Alliance Addition unveils 61 new apartments for the formerly homeless

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October 11, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott
// Ten of the units will be in a refurbished, 117-year-old rooming house //

ELLIOT PARK — An affordable housing project in Elliot Park is set to expand.

The Alliance Apartments, which since 1997 have provided a supportive, chemical-free living environment to formerly homeless men and women, will open a pair of annexes on Oct. 18.

One is a brand new apartment complex, built directly behind the original Alliance building, at 724 E. 17th St. The other is a century-old, three-story brick house next door, completely revamped with modern amenities while still retaining its 1893 exterior.

Together, the annexes will add 61 new apartment units to the facility, boosting the total number of Alliance residents to 185. The new tenants are expected to move in this November.

With an emphasis on style and interior design, the Alliance Addition represents a new trend in affordable housing, a push to resist the drab, institutional aesthetic of the typical HUD dormitory.

“People respect buildings differently if they sense some care was put into their design,” said Gina Ciganik, Vice President of Housing Development for Aeon, the nonprofit overseeing the project.

On a recent tour of the new facilities, Ciganik pointed out all the subtle touches that aim to make these apartments “feel like home.” The hallways are painted in warm tones of mauve and plum, each floor with a different color scheme. The studios have laminate wood floors or tiles mottled to resemble clay. The Venetian blinds feature wide, faux-wood slats, as opposed to the flimsy plastic ones that dent and break. Local architecture firm Cermak Rhoades provided the design, and the local chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers has offered to style  “The Link” — the corridor connecting the old building to the new one — on a pro-bono basis.

The choicest units, a pair of spacious one-bedrooms in the attic of the old rooming house, would have any apartment hunter jealous — eaved ceilings, island countertops, big walk-in closets.

Still, the Alliance Addition is no resort. In most cases, the residents are coming off long stretches on the street, and most suffer from alcoholism, chemical-addiction or other serious obstacles to building a stable life. Everyone passes through security on the way into the buildings. And social workers from RS Eden staff the front desk 24 hours a day.

According to Ciganik, the waiting list for the apartments is 300 names long. And those who do make it in sometimes struggle to stay sober and get stable. As a general rule, Ciganik said, a third of tenants will stay for many years, a third will stabilize enough to begin looking for better places, and a third will have problems that will force them to leave.

In terms of rent, 55 of the units are considered affordable to households earning 30 percent or less of the median income for the area. The remaining six units are affordable to households earning 50 percent or less of the median. Rent for the 55 units is subsidized by the Group Residential Housing program, part of a joint effort between the city and the county to end long-term homelessness.  

The total development cost for the expansion is $10 million.

A grand opening for the Alliance Addition is planned for Oct. 18 from noon–2 p.m. Tours of the facilities begin at noon, and the program will feature speakers Congressman Keith Ellison, City Council Member Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) and Minnesota Housing Commissioner Dan Bartholomay.


Mississippi River groups move closer to restoring long lost waterfall

EAST BANK — A long defunct cascade that used to flow near the east bank of the Mississippi River could soon be making a reappearance.

Feasibility studies are currently underway to recreate the Eastside Falls, which in centuries past tumbled over a limestone face located just below Father Hennepin Bluffs Park, on St. Anthony Main. The limestone still exists today, and an engineering firm and a historic consulting group are deliberating how best to restore its original use.

Representatives from Barr Engineering and Hess Roise Historic Consultants presented design ideas at an Eastside Falls Open House on Oct. 5. Several ideas involved sourcing water from an old Pillsbury mill located on the river’s edge, guiding it toward a flat area above the existing limestone and then having it tumble over.

Resurrecting the waterfall would also be the first step in an ambitious plan to revitalize Father Hennepin Bluffs Park as a whole, a goal shared by a coalition of river advocacy groups overseen by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

The Mississippi Watershed Management Organization has provided $100,000 for the feasibility study, and the St. Anthony Heritage Board has promised $75,000 for landscape design, community engagement and interpretive planning.

The two-year-old Mississippi Riverfront Corporation is coordinating the project.

According to Edna Brazaitis, the Corporation’s Executive Director, the idea to restore the falls dates back to 2000, when Xcel Energy got a relicense for a hydro plant in the area. Part of that agreement involved providing better public access to the riverfront and possibly bringing back the waterfall.

“It’s really a unique asset,” Brazaitis said. “So close to Downtown, to have a place where otters, beavers, crayfish and very old mussels are in the water. It’s a pretty amazing natural area right there.”


Northeast neighbors fired up about proposed hazardous waste drop-off center

MARSHALL TERRACE — Lawn signs with the phrase “Don’t Dump on Northeast” are sold out. But the group organizing against a hazardous waste drop-off site on University is just beginning to mobilize its opposition.

“People are really fired up,” said Holland resident Marie Zellar.

The city of Minneapolis is close to purchasing an old roofing manufacturer at 340 27th Ave. NE. The city would use the land to construct two new buildings. One would collect household construction debris, and the other would collect hazardous waste like paint cans, bottles of bleach and fluorescent light bulbs. The facility might also provide an emergency site for solid waste headed to the Hennepin County garbage burner, but city officials recently discussed throwing out that option.

