongfully prevented them from renewing their lease.

A Ramsey County judge ruled they were entitled to damages from the city, which led to the settlement approved by the City Council -- the third largest in St. Paul's history.

Black Bear will close at the end of the year, so St. Paul officials want to get a new manager in place to launch a new cafe and take over the busy banquet calendar at Como.

That's why, at 9 a.m. Friday, they'll conduct tours of the pavilion facility and take questions from interested parties. They're looking for someone to manage all aspects of the pavilion, including food and catering services, rec services on or around the lake, and facility maintenance.

For more information, click on www.stpaulbids.com/.

Coleman talking roads with Secretary Foxx, federal officials

Posted by: Kevin Duchschere Updated: September 9, 2014 - 4:31 PM

No one knows more about the crumbling state of municipal roads than Mayor Chris Coleman, who has famously labeled St. Paul's most notoriously rocky streets the "Terrible 20."

So Coleman, serving this year as president of the National League of Cities, is in the perfect position to bring those concerns to Washington in hopes of securing more federal funding for roads and infrastructure.

Coleman is meeting Tuesday with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in Washington as part of an "Infrastructure Investment Summit" at the Treasury Department.

Among the topics: how to jumpstart movement on President Obama's surface transportation plan, which would dedicate billions to filling the funding gap in the Highway Trust Fund and addressing deteriorating roads and infrastructure across the nation.

Coleman also plans to tell Foxx about the coalition of Minnesota mayors being formed to lobby the state for additional funding for local streets.

Repairs began Monday on 11 of the "Terrible 20" St. Paul arterial streets most in need of work. Coleman and the City Council agreed to spend $2.5 million to scrape and repave those streets for now; that work should be finished before winter sets in.

In the long term, the mayor has proposed $34 million in new funds next year to begin rebuilding the worst streets from the ground up.

City Council members, who have gotten an earful from constituents this year about the streets and as a result proposed their own aggressive program to address the road problems, are convinced that St. Paul needs to act now before more tires go flat and suspensions are busted.

Coleman is rethinking recycling plans for 2015

Posted by: Kevin Duchschere Updated: August 28, 2014 - 7:20 PM

One topic was notably absent in Mayor Chris Coleman’s budget speech this month, especially given the fact that it was one of last year’s major subjects: recycling.

His plan for 2015 had been to give residents wheeled carts with lids for their recycling, making it easier and more convenient. You can toss everything together into the 96-gallon cart and then wheel it out to the curb or alley.

But that plan has been pushed back. Anne Hunt, Coleman’s environmental advisor, said that the fees proposed by the city’s recycling contractor, Eureka, to implement the wheeled carts would have been too high to stomach right now.

Eureka, on the other hand, says its proposed fee hike was not nearly as high as Hunt says.

Coleman had announced last year a new effort to boost St. Paul’s recycling rates. It involved enlarging the circle of products acceptable for recycling and making it easier for residents to do.

The city’s program now accepts many plastics it had previously rejected, such as yogurt tubs and microwave trays. It also converted to a single-sort system, making it unnecessary for residents to separate newspapers, cans, bottles and other recyclables into different bins.

Hunt said that for 2015, Eureka proposed a fee hike for single-family homes of 58 percent and that city officials negotiated that increase down to 32.6 percent. That was still too high, she said, for the mayor to recommend to the City Council -- especially given the fact that he was proposing a 2.4 percent increase in the property tax levy.

“We’re committed to offering a high-quality program, but also have to be sure that we’re getting the best value that we can,” Hunt said.

But Tim Brownell, co-president of Eureka, a nonprofit based in Minneapolis, disputed her figures.

He said the first estimate they gave the city was a 40 percent fee increase for weekly service moved from the curbs and into the city's alleys, which would require different trucks. The city was to cover the cost of the wheeled containers, he said.

Both sides knew 40 percent wouldn't work, Brownell said, so Eureka came back with an 18.8 percent fee hike for every other week service. From there, he said, the city and Eureka negotiated a reduced proposal of 12.2 percent.

With Eureka’s contract with the city ending in 2016, St. Paul officials plan to seek competitive bids for the next contract period. Eureka has provided recycling services for the city since 2000.

Whatever the figures, Roger Meyer, a consultant and neighborhood activist who briefly ran for mayor last year as a Green Party candidate, said he was disappointed by Coleman's decision.

“I think it’s a reflection of where his priorities lie, rather than a negotiated deal with Eureka,” he said. “It was such a big deal in last year’s budget address and then this year there’s no acknowledgement, like it didn’t exist.It just feels like a pretty substantial departure from a commitment made."

$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.

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)

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