Community notebook // VA resource center opening Sept. 18

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September 10, 2012 // UPDATED 5:48 pm - December 27, 2012
By: Jeremy Zoss and Maggie Kane
Jeremy Zoss and Maggie Kane

LORING PARK — A new Department of Veterans Affairs Community Resource and Referral Center opens its doors to veterans Sept. 18.

The center at 1207 Harmon Place is one of 17 opening around the country as part of the Obama administration’s efforts to end homelessness among veterans.  

“Their goal — our goal — is ending veteran homelessness by 2015,” said Jonelle Draughn, program director at the Minneapolis center. 

Draughn added that this goal is lofty, but she believes the center will help with the problem.

The center offers three main services: homelessness resources; a primary care clinic; and the Veterans Bridge to Recovery, a psychological rehabilitation program that aims to help severely mentally ill veterans integrate into the community.

These services used to be offered primarily at the VA Medical Center near Fort Snelling. A few staff members still work in this area at the hospital, but the downtown center now acts as the main resource location. 

“We’ve had the homeless program for many years and the Veterans Bridge for Recovery,” said Draughn. “Our hope is that by moving downtown our services will be more accessible.”

Draughn also said the center’s new location is closer to the VA Health Care System’s partners. Organizations like the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans and Minneapolis Community and Technical College’s Veterans Upward Bound program will have office hours at the center.

Veterans interested in using the services must be eligible for VA healthcare, Draughn said. People at the center can help determine whether or not a veteran qualifies and will help enroll those eligible.

An opening event 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Sept. 17 begins with a dedication ceremony and ends with tours of the facility. The center officially opens for business Sept. 18 at 7 a.m.

Zap Twin Cities rewards bicycle commuting with prizes

Commuters now have another reason to ride their bicycles into work: the chance to win prizes. A free new program called Zap Twin Cities automatically collects data on cyclists visiting downtown Minneapolis, downtown St. Paul and the University of Minnesota campus through the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. 

Zap Twin Cities is a joint program of Commuter Connection, St. Paul Smart Trips and the University of Minnesota. Cyclists can join the program by having an RFID tag attached to their bicycle’s front tire at a tagging event or by requesting one from Commuter Connection. Data from the RFID tag is automatically collected when the cyclist rides past specific locations, and participants can view their data on the Zap Twin Cities website, zaptwincities.org.

Any rider who logs 10 rides is automatically wins a prize. Every month, all riders who log eight trips or more are entered into additional prize drawings. Commuter Connection outreach coordinator Bill Andre said the prizes are only part of the program. The larger component is the information that will be collected from the program. Andre said the information is useful for both for riders and in the planning of additional bike infrastructure.

“You’re going to be able to document your trips on the webpage. You’ll see your CO2 footprint, you’ll see the environmental impact you make,” he said. “The statistics that we accrue here become more credible, because its 24/7. It’s not a random sample.” 

Dan MacLaughlin, executive director of Commuter Connection, said the Zap Twin Cities program will collect data on bicycle ridership for the next five years. He said the data could be useful to downtown employers in several ways. Encouraging bicycle commuting counts towards a building’s LEED certification. Frequent cyclists tend to be healthier, which could lead to positive insurance policy changes. 

Zap Twin Cities tagging events will continue through October, but anyone interested in participating after that can contact the program through the website. The website also includes leaderboards showing the most active users, the companies with the most participating employees, individual user statistics and much more. 

City holding open houses to discuss transit alternatives on Nicollet and Central 

In an effort to meet the goals defined by the Metropolitan Council’s 2030 Transportation Policy Plan, the City of Minneapolis has initiated a year-long plan to examine transit enhancements along the 9.2-mile corridor stretching from 46th Street up Nicollet Avenue to the Columbia Heights Transit Center via Central Avenue. The Nicollet-Central Transit Alternatives Project will identify a preferred transit enhancement for the corridor, which could include street cars or enhanced bus services. As part of this process, the City is holding a series of open houses to solicit feedback from the community.

