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February 14, 2011
By: Gregory J. Scott and Michelle Bruch
Gregory J. Scott and Michelle Bruch
CPED commits to driving Downtown East/Elliot Park economic development

DOWNTOWN EAST — After three years of prepping and studying and planning, leaders of the scrappy Downtown East and Elliot Park neighborhoods now have a big-time ally in their mission for economic development: the City of Minneapolis’s Department of Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED).

Director Mike Christianson made the announcement at a Jan. 27 luncheon with neighborhood stakeholders.

“We’re accepting your invitation,” he told a crowd at the Washington Avenue Sawatdee.  

Christianson also accepted a 139-page report, which took the neighborhoods three years to compile, detailing a suite of priorities that the city could help out with. Christianson spent the lunch hour articulating the city’s response to each. Topics ranged from rethinking the controversial zoning of the area to alternative ideas for the Metrodome site, should the Vikings leave the stadium.

It was a big victory especially for Elliot Park, a neighborhood that’s been slowly and deliberately plotting a resurgence.

“We never looked at economic development,” said David Fields, community development coordinator for Elliot Park Neighborhood, Inc. (EPNI). “It was always an urban design plan. We realized we needed an economic plan, and that’s what this is all about.”

Christianson emphasized the area’s health care legacy, built on major hospitals like Abbott, Children’s and HCMC. He spoke of returning to the “healthcare resident” days, when those training for healthcare careers lived in the neighborhood.

“We would love to see full development of the [Chicago Avenue] life science corridor,” said Christianson, adding that 14 percent of the city’s residents work in the healthcare field. Chicago Avenue, he said, should be a great connection to the river. “It should work all the way down from Lake Street to Spoonriver restaurant.”

But he also warned that the city had little money for development infrastructure, emphasizing the need to leverage private funds.

“We do not want to substitute public funds for private funds, when private funds can do the work,” said Christianson.

Asked if Christianson’s pledge was largely symbolic, Fields said, “It’s very promising symbolically. But I think it does mean something.” Working to rezone the area, he noted, “is an actual step.”

Elliot Park, Fields thinks, is “a hodgepodge of zoning,” resulting in “ad-hoc development” and often overvalued property — which makes it difficult to invest in certain kinds of beneficial development, like more affordable housing to attract a younger, creative class Downtown.

Zoning in the area has always been an issue, as currently both Downtown East and Elliot Park have no height limits for their buildings. The two neighborhoods had been lumped into Downtown zoning, as opposed to neighborhood zoning, which allows heights from five to 13 stories.

“So right now we have a mismatch in our policy,” says Principal City Planner Beth Elliot. “Our policy says in most places five to 13 stories. [In Elliot Park] the zoning doesn’t have a height limit, and it sets unrealistic expectation on the part of property owners for what their properties are valued.”

The city began in 2010 to do the technical work of creating a new zoning district for Downtown. A community meeting on the subject is scheduled for March.

— Gregory J. Scott


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City buys site for hazardous waste facility, opponents consider legal action

HOLLAND — The city has purchased the old Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corporation site at 340 2 7th Ave. NE to build a new household hazardous waste facility, prompting opponents to consider legal action.

The sale went through on Jan. 20 with a purchase price of $1,820,000. The city plans to maintain the vacant site in its present state until the completion of the project, said Senior Project Manager Paul Miller. The project would include two buildings to serve as drop-off points for items like electronics, paint and household construction debris.

Greg Goeke, the city’s director of property services, said the city is committed to designing an environmentally responsible building.

“This should be a community amenity,” he said. “This is going to be a great service when it’s all done.”

Goeke expects to spend the coming year designing the project and bidding out the work for construction in 2012. The site plan review process is expected to take place this fall, he said, and he expects to discuss the plans with neighborhood groups in the late spring or early summer.

Opponents of the facility say it would be too close to homes and businesses.

