Community notebook :: North Loop playground

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September 27, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott
Construction begins on long-awaited North Loop playground

// The “nature play” site could be finished by next spring //

No more mini-van trips across the river. The kids of the North Loop are finally getting their own place to play, in their own neighborhood.

Pre-construction activities for the first playground ever to be built along the west side of the Mississippi River began Sept. 15. Weather permitting, work will continue through October. If all goes accordingly, the long-awaited 4th Avenue playground will be completed by spring of 2011.

It’s already shaping up to be one of the most unique play areas in the city.

Located at the intersection of 4th Avenue North and James I. Rice Parkway, formerly the site of a sawmill, the playground has been tightly designed to stoke interest among kids in environmental stewardship and historic awareness. A so-called “nature play” area, the park promises a play stream, where children can pump water to build their own rivers, as well as planting beds and forward-thinking sand boxes.

The playground will also nod to its historic origins. Sawmilling themes will appear throughout the area, including authentic log stamps that were used to identify logs floating down the river from the north woods. Informational panels presenting facts on both trees and the area’s sawmilling history will also be installed. The area surrounding the playground is designated as both a national and local historic district.

In a statement announcing the construction, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board wrote, “In an era where many children are content to stay indoors and play video games and watch television, many simply miss the ‘outdoor experience.’”

This month’s construction represents a huge victory for neighborhood parents, who for the last two years have been working to raise awareness of the North Loop’s demographic shift toward young families with kids.

Anna Larsson, a neighborhood mom, estimates that there are more than100 kids in the North Loop. But without a designated place for them to play, Larsson and other parents have had to organize monthly play dates inside condo party rooms, or have their kids commute to playgrounds elsewhere in the city.

Two years ago, Larsson formed North Loop Kids, a neighborhood group aiming to change the perception that Downtown isn’t a place to raise kids. Larsson’s group has been instrumental in making the North Loop playground a reality — a task that required a good deal of savvy fundraising. The playground has been paid for largely by donations.

In addition to a “dining out in the neighborhood” campaign, in which restaurants donated a portion of their proceeds to the project, several major donors have also pledged support, including Landscape Structures, Bobbie and Steve’s Autoworld, RCP Shelters, Inc., DuMor Furnishings, Inc., Target, Surface America and Three Rivers Park District.

The Park Board also plans to garner some national attention for the playground. This October, when national park service delegates descend on Minneapolis for the annual National Recreation and Parks Association congress, the 4th Avenue playground will be their official “Leave It Better” project. Delegates will volunteer to help install some of the playground’s equipment — and hopefully take some of its ideas back to their communities.

“We’re really trying to knock it out of the ballpark, to be honest,” said Jennifer Ringold, the Park Board’s manager of public engagement and citywide planning. “In some communities, they just do something much smaller, like tree plantings or putting down woodchips. We’re really looking at this as an opportunity to showcase a nature play theme in an urban setting and historic interpretation, as well as bringing a new facility to a community that didn’t previously have one.”


Valspar celebrates charitable milestone with house of paint cans

On Sept. 14, Valspar, the Downtown-based paint and coatings company, donated its one millionth can of paint to Habitat for Humanity — enough paint to freshen up 250,000 houses. To celebrate, Valspar erected a life-size, two-story house, built entirely of paint cans, in the parking lot adjacent to its building. Minneapolis and St. Paul mayors R.T. Rybak and Chris Coleman joined leaders of Valspar and Habitat for Humanity in a colorful media event Downtown.

Valspar first began providing paint and services to the Twin Cities chapter of Habitat in 1979. A national partnership was launched in 2002, and then in 2008 the two groups teamed up to found “A Brush with Kindness,” a revitalization program that helps transform neighborhoods by painting home exteriors and providing landscaping and minor repairs.


New apartments going into vintage North Loop warehouse

A choice piece of North Loop building stock that has long languished on the market has finally snagged buyer.

Arnie Gregory, of local firm Greco Development, has signed a purchase agreement for the Holden Building at 607 Washington Ave. N., a 181,000 square-foot warehouse that dates back to 1910. Gregory plans to convert the building into 120 apartments, half affordable and half market rate. His is the latest attempt to capitalize on what many consider an intense, unmet demand for rentals in the Downtown area. But unlike the recent Village Green project across from the Guthrie, whose luxury studios start at $1,000 per month, Gregory’s building is unique in its commitment to keeping half its units affordable.

Asked why he wouldn’t charge market rate for the whole place — the building, a stone’s throw from Target Field, is in a prime neighborhood — Gregory said it had to do with windows.

“The building isn’t ideally set up for housing in that it’s a big box and has a lot of square footage to cover with few window openings,” he wrote in an e-mail. “We are unable to get more windows on three of the four elevations of the building due to its historical nature. Therefore, I don’t think we can get more rent for these units […] because some of them only have one window.”

The affordable designation, Gregory said, also allows him to raise more equity and take advantage of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit.

A $12 to $14 million mortgage, along with federal and state historic tax credits, and tax-increment financing from the City of Minneapolis, will finance the deal. The total project budget is estimated to be about $25 million. A new historic tax-credit program, passed into law earlier this year, has been key to making the renovation financially possible.

Gregory outlined plans for the property at a recent North Loop Planning and Zoning meeting. His vision includes 100 parking stalls in the first floor and basement levels of the building, as well as a possible restaurant tenant for the building’s annex space. Each floor of the warehouse will house 20 units.

Past Greco renovations include the conversion of the former YMCA in downtown Minneapolis into the LaSalle Apartments in 1995 and the rehab of the former Tension Envelope building into the Second Street Lofts, completed in 1996.


Date set for Sid statue dedication

The controversial Sid Hartman statue, whose design raised questions last month of advertising in public art, will be out on the street on Oct. 6,
according to statue designer Nick Legeros.

A dedication ceremony is being planned for the install, which will take place on the corner of 6th Street and
1st Avenue North.