There are three opportunities to share your thoughts about the project:

Wednesday, Sept. 26, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Minneapolis Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall.

Wednesday, Sept 26, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. 5th Precinct Police Station, 3101 Nicollet Ave. S.

Thursday, Sept. 27, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Eastside Food Co-op, 2551 Central Ave. NE

For more information or to share your thoughts via online survey, visit minneapolismn.gov/nicollet-central.

Smart meters installed near Metrodome

Minneapolis’ new multi-space smart meters have spread to another part of downtown. The traditional parking meters near the Metrodome have been replaced with the new solar-powered electronic meters. Like the meters near Target Field, the Metrodome-area meters will feature variable parking rates. Non-event parking rates in the area will be as low as 25 cents an hour for some spaces, while the City can charge a premium rate on game days. In some residential areas near the Metrodome, metered rates will only be in effect until 6 p.m. on non-game days.

The city says the new electronic meters are an economically wise decision for many reasons. About half of all payments at the meters are electronic, resulting in fewer employee trips to empty them. Because there is only one meter per block, they require less time to empty, and the rechargeable solar batteries reduce service calls and spending on replacement batteries. 

Take a bicycle tour through Northeast

Bike Walk Twin Cities, the non-profit organization that encourages non-motorized transportation in the Twin Cities, has a pair of group bicycle rides planned for mid-September that showcase some of Northeast’s main attractions. One is designed for family fun, the other is aimed squarely at those of legal drinking age.

The Northeast Family and Shopping ride will be held on Sept. 15 from 9 a.m. to 11:30. The ride departs from the Audubon Park and Recreation Center, 1320 29th Ave. NE. Representatives from Bike Walk Twin Cities will lead the ride through shopping destinations in Northeast, including the Quarry shopping center and the Eastside Food Co-op. The first 20 people to arrive for the ride will receive a free bag.

The Pedal to the Pubs ride will be held on Sept. 19 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. The ride departs from the YWCA on NIcollet Mall and includes a “geek tour” of bicycle routes to Northeast. The tour includes stops at the Red Stag Supper Club, Behind Bars Bicycle shop and one additional Northeast pub. The first 20 people to arrive for the ride was also receive a free bag.

RSVPs for the rides are encouraged. To sign up, send an email to jenniferh@tlcminnesota.org or call 651-789-1416.

Hennepin Theatre Trust previews Plan-It Hennepin plan

HENNEPIN — On Wednesday, Sept. 12, the Hennepin Theatre Trust will reveal an early draft of the Plan-It Hennepin plan. The year-long collaboration between the Hennepin Theatre Trust, Walker Art Center, Artspace and City of Minneapolis explored potential ways to recreate Hennepin Avenue as a cultural corridor that leverages the various arts organizations and destinations along the avenue.

The Hennepin Theatre Trust’s Karen Nelson stressed that the plan presented at this event is not final. Rather, it is a distillation of the various ideas and initiatives proposed during the workshop and public input portion of the Plan-It Hennepin plan.

The preview of the plan will be presented at the Downtown Minneapolis Central Library in the Doty Board Room from 5–6:30 p.m. This event is free and no RSVP is required.

Opus scales back Nicollet apartment tower project

NICOLLET — The revised plan for the high-end Nicollet Residences apartment tower planned for 5th & Nicollet calls for a 27-story-tower with 250 apartments. 

When first proposed about a year ago, Opus Development Corp. pitched it as a 33-story tower.

David Menke, senior vice president and general manager of Opus Development Corp., said the decision to downsize came as the developer worked to secure financing for the project. He said a large regional bank is providing financing for the project, which will be owned by Opus and its affiliates.

A small building on the project site will be demolished within the next 45 days, and then construction on the apartment tower will begin, Menke said.

Construction is expected to be complete by the summer of 2014. 

Opus is also planning to build a new headquarters for Xcel Energy near Nicollet Residences and has an apartment development called Velo Flats planned for 103 2nd St. N. in the North Loop. 