Marie Zellar, a spokesman for the group Don’t Dump on Northeast, said she is frustrated by the city’s decision to purchase the property while neighbors are still contesting the plans. Zellar said Don’t Dump on Northeast has hired an attorney, and it has asked the city for written justification that the site has proper zoning.

“This leaves us little option but to seek legal action,” Zellar said. “We’re going to have to appeal the zoning decision.”

Don’t Dump on Northeast is planning a fundraiser at Gasthof zur Gemutlichkeit on March 20, with a “massive feed” in the banquet room.

— Michelle Bruch

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Beltrami gets cash for neighborhood

BELTRAMI — The Beltrami neighborhood received a cash infusion this month from the City Council, which authorized the neighborhood’s plan to spend an additional $271,232 in Neighborhood Revitalization Program funds.

At the moment, however, the neighborhood is limited to spending 50 percent of that amount as part of budget cuts the city made this year.

“I think what’s really important here is that we are approving the Beltrami Neighborhood Revitalization Phase II Plan in its full amount,” said City Council Member Robert Lilligren (6th Ward). “That allows in the future, if there are changes in the way that money is allocated, it can be changed quite simply from Council action.”

Beltrami’s plan includes home improvement loans, funds to maintain the new community garden, and plans to fix up the park’s basketball court, bocce lanes, playground and wading pool.

The neighborhood wants to reopen the park building in the summer and provide nutritious lunches to kids who need them.

To address crime and safety, the Beltrami board would also like to establish block clubs, add lighting to make the viaduct safer and educate landlords on proper rental housing procedures.

— Michelle Bruch


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Competition calls for skyway debate

Are they street-life killers? Or just a convenient way to get away from Minneapolis’ subzero temperatures?

The debate over the Minneapolis skyway system — which links about 80 Downtown blocks and covers 8 miles — is revived every winter, when the second floors of buildings seem to suck up citizens from the blustery sidewalks.

Those divergent opinions sparked the idea for the Videotect competition. Architecture Minnesota magazine in January put out the call for videos that “assemble creative, thought-provoking commentary on the skyway and its impact on urban life.”

A panel of judges drawn from the state’s architecture, film and advertising communities will award one $1,000 grand prize and $500 to each of the three runners-up.

Videos are being accepted through Feb. 25.

Top videos also will be posted online March 7–18 and put to a public vote. From among those finalists one Viewers’ Choice Award winner will claim a $1,000 prize at the Videotect Awards March 31 at the Walker Art Center.

The concern for urban vitality with skyway presence is real, said Peter Bruce of Pedestrian Studies, which performs annual headcounts for skyways, streets and businesses around the country.

Despite that, he believes that Minneapolis is better off with skyways. Bruce fears that without the skyways, few would visit Downtown during the winter, which could drive businesses out to other neighborhoods or to the suburbs.

Some may liken it to a hamster Habitrail, but for many, the skyway is an important tool for getting around town.

Leif Petterson lives in a building connected to the skyway, meaning during the cold winter months he can use it every day to run errands or to head to a bar or restaurant.

“Knowing that, if necessary, I can go days without facing the elements” is a benefit, Petterson said. “Moving into a skyway-connected building has made coping with winter far easier.”

Petterson believes that despite taking vitality off the streets, they are a positive force in keeping Downtown alive during all times of the year. He’d like to see the vitality of the streets and the skyway system to be taken together as a whole.

While some see bustling sidewalks as “the lifeblood of a lively downtown,” Architecture Minnesota editor Chris Hudson said, it is obvious that many workers treat them as a blessing in frigid Minneapolis winters.

“I don’t think anyone minds the skyway when the high is 8 degrees,” he said.

For more information on Videotect submissions or contest guidelines, go to Architecture Minnesota’s contest website, aia-mn.org/videotect.

