Community notebook // First Central Corridor light-rail car arrives

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October 22, 2012 // UPDATED 5:48 pm - December 27, 2012
By: Jeremy Zoss
Jeremy Zoss

The first light-rail car for the Central Corridor line pulled into Target Field Station on Oct. 10. The arrival of the first car also marked the public debut of the light-rail system’s new branding as the Metro. Featuring a Metro-branded paint job, the new car’s LED display announced it as running the Green Line, the new name for the Central Corridor line.

The first Green Line light-rail vehicle is lighter and more energy-efficient than those running on the Hiawatha line, which will be rebranded as the Blue Line. Manufactured by Siemens in California, the interiors of the new vehicles are quieter and brighter than the Blue Line cars, thanks to improved insulation and LED lighting. The new vehicles cost $3.3 million each and can carry up to 200 people and four bicycles per car at a time. The new cars will be tested on the Blue Line throughout the fall.

By the time the Green Line opens in 2014, Metro Transit will have purchased 59 of the new light rail vehicles. Of those, 47 will be used on the Green Line and 12 will be used on the Blue Line.

In her remarks during the arrival of the first Green Line car, Metropolitian Council Chair Susan Haigh praised the event as a major milestone in the development of the Metro system. 

“The arrival of this American-made light-rail vehicle is a very visible symbol of the progress we’re making towards finishing the line, which was 74 percent complete by the end of August,” she said. “It will support existing jobs, create new jobs and be a catalyst for future economic growth in our region.”

Affordable housing coming to Hennepin Avenue

Everwood Development Group has long planned to purchase the building at 730 Hennepin Ave. for conversion into affordable housing, and at long last the project is moving forward. Project partner Elizabeth Flannery said the delay stemmed from a dispute over the historic status of the former bank building. 

“The building was denied historic status initially by the state of Minnesota, but that was reversed in August,” said Flannery. “But it is an historic building, and that was recognized by the state historic office, so that was great.”

Everwood should close on the building in December and will begin converting it into 56 units of affordable housing in January. The construction process is expected to take about six months. Flannery said she believes the project is the only affordable housing project in downtown for the near future.

Originally, Everwood’s plan would have kept the building’s sole tenant in place. The International Education Center (IEC), a nonprofit school that teaches English as a Second Language and GED classes, currently occupies the basement and first three floors. The new plan will force the school to relocate.

“It’s kind of two things,” said Flannery. “We had to include more units and go down further [in the building], and the school has had some budget issues. No, they’re not going to be there.”

IEC excuctive director David Gaither, who is also in the midst of a campaign for state senate in Senate District 44, did not respond to phone calls about the future of the school. He previously told The Journal that he viewed the school’s downtown location as a major part of the institute’s identity. 

Haunted Basement once again set to terrify crowds

EAST BANK — One of the Twin Cities most notorious Halloween attractions is back for its sixth year. The Soap Factory’s Haunted Basement originated as a fundraiser for the gallery and has become a staple Halloween event. 

Roughly 10,000 visitors will brave the terrors lurking in the building’s ominous basement — around 500 of which will give up out of fright before reaching the end of the experience. 

Soap Factory executive director Ben Heywood said planning the Haunted Basement takes months and the work of hundreds. Directed by local theater director Noah Bremer, the Haunted Basement utilizes professional special effects makeup, a crew of artists who conceptualize the experience, dozens of volunteer and paid actors and even engineers who craft the smells of the experience.

“It’s new every year, we don’t ever repeat anything,” said Heywood. “What we’re interested in is this idea of immersive theater. It’s always this personalized experience. It’s not a cookie cutter experience. It’s an intersection of contemporary art, which is what our gallery does the rest of the year, immersive theater, which is an increasingly important part of performance art, and then popular culture.”

The actual content of the Haunted Basement is always a closely guarded secret, with attendees discouraged from talking publicly about its scares. Of course, social media makes it easier than ever for attendees to share their opinions, which also gives the Haunted Basement team a look into audience reactions. 

“We do quite an extensive evaluation. With social media, it’s very easy to get feedback,” said Heywood. “Some people will want it turned down and some will want it turned up. We kind of mix it around and turn it down in some areas and up in some areas.”

For those who would like a glimpse at the Haunted Basement but think it might be too frightening, the Soap Factory also offers “’Fraidy Cat Tours” on Oct. 21 and Oct. 28. from 10 a.m. to noon. These tours feature a lights-on look at the production hosted by some of the actors and producers.

“Because we’re an arts organization we feel it’s important that everyone should have access to the project,” said Heywood. “A lot of people don’t want to really fully engage with something as disturbing as the project.”

Another wrinkle that makes the Haunted Basement experience potentially even more disturbing: some think the building is haunted. Heywood doesn’t believe in ghosts, but admits the building’s past as an actual soap factory is rather gruesome. 

