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February 28, 2011 // UPDATED 8:52 am - February 28, 2011
By: Gregory J. Scott and Michelle Bruch
Gregory J. Scott and Michelle Bruch
Skyscape to unload 26 empty units in rare auction

ELLIOT PARK — There are 26 available units left in Skyscape, a sleek, 27-story high rise that opened in 2007. The local investment group that owns them wants them sold, stat.

In an unusual move, Skyscape Opportunity LLC has announced a “close-out” auction for the empty condos, with starting bids at a rock-bottom, near half-off of the original listing price. One single bedroom on the block will start at $125,000, 46 percent below the last asking price of $229,900. Bidding for a three-bedroom-plus-den will start at $450,000, 44 percent off its original price tag of $799,900. The block also includes eight one-bedroom-plus-den units, 15 two bedrooms and one two-bedroom-plus-den.

According to area Realtors, the average sale price for Downtown condos over the last six months has been $254,000.

The auction takes place on March 14, at 6 p.m. at the Graves 601 Hotel.

A Boston-based firm called Velocity Marketing Services (VMS) is conducting the auction.

“The close-out sale for Skyscape Condominium will be a first for the Minneapolis area, as it has yet to see a non-foreclosure auction,” said VMS President and CEO Sue Hawkes in a prepared statement.

But Matt Loskota, manager at the Downtown office of Edina Realty, says that the auction isn’t as unusual as it may seem. It’s just a classic example of overzealous building resulting in a need to unload unsold inventory — an urban version of the home auctions that used to take place on Sundays at the Convention Center.

“This isn’t weird at all for our area,” Loskota said. “It happens to be the only condo building” involved in such an auction. “But it’s not bizarre at all.”

Of course, the close-out does threaten to drive down values of tenants who bought condos prior to the building opening. Recent reports have suggested values are already down 10 percent from the pre-construction days.

Skyscape Opportunity first acquired inventory in the building last year, when it bought 72 remaining units in the tower at 929 Portland Ave. S. last year from the original Chicago developer Tandem Developers.

According to Project Manager Chris Kennely, Skyscape Opportunity has sold “an average three homes every month” since acquiring the units. But that rate is too slow, and the company envisions the auction as a way to save money on marketing the condos. Full occupancy in the 250-unit building is the goal.

But the big question is: What’s the demand like these days for Downtown condos?

“I think there will be some investors that show up [to the auction],” speculated Loskota. “I think there will be some first time homebuyers. It’ll be interesting to see how it all shakes down.”

— Gregory J. Scott

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North Loop kids to get indoor play center

NORTH LOOP — Youngsters and their parents in the North Loop are about to have a big spring.

With the opening of the neighborhood’s first-ever outdoor playground just a few months away, plans are already cooking for another sorely needed family amenity: an indoor facility dedicated exclusively to play dates.

Corner Coffee owner Scott Woller is building the kids center in a currently unused, 1,000-square-foot space in the basement of his café. His big plans include the standard day care fare: cubby holes, televisions and couches, lounge areas for grown-ups and a room designed for infants and toddlers.

But he’s also got a few tricks up his sleeve. Woller will install multiple glowing light fixtures, an anti-basement technique that he hopes will recreate the look of natural sunlight and boost cheer during the winter doldrums. He’s also designing a two-level, climb-in playhouse modeled after an urban North Loop street corner, recreating the surrounding environment.

“That’s what I’m really pumped about,” he said.

Woller, a minister who runs Sunday church services at the coffee shop, has a background in construction. So far he and volunteers from his church have done all of the work, though Woller expects to contract out a few things. He’s aiming to have an opening party in late March or April.

Until recently, young parents in the North Loop have had to organize winter play dates in their condos’ community rooms — spaces that weren’t designed with play in mind. Otherwise, the only other option is the Downtown library.

“Proximity is important,” said Woller, who has two kids and lives in the nearby Bookman Stacks. With about 150 kids in the neighborhood, most of whom are infants and toddlers, “there’s a need for an indoor place for play dates.”

— Gregory J. Scott

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Soap Factory seeks proposals for Haunted Basement


EAST BANK — Attention artists: the Soap Factory’s about to begin creating “immersive terror environments” for its annual Haunted Basement event, and you can help.

Since 2006, the East Bank art gallery — actually housed within a former soap factory, an elegantly raw, 120-year-old wood and brick warehouse — has lured Halloween thrill seekers into its basement for a high-minded creep show devised by an army of staff and volunteer artists.  If you’ve checked it out in recent years, you’ve probably groped your way through upside-down corn mazes, been kidnapped by runaway wheelchairs or simply had your stomach churn over some well executed gore.

This spring, the Soap Factory is seeking proposals from artists interested in designing and fabricating a room or costume for the 2011 event. Select artists will work both independently and alongside gallery staff and volunteers — which, the gallery’s call for submissions says, includes “set, sound, tech and lighting designers, wardrobe, hair and make-up artists … even scent engineers who can make custom smells.”

All designs must be original — no Hollywood rip-offs — and artists must be willing to commit about 100 hours to design and build-out.

Interested? You’ll need to send a written proposal, a resume, a list of materials and a handful of work samples to the gallery. The deadline is April 1. Qualified applicants will be interviewed.

For complete application instructions, contact Lillian Egner at lillian@soapfactory.org or at 840-7702.