Bike lanes added to Central Avenue

Minneapolis’ bicycle infrastructure has expanded again, this time in Northeast. New bike lanes have been added along Central Avenue from 27th Avenue NE to Washington Avenue S. While the new Central Avenue bike lanes are just one of many cycling improvements that have been made this year, they mark the first bike lanes on a state highway in the city.

State highways are owned and operated by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), not the City of Minneapolis. MnDot’s Gina Mitteco said the new lanes are the result of working closely with both local government and advocacy groups. 

“We have a longstanding working relationship with the city on projects like this,” said Mitteco. “What was new for this project was working with the Bicycle Advisory Committee. That was helpful to us because they knew what they wanted and could give very specific feedback.”

The new lanes were created without removing traffic lanes from Central. By narrowing travel lanes width from 12 feet to 11 feet, MnDot was able to add a full bike lane for most of the project’s length. However, some areas were not quite wide enough. In these sections, the bike lanes are reduced to shared lanes, indicated by symbols called “sharrows.”

“It’s a bicycle symbol with two chevrons pointing in the direction of travel,” said Mitteco. “It’s a guiding tool, but not a full bike lane.”

Mitteco said MnDot is in talks with the Bicycle Advisory Committee about planned improvements to another state highway, University Avenue. Due to University’s narrow lanes and heavy truck traffic, she does not think extensive cycling infrastructure will be added. However, MnDot is working with the Bicycle Advisory Committee to explore potential bike lanes on limited sections of the road. 

Northeast Farmers Market raising funds at Harvest Gala

On Sept. 13, the Northeast Farmers Market will hold its final fundraiser of 2012, the Harvest Gala, bringing vendors and area chefs together at Chowgirls Killer Catering on 2nd Street.

Along with the food, the gala will include solo musicians, traditional Ukranian dancers, a cash bar and a silent auction, according to a news release, which also solicits items for the auction. Chefs from Chowgirls, Sen Yai Sen Lek, The Red Stag, Amoos Artisan Ice Cream, Tantalize Sweets and Savories as well as Gnocchi.Me will offer dishes with local ingredients. Admission costs $10 and the event will run from 6–11 p.m.

“We really want to frame the Gala as way to celebrate the bounty of the season and the community,” said Martin Brown, outreach coordinator for the market. “The market is not just a place to buy really good food, but it’s also a good socialization space.”

Now in its 13th year, the market will continue to be open every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. until Oct 20 in the parking lot of St. Boniface Church on University Avenue NE & 7th Avenue NE.

District headquarters project exceeds diversity goals

Minneapolis Public Schools exceeded its goals for the participation of a diverse workforce in the construction of its new headquarters, the district reported in August.

One in 10 members of the workforce that built the new John B. Davis Education and Service Center were women, doubling the district’s goal to include at least 5 percent female workers. The district aimed for a 25-percent minority workforce and hit 27 percent for the project.

About 759 workers total participated in the construction project.

The team of Mortenson Construction and THOR Construction also reported that 51 percent of contracts on the project were awarded to women- or minority-run businesses.

The $36-million district headquarters at 1250 W. Broadway Ave. opened to the public in August. In addition to housing district administrative offices, the building will host Adult Basic Education classes, a new welcome center for district families, a testing center and other services.

More apartments planned for North Loop

Two more apartment developments are in the pipeline for the North Loop.

Brunsfield Place, a proposal for a 50-unit apartment building with 7,000 square feet of commercial space at 915 Washington Ave. N., went before the Minneapolis Planning Commission on Aug. 27.

The proposed building would be “L” shaped with a two-story glass base, three floors of apartments topped by a penthouse level, according to a report from the city’s Department of Community Planning and Economic Development.

Brunsfield Place would have an interior courtyard. The penthouse units would be two stories with private landscaped terraces.

Another apartment development has also been proposed for 815 2nd St. N. — a site formerly owned by the Star Tribune.

Solhem Companies is planning a six-story, 138-unit apartment building on the lot. The developer recently completed the nearby Soltva apartments at 701 N. 2nd St.

— Tim Sturrock, Dylan Thomas and Sarah McKenzie contributed to this report.