Ramsey County commissioners last week took steps to spend as much as $1 million on a renovation of the restaurant space at Union Depot in downtown St. Paul.

The move to set in motion a request for proposals to remake the space passed with only brief discussion and no dissent during a meeting of the county's Regional Railroad Authority, which consists of county commissioners.

Costs for the renovation are placed at $850,000 to $1 million, depending on what needs to be done.

A background memo prepared by the county staff was at pains to stress that the work would be done not just for the benefit of the private operator of the new facility there, nor even just for passengers, but to promote the historic train station and transit hub as a community gathering place.

The "vision for Union Depot includes a community aspect — a place where people can gather and connect. The new restaurant will expand the opportunities for the community to gather and connect at Union Depot," according to the memo.

The rail authority last year approved a five-year contract with Kaskaid Hospitality, operator of the Crave restaurants and Union Bar and Grill in Minneapolis. The St. Paul outlet also will be called Union Bar and Grill, with indoor and outdoor seating.

The county oversaw a $243 million renovation of the station that was completed in 2012. Union Depot formerly housed Christos Greek restaurant in the lobby area.

David Peterson

Anoka County

Ash borer cases found in Blaine, Coon Rapids

Blaine and Coon Rapids are among the latest cities where the Minnesota Department of Agriculture has confirmed cases of emerald ash borer.

Foresters in the two cities within days of each other discovered suspicious looking ash trees, which the department confirmed as being infected late last month.

"I've suspected that [the ash borer has] been around for the last several years. I just couldn't officially find it until now," said Tom Schibilla, Coon Rapids city forester.

The infected boulevard tree in Coon Rapids is located on city property in the 500 block of 127th Lane. Schibilla said the city plans to remove all heavily infected trees in the area before May 1. That's before flight season begins, when adult beetles search for new tree hosts. Flight season stretches from May to September, according to the Agriculture Department.

In Blaine, state officials verified the city's first case of emerald ash borer in a tree near Carrara West Park, according to a news release. Blaine plans to remove trees near the infected area, said City Forester Marc Shippee.

The jewel-hued beetle, native to eastern Asia, first appeared in Anoka County in 2015 in Ham Lake.

Hannah Covington

Brooklyn Park

City chooses nonprofits for CDBG funding

After nearly an hour of debate, city leaders in Brooklyn Park approved nine nonprofits for funding from this year's federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.

The council voted at a meeting late last month to divide $61,589 in funding among the community organizations, in awards ranging from $5,000 to $10,000.

Council members ranked the applicants after a public hearing in January. City staffers then averaged the rankings to determine the allotted funds for each group.

At the council's Feb. 27 meeting, debate swirled around whether to spread the funds to new groups or select nonprofits with proven track records that have snagged funding in years past.

"All of these are good programs, so we're really fighting over all good things," Mayor Jeff Lunde said at the meeting.

Brooklyn Park typically sets aside most of its CDBG funds for housing and redevelopment projects, leaving the council to award remaining funds to other community organizations. This year, 14 nonprofits applied.

Hennepin County administers the federal grant program. This year's funding cycle begins July 1.

Hannah Covington

Ramsey County

Open house set for Snelling Avenue work

Officials with the Minnesota Department of Transporation will hold an open house Monday to help neighbors get acquainted with road work to be done on Snelling Avenue (Hwy. 51) starting in April.

Work will be done between Como Avenue in St. Paul and Hwy. 36 in Roseville, from spring through October.

It will include pavement repair, new left turn lanes (including both directions at Larpenteur Avenue) and new sidewalks from Hoyt Avenue to Larpenteur. Sidewalks and ramps for people with disabilities also will be upgraded.

The event will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Falcon Heights City Hall, 2077 Larpenteur Av. W. More information is available online at tinyurl.com/jv8y8ln or by calling 651-234-7509.

David Peterson