— Andre Eggert


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New NEMAA exec gears up for Art-A-Whirl


BOTTINEAU — Planning for the next Art-A-Whirl is already underway, and the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association’s new executive director finds herself working behind-the-scenes on an event she visited every year while she was gallery director and office manager of the Burnsville Performing Arts Center.

“That’s a huge way that I scoped out artists that I wanted to include in the gallery,” Pelinka said.

Pelinka, a Burnsville resident who serves on that city’s Visual Arts Society board, has also worked at Intermedia Arts as an office manager and coordinator of volunteers and interns.

Pelinka was born in Mexico City, and her family lived there for two years before moving to the Twin Cities. Pelinka is bilingual, however, and Mexico remains a large influence in her painting.

Pelinka said she’s looking forward to becoming more acquainted with Northeast.

“The Northeast Arts District has such a rich legacy and NEMAA has been growing over the past years,” she said. “It was an exciting opportunity to be able to be a part of it.”

— Michelle Bruch 


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Historic resource survey

EAST BANK — The city has entered the final phase of a 10-year survey aimed at identifying historical resources in certain Minneapolis neighborhoods, which is scheduled for completion in 2011.

The goals of the project, called the Central Core Historic Resources Survey, are to identify unknown historic properties, recommend properties for further study, make informed decisions about the significance and protection of historic resources and develop goals and strategies for preservation as well as neighborhood planning.

Participating neighborhoods include St. Anthony West, Marcy-Holmes, Como, Downtown West, Downtown East, Sumner Glenwood, and portions of Bryn Mawr, Harrison, Near North, North Loop and Prospect Park.

The city was first surveyed for historic resources in the 1970s, and many of today’s designated landmarks and historic districts are a result of the original survey

The meeting regarding resources in St. Anthony West, Marcy-Holmes, Como, Sumner Glenwood, Bryn Mawr, Harrison, Near North and Prospect Park Neighborhoods will be held on Thursday, Feb. 17, from 6–8 p.m. at Our Lady of Lourdes Church,
1 Lourdes Place.

The meeting on the downtown portion of the survey area will be held on Monday, Feb. 28, from 4:30–6 p.m. at City Hall, Room 319, 350 South 5th St.

— Gregory J. Scott

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Skyway mini-golf tournament returns

SKYWAYS — This year’s fifth annual Skyway Open, a mini-golf tournament sponsored by U.S. Bank that winds through Downtown’s skyway system, is expected to draw more than 1,000 golfers.

Game play begins on Thursday, Feb. 24 and continues through Saturday, Feb. 26. Golfers will putt their way through 18 one-of-a-kind greens, each designed by Minneapolis-based architecture firms and contractors. Online pre-registration is limited to foursomes, as is walk-up registration Thursday and Friday. The cost is $140 per foursome.

Individuals can sign up on the spot for Saturday play, when the cost is $20 per adult and $5 per child. A special family rate of $35 is available on Saturday for foursomes consisting of two or more children.

As usual, the weekend’s big event is the 19th Hole, a post-golfing party on Friday night, from 7 p.m. to midnight, replete with complimentary food and drink, music, raffles and awards. Prizes will be given out for best dressed team, top score, top hole design and a “people’s choice” favorite hole.

The tournament raises money for the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities.

— Gregory J. Scott

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Senior center secures funding

SKYWAYS — Insurance provider UCare stepped in to help a senior community center after another company, Medica, was forced to pull funding.

The Skyway Senior Center was in dire straits this fall after it was given two weeks notice that Medica would be cutting their $125,000-a-year funding. The company was facing financial difficulty and was forced to cut jobs and donations.

Northeast Minneapolis-based UCare worked with the city to form a three-year, $483,000 deal to keep the Skyway Senior Center open.

The newly renamed UCare Skyway Senior Center held a Jan. 26 open house to celebrate.

“We are so pleased to be part of this terrific Downtown resource for seniors and friends,” UCare marketing and public affairs Vice President Ghita Worcester said.

— Andre Eggert