Community notebook :: North Loop playground

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November 8, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott
Volunteers build first-ever North Loop playground

NORTH LOOP — It took about two years, but parents in Downtown’s North Loop neighborhood are finally seeing the fruits of their efforts to get a playground built on their side of the river. Volunteers from both the area and the nation at large converged on the intersection of 4th Avenue North and West River Parkway the morning of Oct. 26 to install the slides, the jungle gyms and the false, hollowed-out logs.

The playground — innovative in its themes of nature-play and neighborhood history — was a centerpiece for this year’s National Recreation and Parks Association congress, which took place in Minneapolis from Oct. 25–29.  The playground was designated as the “Leave it Better” project for this year’s congress, a tradition in which delegates dedicate one morning to a community project in the host city.

Manufactured by Delano-based Landscape Structures, the playground pays homage to the neighborhood’s historic mill and logging past with log-inspired slides, rope climbs, a play stream and other nature-themed equipment. It is the first ever playground to be built Downtown along the west side of the Mississippi River.

North Loop Kids, a parent organization aiming to change the perception that Downtown isn’t a place to raise kids, has made the playground their central mission.

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 Minneapolis Parks Foundation, Landscape Structures, Bobbie and Steve’s Autoworld, RCP Shelters, DuMor Site Furnishings, Target, Surface America and Three Rivers Park District.

The playground is scheduled to open next spring.

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Public invited to meet finalists for Peavey Plaza renovation

DOWNTOWN CORE — Members of the public are invited to hear plans from the four landscape architect finalists competing for the bid to revitalize Peavey Plaza, the popular urban atrium adjacent to Orchestra Hall.

All four finalists are Minneapolis-based firms: Close Landscape Architecture, Oslund and Associates, Coen & Partners and Damon Farber. On Nov. 16, each firm will be asked to “describe a process and plan to achieve maximum improvements in Peavey Plaza’s function and usability, while respecting its original intent,” according to a statement issued by the city.  The event will take place at the Minneapolis Convention Center, 1301 2nd Ave. S., in Auditorium 2. The event begins at 9:30 a.m.

Immediately following the “meet-and-greet,” at 11:30 a.m. each firm will sit for a 45-minute interview. The public is also invited to watch the interview process, as well.

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Study: Proposed facility would boost traffic  on University

MARSHALL TERRACE — Hennepin County expects 146,000 annual visitors to a proposed hazardous waste drop-off facility at 340 27th Ave. NE.

That averages out to more than 600 trips per day, with most of that traffic heading south on University, according to a study released this fall by the city and county.   

The new facility would collect household construction materials and hazardous waste like paint, pesticides and electronics. The waste would be sorted and trucked away for processing. Construction would begin on two new buildings in 2012, and they would open a year later.

With 16,000 vehicles traveling on University every day, the new traffic would amount to 3 percent of the traffic there now. According to the study, University can handle up to 25,000 vehicles per day, so the new service shouldn’t strain the street’s capacity. Traffic wouldn’t be further delayed either, according to the report.

The intersection of University & Lowry already sees a high number of crashes (a total of 94 from 2004–2008), but the study doesn’t expect crashes to increase. Peak drop-off times would be the weekday lunch hour, the evening rush hour and mid-morning on Saturdays. Saturday morning tends to be the busiest time for drop-offs at a similar facility in Bloomington.

The Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association circulated a survey on the facility earlier this fall. Two-thirds of the respondents said they opposed it.

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School Board approves new headquarters contracts

LOGAN PARK — The School Board approved contracts for design and construction of a new Minneapolis Public Schools headquarters building worth about $36.8 million Oct. 12.

The new Education Service Center to be constructed on district property at 1250 W. Broadway Ave. will replace the current district headquarters building at 807 Broadway Ave. NE, an aging and dilapidated former light bulb factory. The Board previously considered staying put, among other options, but Chief of Policy and Operations Steve Liss said the expense of maintaining the current building, including moving ahead on long-deferred maintenance projects, was greater than building a new headquarters.

“The status quo is not free,” Liss told the School Board prior to the vote. “The status quo is our most expensive option.”

The district reported building and moving into new headquarters was expected to save about $20 million over the next 30 years.

