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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St. Paul gets EPA grant to plan West Side Flats cleanup

Posted by: Kevin Duchschere Updated: April 13, 2015 - 6:03 PM

St. Paul is getting a $200,000 federal brownfields grant to plan the future cleanup of the West Side Flats, a 120-acre riverfront area opposite downtown that the city hopes to turn into a mixed-use urban village.

The Environmental Protection Agency grant, announced Monday by U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum and Mayor Chris Coleman, will pay for development of a plan to address pollution in the area, much of it now vacant after decades of industrial use.

According to a master plan adopted by the city last year, the city hopes that the area will develop into a mix of residential, commercial, industrial, office, institutional, entertainment and recreational uses.

"Developing housing and job opportunities along the riverfront for the people of St. Paul has long been part of our vision for the city. This grant allows us to take the next steps toward making that vision come to life in a way that benefits all residents," Coleman said in a prepared statement.

The area is bounded by the Mississippi River on the north, Hwy. 52 on the east, Plato Boulevard on the south and Wabasha Street on the west. It's called the West Side flats because it occupies the level floodplain on the river's west bank.

In 2003, U.S. Bank opened a $60.5 million operations center off Robert Street in the flats area, a development that required millions in public subsidy to clean the polluted site.

This just in: Blimp factory at Ford site will leverage city's hot air supply

Posted by: Kevin Duchschere Updated: April 1, 2015 - 10:22 AM

The news came out Wednesday morning. After years of speculation, a use had finally been found for the Ford plant site in Highland Park: the construction of blimps.

It’s the perfect site, the company president said, because between the Legislature and numerous city councils, St. Paul is a year-round reliable source for hot air.

Huh? What is this? Could it be?

Of course. It’s April 1.

The St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce sent out a press release Wednesday morning announcing that it had been selected as the primary developer for the Ford site. There’s been a good deal of anticipation about plans for the vacant 122-acre parcel, ranging from housing to light industry, so any information about who’s involved or what would be developed there is big news.

This reporter sat down with pen in hand, reading with bated breath as the release went on to say that construction would begin this fall on Flygplats Airship Factory, a “center of excellence” for future blimps.

Then a quote from Chamber president Matt Kramer: “With the Flygplats plan, we are now, for the first time, combining our love of blimps with the raw source of hot air so needed for this burgeoning industry.”

The reporter says, out loud: “They’re gonna build BLIMPS?”

Moments later, a call to Kramer confirmed that it’s all a joke.

“Every good truth contains a little lie, and any good lie contains a little truth,” he said with a laugh.

Closer study of the illustration connected to the press release revealed a Summit beer ad on the side of the blimp – shaped suspiciously like an Easter egg -- hovering over the Ford site.

The press release goes on to say that while most of the Ford site would be used for manufacturing of airships, about a third would be used as a hot air storage facility. It would add 1,038 jobs, including air tour-space guides, and include a charter school to educate future airship designers and politicians.

The chamber, according to the release, is “confident we can make this site a carbon neutral, but hot air positive, sustainable development.”

It's going to be a buzzing March in St. Paul

Posted by: James Walsh Updated: February 20, 2015 - 11:28 AM

As the first puck was being dropped this week at the Xcel Energy Center for the girls state hockey tournament, the folks of Visit Saint Paul, flanked by wrestlers, entertainers, roller derby girls and astronauts, announced the launch of 31 Days of Giveaways!

It's a promotion to highlight a busy month in the Saintly City.

"March is so big in St. Paul that the festivities start in February," said Mayor Chris Coleman. "It's one of our busiest months of the year and a great opportunity to showcase all the fun and unique events that make St. Paul so special, from Wild hockey to a wedding fair."

Beginning with the girls' hockey tournament, the city will host dozens of games, events, concerts, the city's St. Patrick's Day parade and Space: And Out-of-Gravity Experience at the Science Museum of Minnesota.

To entice even more interest, Visit Saint Paul is offering a long list of prizes, from Wild game tickets to concert passes, restaurant gift cards and free hotel and bed and breakfast stays.