“This was a place where animals were broken down into their constituent parts and turned into soap,” he said. “When we were given the building in 1995 by Pillsbury, the cleanout, the amount of muck and dirt and bones and fat and disgusting stuff that had to be cleaned out. There is a long tradition of disgust in this building. And disgust is an interesting emotion, and it’s one of the emotions we’re interesting in examining in the Haunted Basement.” 

The Haunted Basement runs through Oct. 31 at the Soap Factory, 514 2nd St. SE and is sold out. Fraidy Cat tour tickets may still be available at Heywood recommends looking for tickets for next year’s performances starting in August 2013.

Crowded Comics adds your voice to editorial cartoons

Just-launched website Crowded Comics ( has an all-new twist on editorial cartoons: Professional cartoonists supply images based on up-to-the-moment current events, but viewers provide their own captions. The caption submissions are voted on by readers and the most popular submission is declared the comic’s “king.”

Crowded Comics is based out of New York, but all seven artists are based in or around Minneapolis. After CEO David Burnett conceived of the idea, he contacted his former college classmate Kevin Cannon, a Northeast-based professional cartoonist. Cannon served as a “talent scout” and recruited fellow Minneapolis-area illustrators Ken Avidor, Lupi McGinty and Nick Straight as well Brad McGinty, Lance Ward and Dan Murphy. 

“There are so many talented cartoonists here, but I really wanted to find ones whose styles would work,” said Cannon. The cartoonists are all expected to keep close tabs on events and turn around comics based on those illustrations quickly. Crowded Comics publishes a new comic based on the news twice a day. 

Cannon said he thinks the website is a great way to engage the online community in a way that encourages both creativity and awareness of current events.  

“Crowded Comics is designed to give a voice to people who have something to say about politics or the news and do it in a really funny way,” he said. “We thought it would be fun if people who were seemingly so creative in online discussions could have a more visual outlet.”

Children’s Dental Services expands on East Hennepin 

EAST HENNEPIN — Nonprofit dental service organization Children’s Dental Services (CDS) has purchased the long-vacant building at 728 E. Hennepin Ave. The building will serve as a satellite office for CDS, which is headquartered minutes away at 636 Broadway St. NE. 

The nonprofit organization provides dental services to low-income children and pregnant women. CDS offers care in its facilities, but also has a portable care program that brings dental care to schools, Head Start centers and private homes. CDS executive director Sarah Wovcha said the new location features a multi-stall garage that will store much of the organization’s mobile equipment and vehicles. 

In addition to storing mobile gear, the new office will also house administrative offices and a dental clinic. Wovcha said the building’s location on East Hennepin was a major selling point. Not only is it mere minutes away from CDS’ headquarters, it is on a major bus line, the University of Minnesota, and a wide mix of residents. CDS’ staff of roughly 100 people speak 27 languages and hail from as many countries. 

Wovcha said CDS’ headquarters on Broadway used the most environmentally friendly building techniques available when it was remodeled, including solar panels for electricity and geothermal heat and the most efficient insulation and lighting possible. She said the new building will be remodeled in a similar fashion, as environmental responsibility is a key aspect of the organization.

“Our goal is to bring the property up to a better environmental standard and bring a resource into the community that is a role model and a safe, cheerful place for children to receive their dental care,” she said. 

Maiden Minnesota celebrates female entrepreneurs 

Maiden Minnesota — a celebration of local businesses owned by women — returns to the Graves 601 Hotel, 601 1st Ave. N., on Friday, Oct. 26.

The shopping event, now in its sixth year, will feature more than 35 Minnesota-based companies and a silent auction to benefit Project SUCCESS, a group that works with Twin Cities students to help develop skills and talents.

There will be clothing, beauty products, jewelry, home décor and more available for purchase at the event.

Maiden Minnesota was founded by Tracy Dyer of Urban Junket and Jen Stack of Relish Minds as a way to promote creative female entrepreneurs in the Twin Cities.

Tickets are $20 in advance and $30 at the door. For more details, go to


The Plymouth Avenue Bridge reopened Oct. 15 after being closed for two years. The bridge closed in October 2010 after crews found deterioration inside the bridge’s box girders. Traffic will be reduced to one lane in each direction until construction work ends late November. Farther north, the new Lowry Avenue Bridge is scheduled to open Oct. 27. The old bridge was demolished in 2009.

The Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO) is celebrating the grand opening of its new building and the Lowry Avenue Bridge on Oct. 27. 

There will be a chance to tour the facility at 2522 Marshall St. NE, free Segway rides, arts and crafts, a video tracking the construction progress of the Lowry Avenue Bridge, among many other activities. For more details go to

— Sarah McKenzie contributed to this report