Community notebook :: Florence Court apartments

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August 30, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott
At Florence Court, new apartments up, courtyard stays

The mid-August groundbreaking came and went quietly for the FloCo Fusion Apartments, a chic rebranding of a ramshackle cluster of student housing near the University of Minnesota’s East Bank campus. Despite years of resistance from current residents, the new building is officially going up, fanfare or no.

Florence Court, as the community used to be called, is one of the oldest apartment buildings in the Midwest, dating back to 1886. The L-shaped structure sits at the intersection of 10th Avenue SE and University Avenue, but is tucked back from the street, hidden until recently behind a BP gas station. The 33-unit complex surrounds a leafy courtyard, which its residents — a colorful mix of artists, musicians and students — used to stage annual Independence Day parties and other gatherings.

The gas station has been demolished. In its place, Minneapolis-based BKV group plans to erect a stylish, six-story building that will stretch alongside University Avenue. BKV also has plans to renovate the interiors of the existing Florence Court apartments, which will remain on the site. A handful of small houses in the courtyard will also be renovated.

A spokesperson said that the courtyard will remain as it is. But it will meld into a newer courtyard that will accompany the new apartments, resulting in a larger common area.

The project has been the source of angst for longtime Florence Court residents, who see the new development as tacky and gentrifying, pushing out low-income individuals in favor of more wealthy college students. A lobbying group tried for years to block its completion, going so far as to get historical protection for the original apartment building’s brick exterior.

The FloCo project is estimated to cost $13.5 million and is expected to be completed for the 2011 fall semester. Recent Craigslist postings show one-bedroom apartments renting for about $1,000 per month, with all utilities included.

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EBT, ‘Market Bucks’ accepted at Lyndale farmers market

The Lyndale Farmers Market is one of three in the city to allow low-income shoppers to use an EBT card to purchase fresh produce and other locally produced foods. In addition, the city promises to match the first $5 an EBT shopper spends, kicking-in five “Market Bucks” coupons, each worth a dollar at growers’ stalls. The result is $10-worth of fresh, healthful food for half the price.

The program, which launched last July at the Lyndale, Midtown and Northeast Farmers Markets, goes a long way in lowering the biggest hurdle that keeps low-income families from organic food: cost.

A recent Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota study found that only 15 percent of Minnesota adults eat the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables daily.

“We know that price and access are common barriers to eating healthier, and this program works to avoid those barriers,” said JoAnne Berkenkamp, of the Stevens Square-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

The Institute collaborated with the farmers markets, the City of Minneapolis and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota to get the pilot program off the ground.

Sandy Hill, the woman in charge of the Lyndale market’s program, said she fired up the EBT card reader on July 1. The “Market Bucks” were phased in July 17.

“You get allocated a certain amount of market bucks [from the city],” Hill explained. “And amazingly, we already went through our first thousand and are already starting through our second $1,000 of market bucks. That in itself is amazing for just a month and a few days.”

Shoppers swipe their EBT card at a reader and receive tokens that can be exchanged for produce. The market bucks come in the form of a cardboard coupon the size of a credit card, Hill said. Of the 220 members of the Downtown farmers market — which includes both the Lyndale location and the Nicollet Mall location — more than100 have agreed to accept the EBT tokens.

At the Midtown location, the number of EBT customers has tripled as a result of the market bucks, said spokesperson Jessica Ward-Denison.

Still, there are substantial obstacles to expanding EBT to farmers markets, most of them technological. EBT cards require readers, which aside from being costly, also require an electrical outlet and a phone line to operate. Hill said that the program most likely will not extend to the Nicollet Mall location, because the sprawl of vendors was too vast for one card reader anchored to a wall outlet.

The Lyndale Farmers Market will accept EBT through the season, which usually ends the first week of November. EBT and market bucks are accepted seven days a week, from 9 a.m. until noon on weekdays and from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the weekends.

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Kramarczuk’s sausages appear at State Fair for first time since 1963

First Target Field. Now the fairgrounds. Kramarczuk’s sausages, familiar to anyone who’s set foot in Northeast in the last 56 years, are on the move. After a 47-year hiatus, they will be sold again at the State Fair, at the nostalgic Blue Moon Dine-In Theater, at the corner of Carnes Avenue and Chambers Street. The Blue Moon features bench seats salvaged from old automobiles. Old movies and classic television programs play on televisions inside.

Kramarczuk’s Andouille, bratwurst and Polish will sell for $6 each.  

Kramarczuk’s has served authentic Eastern European meats and other dishes since 1954, when Ukrainian immigrants Wasyl and Anna Kramarczuk opened their market at 215 East Hennepin Avenue.

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Renovations planned for Washington Avenue — and its bridge

The city has Washington Avenue limbering up for future light rail traffic.

In preparation for the the much talked about Central Corridor light rail route, envisioned to link Downtown Minneapolis to Downtown St. Paul, the 45-year-old Washington Avenue Bridge is getting a $20 million retrofit. Plans call for adding four trusses weighing a total of 4 million pounds and replacing 90,000 square feet of bridge decking, both of which will beef up the bridge for light rail and other traffic. Work on the project may begin as soon as this month.

Light rail traffic could get rolling in 2014.

Meanwhile, Washington Avenue itself could see some changes, mostly aimed at easing congestion at the I-35 entrance near Booby and Steve’s Auto World.

Hennepin County has applied for $16 million in federal funds for the project. If that doesn’t come through, the county will split the cost with the city and state.

The project could start in 2012.