Zellar said the facility would “taint the Northeast vibe.”

“Where you go to take the crud from your basement and the icky stuff from your garage and under your sink is not necessarily where you would stop and eat, or stop and have a beer,” she said. The facility would stand 10 feet from the nearest house, she said, and that’s far too close.

Northeast residents aren’t uniformly opposed to the plans, however.

Windom Park resident Mark Snyder said he welcomes a Minneapolis location to drop off old electronics. He noted that Minneapolis residents aren’t tracked as regular users of current waste sites in Bloomington and Brooklyn Park, which means that stuff is either accumulating in garages or being disposed of improperly — Snyder said he’s seen used oil dumped behind his garage.

“I really don’t see this facility as having major impacts on the neighborhood,” he said. He said the building design would prevent the site from becoming messy.

Paul Miller, the senior project manager, said people would drive inside the Northeast building to drop off waste. Attendants would unload the waste, sort it, package it and truck it away on a weekly basis.

City attorneys are in final negotiations to complete the land sale. The final step before the sale is a traffic study due out this month. Miller said the city plans to retime all of the lights on University Avenue, from Downtown to the north end of Minneapolis, and the changes should improve traffic flow.

“We’re all waiting anxiously to hear the results of the traffic study,” he said.


Nicollet Mall’s pricey pavers need replacing

NICOLLET MALL — Downtown planning meetings are rife with talk of sprucing up the core of the city: a revitalized Peavey Plaza, a new park north of the Central Library, the possible resurrection of a streetcar system. But what about Nicollet Mall?

Downtown’s iconic shopping corridor has seen better days, most city leaders agree. The pavers surfacing the mall’s broad sidewalks have grown creaky, due to a long failing substructure that has made for a wobbly walk. Several major Downtown organizations, from the Downtown Council to the Downtown Improvement District, have been complaining to the press about a need for a renovation.

The only problem is, no one’s sure how to pay for such a huge project. According to the Improvement District’s Sarah Harris, repaving the whole stretch would cost millions.

In fact, Downtown businesses have just finished paying for the last renovation of Nicollet Mall, which took place 20 years ago. Costs for improvement then were parceled out via a 20-year bond payment, with property assessments near the mall determining who would pay how much. The bond payment was just paid off in 2009. Those within a block of the corridor shouldered the bulk of the fees.

Harris says the annual renovation costs were originally around $50,000 per year. But as the sidewalk required more and more attention, the cost spiraled as high as $200,000. The Improvement District decided to scale back its repair efforts to fix only areas threatening pedestrian safety.

Now, some are leery of pouring more money into another temporary renovation.

“We can’t afford to band-aid it anymore,” said Harris. “With the cost for temporarily repairing elements, it’s just not a wise investment anymore when the repairs only last six to 18 months.”

But time is of the essence. The Downtown Council is currently spearheading a grand visioning plan that will lay out the priorities for the next 15 years Downtown. Council president Sam Grabarski wants the details pinned down by mid-2011, so as to leave enough time to make a state bonding request for 2012.

“And a lot of those issues will necessarily inform the use of the Mall,” said Harris. “Should there be streetcars? Should there be parks? And those things will help us design the Mall for the next 10 years plus for Downtown.”

She added, “Now’s the time to do it. Those other things are going to involve potentially construction along the Mall. It’s time to leverage those dollars.”


Finalists for Peavey Plaza renovation announced

NICOLLET MALL — And speaking of Peavey Plaza, the popular urban atrium adjacent to Orchestra Hall is one step closer to its much-anticipated facelift.

A shortlist of landscape architects competing for the project was announced on Sept. 30. All four of the selected design firms are based in Minneapolis: Close Landscape Architecture, Coen & Partners, Damon Farber and Oslund and Associates. This list was winnowed down from an original applicant pool of nine firms throughout the United States. A committee made up of both elected city officials and representatives from the Minnesota Orchestra Association judged all submitted proposals.

“We searched nationally for the best talent, and we found it here in Minneapolis. I’m very pleased that one of these firms will be revitalizing one of our city’s great spaces,” said Mayor R.T. Rybak. “I can’t wait to see what they can do.”

The four firms will discuss their plans during a public “meet and greet” at the Minneapolis Convention Center on Nov. 16, from 9:30–11 a.m. A round of interviews, also open to the public, will immediately follow, from 11:30–3:30 p.m. The winning firm will be announced Nov. 19, following approval by
City Council.

The city and the Orchestra anticipate a 29-month project schedule, with design work beginning in January 2011, construction beginning in spring 2012 and project completion in 2013. A Community Engagement Committee will be involved in the design process by providing input on how best Peavey Plaza can serve the needs of the neighborhood and downtown community.

The Plaza’s revitalization unfolds hand-in-hand with an ambitious, $45 million renovation of Orchestra Hall; together, the two side-by-side sites occupy an entire city block.

— Michelle Bruch contributed to this report. If you have news tips or feedback to share, please contact Journal editor Sarah McKenzie at

photo by gregory J. Scott

A construction crew from Weis Builders puts the finishing touches on the rooming house at the Alliance Apartments complex in Elliot Park.