A presentation to the board predicted annual operating costs for the new building would amount to only about one-third of the nearly $3 million a year the district spends on its current headquarters. That building, known to many as “807,” has notoriously inefficient heating and cooling systems.

The board in April chose a joint proposal from Mortenson Development Inc. and Legacy Management and Development Corporation to raze the former Broadway High School and build a new headquarters on the same sight. They contract approved in October was for $35.6 million.

The district also will pay nearly $1.3 million to UrbanWorks Architecture for design of the building.

Liss said the district intended to build the new headquarters to LEED Silver standards. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a nationally recognized green building certification system.

He said the district also had committed to working with women- and minority-owned businesses on the project and predicted the new building would contribute to the revitalization of its North Minneapolis neighborhood.

“We feel like it will be a catalyst to the development of West Broadway (Avenue),” Liss said.

The 173,768-square-foot building will house all administrative staff currently stationed at 807, as well as departments from several other district buildings. It will be the new home for the Northside Welcome Center and the School Board, in addition to hosting Adult Basic Education classes and student testing.

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NRP documentary at Ritz Theater

SHERIDAN — “Your city is asking you to do something, and they’re going to give you funds to do it. We gotta be crazy if we don’t do something with this.”

These lines — spoken by Louis Vann, a community leader in North Minneapolis’ Harrison neighborhood, nearly 20 years ago  — are a fitting start to John Akre’s “By the People,” a multi-episode requiem for the now defunct Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP).

Not only do they inject some drama into the oftentimes dull and bureaucratic world of neighborhood meetings and hyper local civic politics — a drama that Akres punches up with quick cuts, music and pithy sound bites from energized neighbors; they also pretty much perfectly sum up what NRP was.

Launched in 1989, the city invited residents from all 84 Minneapolis neighborhoods to set the priorities for their own turf. Newly formed associations would form the plan for the future of neighborhoods. Then the city would provide funding and resources from city, county, parks, library and schools staff to help residents make their plan a reality.

As a result, more than $20 million has been funneled into area parks, more than $6 million into schools and almost $1 million into local libraries. And that was just in the program’s first 15 years.

Funding sources for the NRP dried up in 2009, however, spelling the program’s demise.

But over the years, Akre, a Northeast resident, followed NRP developments as part of a news program on the public access cable TV station Minneapolis Television Network, “Minneapolis Neighborhood News.”

Akre’s documentary then, pulls from old tapes to present the history of NRP in half-hour episodes. The story is told by hundreds of community volunteers who were interviewed at events and meetings starting in the early 1990s.  

The first five episodes of “By the People” will be screened at the Ritz Theater, 345 13th Ave. NE on Sunday, Nov. 14 at 6 p.m. There is a suggested donation of $10, and all proceeds will go to the Ritz.

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American Academy of Neurology to fill space near Guthrie

MILL DISTRICT — On Oct. 22, the Minneapolis City Council gave the official green light to a much-anticipated development in the Mill District. The land sale and financing are now approved for a new world headquarters for the American Academy of Neurology (AAN), which will fill in the vacant, L-shaped parcel of land across from the Guthrie Theater — long considered as the final hole in a blossoming pocket of the city.

The city’s approval was specifically for a $661,000 land sale and for the issuance of up to $16.5 million in tax-exempt Revenue Bonds. The funding will help AAN develop a five-story, 62,000 square-foot building at 211 Chicago Ave. S. The project is expected to deliver 125 jobs to the riverfront.

Groundbreaking is expected in early 2011, with the building slated to be ready for occupancy by spring 2012.

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Plymouth Avenue Bridge to remain closed all winter

The City of Minneapolis is now estimating that the Plymouth Avenue Bridge will remain closed throughout winter, due to a safety analysis that could take months to complete.

The bridge, which traverses the Mississippi River to connect the North Loop area to Northeast, was initially closed on Oct. 22, after a routine inspection revealed corroded cables within the internal bridge structure. The discovery prompted a more thorough anaylsis, which began in early November.

“It’s likely to take a number of months and we expect the bridge to remain closed throughout the winter,” said city spokesman Matt Laible.

— Michelle Bruch and Dylan Thomas contributed to this report.