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.

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Opus recommended to develop Seven Corners Gateway site

Posted by: Kevin Duchschere Updated: October 16, 2014 - 12:22 PM

A partnership led by Opus Development Co. has been recommended to develop the Seven Corners Gateway site in downtown St. Paul, a small but highly visible parcel across from Xcel Energy Center for which the city has had big plans for years.

The Opus proposal, put forward with Greco Development, includes a hotel, market-rate multi-family housing and retail stores surrounding a public plaza. Retail possibilities include restaurants, convenience shops and entertainment.

In a prepared statement, Mayor Chris Coleman said the Opus proposal “is continued proof of the city’s vitality and economic momentum.”

If the city’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority – made up of City Council members – approves the tentative developer agreement at next week’s meeting, Opus and Greco will have 18 months to formalize the proposal.

The site is considered valuable for its proximity to downtown, the W. 7th Street entertainment area and the Smith Avenue Transit Center.

The city issued a request for proposals in July to develop the 2.4-acre site, bounded by W. 7th Street and Kellogg Boulevard. Officials were seeking a mixed-use plan that included a vibrant entertainment district.

The Opus proposal was chosen over the only other proposal received, from M.A. Mortenson Co.

Green Line projects win Knight grants

Posted by: Kevin Duchschere Updated: October 14, 2014 - 10:14 AM

Sixteen projects designed to enhance St. Paul neighborhoods along the Green Line light-rail corridor have been awarded a total of $530,000 in grants this week by the Knight Foundation.

The grant amounts range from $75,000, given to a public arts project commemorating black railroad workers and to restoration of the Victoria Theater, to $3,700 for a wayfinding public art project near the Fairview Avenue station.

Other winning projects include beautification of the Interstate 94 bridges, installing green community space alongside Big Daddy's BBQ, and expanding a community plaza and street market in the Little Mekong district.

The winners were chosen from among 579 applicants to the Knight Green Line Challenge, a $1.5 million program to develop Green Line neighborhoods in St. Paul. The program will continue for two more years.

Eleven community reviewers narrowed the list to 48 finalists, with the winners chosen by reviewers and representatives of the Knight and St. Paul foundations.

For a complete list of the winners, go to www.knightgreenlinechallenge.org/.

Burglar breaks through wall of St. Paul store, steals $50,000 in merchandise

Posted by: Nicole Norfleet Updated: September 25, 2014 - 10:10 AM

A St. Paul sportswear store was burglarized early Tuesday when someone smashed through a wall and snagged thousands of dollars in merchandise.

At least one burglar, and possibly more, smashed a hole through an exterior brick and block wall at the Sports Dome and took off with at least $50,000 worth of clothes and other items, including leather jackets and jeans, St. Paul police said Wednesday.

Police are asking for the public's help to catch the thief or thieves.

Police responded to an alarm about 5:30 a.m. Tuesday at the store, located at 1505 University Av. W. But when officers arrived, they found the building and doors to be secured, said Sgt. Paul Paulos, spokesman for the St. Paul police. Hours later, the owner reported the burglary to police. It's believed that the heist happened between 5:30 a.m. and 10:20 a.m.

Anyone with information about the case should call the police at 651-266-5574.

The above photo is courtesy of the St. Paul Police Department.

Ballpark signs would be an exception in downtown St. Paul

Posted by: Kevin Duchschere Updated: September 22, 2014 - 3:00 PM

Signs long have been a heated issue in St. Paul, perhaps more than most cities.

A local group called Scenic St. Paul has vigorously championed billboard removal and tighter sign regulations. The City Council typically has balked at allowing large and flashing signs to advertise products or companies; most of those seen now, such as the iconic “1st” on top of the First National Bank building, have been around for a long time and were grandfathered in.

But the council may be ready to carve out an exception for the new city-owned Lowertown ballpark, recently named CHS Field, where the St. Paul Saints will play starting next season.

An ordinance has made its way to the council that would amend city code to permit two roof signs at the ballpark. Roof signs are defined as either those mounted on a roof, or projecting above the top of a building.

The first version of the ordinance would have permitted roof signs anywhere downtown, subject to a conditional use permit. That was too much for City Council Member Dave Thune, who asked last week that the ordinance be reworked to permit only the ballpark signs. The council agreed with Thune, striking out what could have the most controversial of the signage ideas.

The council is making other provisions for CHS Field. The proposed ordinance would allow sponsor signs at the new ballpark and let them be bigger than usual, as well as advertising signs.

City Parks Director Mike Hahm told the Planning Commission that a roof sign “will be a great identifier for the ballpark and the neighborhood.  Saints Vice President Thomas Whaley said ballpark roof signs “will add to the visual experiences of fans attending events at the park and visitors to the neighborhood.” Whaley wanted a four-sided sign, which the current ordinance version doesn't permit.

The ordinance also would allow sponsor signs at transit stop stations and for bike sharing facilities, such as Nice Ride. The council is expected to vote on the ordinance next week.

Levy ceiling expected to reflect Coleman's 2015 tax proposal

Posted by: Kevin Duchschere Updated: September 22, 2014 - 11:14 AM

The St. Paul City Council on Wednesday likely will set the 2015 maximum property tax levy at $103,636,842, which represents a 2.4 percent increase over this year’s tax collection.

How did they arrive at that figure? It’s the number that Mayor Chris Coleman put down in his proposed budget, which he presented to the council last month.

Under Minnesota law, all taxing jurisdictions must set a ceiling for the following year’s levy by the end of September. Once they’ve decided on a maximum levy, they can shrink the levy but they can’t raise it.

About three-fourths of the tax levy goes to fund city operations. Last year, the City Council also adopted Coleman’s recommendation: a zero percent increase.

The levy that Coleman proposes would raise taxes by $16 on a median-valued St. Paul home of $145,000. But a homeowner’s final tax bill also will include additional taxes due to property value shifts from the commercial to the residential side, and whatever tax changes are made by Ramsey County and the school district.

Two weeks ago, the Ramsey County Board agreed not to increase the tax levy for next year, capping collections at $276.6 million. The St. Paul school board is scheduled to makes its levy decision Tuesday.

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