Terry Mattson, president and CEO of Visit Saint Paul -- who actually introduced the mayor by wearing a hand puppet "Mr. Happy" -- said an estimated 1 million visitors could descend on the city over the next six weeks.

"We can't wait to welcome these visitors to St. Paul," he said. "It's an incredible month. We plan on making it even better by giving away all kinds of awesome St. Paul swag."

 A complete list of prizes and contest rules can be found at http://VisitSaintPaul.com/marchon.

Red Bull reimbursed St. Paul over $100,000 for Crashed Ice costs

Posted by: Kevin Duchschere Updated: February 17, 2015 - 5:27 PM

Red Bull Crashed Ice, the extreme skate race that has become an annual winter spectacle in St. Paul, cost the city somewhere north of $118,000 this year for police, fire, parks and public works services.

But Red Bull reimbursed the city for every public dime spent, short of the time of some city staffers such as Joe Spencer, Mayor Chris Coleman’s arts and culture adviser.

“Red Bull is great because they pay all their bills,” Spencer said Tuesday.

About 140,000 people are thought to have attended this year’s event, which took place on a steep and bumpy track that started at the Cathedral of St. Paul and twisted down the hill leading to downtown.

One of the sponsors was the city’s convention bureau, Visit St. Paul, which paid Red Bull an estimated $140,000 – about twice as much as the year before, said President and CEO Terry Mattson.

The hike was due in part, Mattson said, to this year’s Crashed Ice Village outside the Xcel Energy Center, which offered food, beverages, music and a jumbo screen to visitors and spectators.

“The cost of doing business has increased because the sport has grown and evolved,” he said.

The city annually contributes a portion of the revenue from its lodging tax to the convention bureau, an amount estimated this year at between $1.7 million and $1.8 million.

The total estimated economic impact of all events that weekend – which included Winter Carnival festivities -- was $20 million, of which Mattson said $12 million to $15 million could be attributed to Crashed Ice.

Spencer said the city’s costs for the event were split among police, $73,000 for traffic management and crowd control; fire, $23,000 for paramedics; parks and recreation, $13,600 for event staff and turf repair; and public works, $8,000 for road closures, lighting and clean up.

There’s no formal competition among cities to host the event and St. Paul didn’t submit a bid, Mattson said. On the other hand, the city enjoys no assurance from one year to the next that Red Bull will return to St. Paul, Spencer said.

But they clearly like the city, which hosted its first Crashed Ice event in 2012.

“It’s unusual for Red Bull to come back for repeat engagements, and each year they caution us that they [typically] don’t come back,” Spencer said. “And yet they’ve also said this is the most successful Crashed Ice event anywhere. So it’s our hope they’ll come back.”

Red Bull isn’t done yet with St. Paul this winter. The company, in partnership with Become Co., plans to shoot a daredevil snowmobile sequence in downtown St. Paul for online viewing in early March.

According to a proposed sound level variance going before the City Council on Feb. 18, a “specialized snowmobile” will race up Robert Street from 12th Street to University Avenue, where it will jump the concrete overlook in Cass Gilbert Park east of the State Capitol. Levi LaVallee, an award-winning snowmobile driver from Longville, Minn., will do the honors.

This one isn’t a spectator event, Spencer said. But it will set the stage for millions of online views of the city.

“If it comes together, it’s a great opportunity to showcase St. Paul,” he said.


New, giant St. Paul mini-golf operation seeking artists

Posted by: James Walsh Updated: January 5, 2015 - 3:55 PM

Can Can Wonderland, the former Blue Ox Mini Golf, has issued a call for artists to help design its new 19,000-square foot indoor facility.

Housed in the belly of what was a former St. Paul can factory and near an indoor train yard with real trains, Can Can Wonderland is seeking artists to design "playable art that can captivate the senses."

Can Can Wonderland is offering two proposal options:

A $5,000 stipend for each selected design & build proposal or a $1,000 stipend for each selected design only proposal to be built by Can Can's team of artists.

Can Can Wonderland said it also wants "engineers, architects, designers, makers, dreamers, students, hackers, etc." to step forward with proposals. Interested applicants may submit more than one proposal.

The deadline is March 1.

For more information, email christi@cancanwonderland.com or call 612.871.2545.


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