— Gregory J. Scott


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Robbery attempt at Erte


SHERIDAN — The Minneapolis Police Department is investigating a robbery attempt at Erte, 323 13th Ave. NE.

According to Sgt. Steve McCarty, just after 10 a.m. on Feb. 10, “a lone individual walked in and tried to rob the place while people were inside.” Officers arrived at the restaurant and located an armed suspect attempting to flee the building.

McCarty said that the MPD’s Robbery Unit is conducting an investigation and that further information is not yet available.

— Gregory J. Scott


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NE neighborhoods benefit from new energy savings program

LOGAN PARK, WAITE PARK — Neighborhoods including Logan Park and Waite Park are cashing in on energy savings that won’t be available citywide until next October.

The program is called “Community Energy Services,” and it’s a partnership between the city, Xcel Energy, Centerpoint Energy and the Center for Energy and Environment (CEE).

Neighborhood groups applied last fall to participate in the program. It offers low-interest home loans, free workshops and home energy audits with blower door tests to find air leaks. For a $30 co-pay, consultants can visit homes and install up to $400 in services and materials, such as low-flow showerheads, compact fluorescent light bulbs and pipe insulation.

Carl Nelson, CEE program and policy manager, said the most popular services at the moment are air sealing and insulation to prevent ice dams.

For more information, visit mnenergychallenge.org/Community-Energy-Services/About-CES.aspx.

— Michelle Bruch

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Another recycling center planned for Northeast

MID-CITY INDUSTRIAL AREA — A household hazardous waste facility coming to University Avenue has taken a lot of heat from the community, but a second lesser-known recycling center is also slated to open up in Northeast at 17th and Broadway.

Waste Management recently received city approval to create a recycling facility for appliances and electronics at the old Diversified Graphics printing company at 1712 Broadway St. NE.

Waste Management expects to collect anywhere from four to 20 truckloads of material per day for processing. It is also possible the facility could open as a public drop-off point in the future, according to Julie Ketchum, Waste Management’s director of government affairs.

“It is much more efficient for us to have one location for dismantling and processing e-waste and appliances,” Ketchum said. “This reduces our carbon footprint to have everything consolidated in one spot.”

Processing will take place inside the facility. Metal and plastic outer shells will be removed, and valuable metals in electronics will be separated for recycling. Materials will be shredded and baled, according to city staff, but no burning, melting or smelting will take place onsite.

— Michelle Bruch


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Downtown foot traffic spikes in four areas

SKYWAYS — Though foot traffic is down overall in the skyway system, certain corridors are more packed than ever, according to a Feb. 22 report by a Minneapolis-based consulting firm specializing in pedestrian analyses.

For the 20th year in a row, Pedestrian Studies’ Peter Bruce spent last October tabulating the bodies flowing through Downtown’s skyway system for his annual Minneapolis Pedestrian Count study.

The big news this year? Skyway volumes overall are down 12 percent. But at four specific locations, foot traffic is well above the historical average, and in 2010 one outdoor block on Nicollet Mall matched the highest pedestrians-per-day count in the last decade.

Let’s start with the skyways. The 9th Street corridor, connecting the Target store to the Downtown office core, was once again the busiest, clocking 16,200 walkers per day, an 11 percent increase over the historical average.

The City Center/Gaviidae Common connector came in second this year, with 14,915 pedestrians per day. Where this connector meets the other City Center skyway, the Macy’s south corridor, it forms 2010’s busiest Downtown intersection, which accommodated more than 28,000 people per day. This number was a 7 percent increase over the intersection’s historical average. The fourth skyway to improve upon its historical average was the Fifty South Sixth Street corridor.

But the big winner was outside on Nicollet Mall. Between 8th and 9th Streets — right outside Target, IDS Center and Macy’s — the sidewalk accommodated 25,000 pedestrians per day last year. That matches the highest volume measured over the last decade.

As for the 12 percent overall drop, though, Bruce points to a number of factors. The unusually warm fall weather drove people outside, dropping skyway traffic 10 percent from its historical average. And the recently completed Marquette/2nd Ave renovation — which added new commuter bus routes and streetscape amenities — also returned walkers to the streets. (The pre-renovation construction work in 2008 and 2009, Bruce says, may have kept more people inside than usual during the previous year, throwing off the recent comparison.) All in all, charting the ebbs and flow of skyway traffic is tricky business, says Bruce.

“Changes in bus routes along Nicollet Mall have had also some impact on the traffic volumes over the last few years,” he wrote in the report. “But the details are not yet fully understood due to lack of research.”

— Gregory J. Scott


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More sports for NE parks


In an effort to expand youth sports, all of the Northeast parks might form a bloc to create bigger sports teams.

“We’ve found that individual parks can’t support multiple teams of different age brackets,” said Larry Umphrey, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s community service area team leader. “We want to make sure that all children in Northeast have a [team].”

The expansion began with hockey and wrestling, and the consolidation has already paid off. In recent years, Northeast hadn’t been able to field an 11U hockey team at all, and this year, the new 11U hockey team won the city championship.

The parks are looking to expand all of its sports offerings, including baseball, softball, track and field, soccer, volleyball, tennis and basketball.

Another goal of the expansion is to connect more kids to Edison High School. Wrestlers use Edison’s facilities, for example, and Northeast players wear Edison colors.

“We want children that are three years old playing T-ball and wearing blue-and-gold Edison colors,” Umphrey said. “They can grow up wanting to go to Edison. This builds a sense of community pride.”

— Michelle Bruch