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April 25, 2011
By: Jeremy Zoss and Michelle Bruch
Jeremy Zoss and Michelle Bruch
A bright future for 730 Hennepin

HENNEPIN AVENUE — Early this year, Everwood Development Group signed a letter of intent to purchase the historic former bank at 730 Hennepin Ave.

Since that time, the developer has been working with the city, getting documents in order and preparing to close on the property. Closing is scheduled for June, and Everwood hopes to immediately start converting the upper floors to the City Place Lofts, affordable housing units in the heart of Downtown.

For the building’s sole current occupant, the building’s sale is a welcome dose of good news.

Occupying the basement and first three floors of the building, the International Education Center is a nonprofit adult education center for mostly immigrant non-native English speakers. The IEC operates on a tight budget, but has nevertheless been responsible for paying for the building’s security, utilities and maintenance. And with delayed payments to schools from the state, times have been tough.

The sale of the building had the potential to save the school or damage it severely, said IEC’s Executive Director David Gaither. If the new owner wanted the school to move, it could have major consequences.

“We have students who come to us with little or no English,” Gaither said. “A lot of them found us because of our location. It’s a big part of our identity and brand. Changing that by even two blocks could mean a significant drop in our attendance.”

Fortunately, Everwood wanted the school to stay. Not only would sharing the building with an adult education center make City Place Lofts one of the most unique developments Downtown, it also fit neatly with the goal of creating affordable housing units. “There isn’t a lot of quality workforce housing Downtown,” said Everwood’s Elizabeth Flannery. “And everyone agrees there’s a need for it. Once we figured out the logistics of sharing with the school, it seemed like a perfect match.”

Construction will begin on City Place Lofts right after closing, with Everwood assuming responsibilities for the building’s regular upkeep and safety. That will free up the school’s staff and resources to focus on its students. “It was not the best use of resources,” said Gaither. “Without Everwood, we might not be here much longer.”

Once the six to nine months of construction is completed, the building at 730 Hennepin will offer up the unique combination of free adult education and affordable housing in the heart of Downtown.

While Gaither would love for some students to become tenants of the building, he’s mostly just happy that the redevelopment deal is relieving some of the pressures on the International Education Center. “Our students are smart, earnest people who have a purpose, an objective,” he said. “This place gives people roots, something to belong to. We’re happy that we’re going to be able to continue to be there for them and help them meet their goals.”

— Jeremy Zoss

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City holds NE arts forum

The city of Minneapolis is making new investments in the arts, and Council Member Kevin Reich (1st Ward) hosted a roundtable meeting last month to discuss the arts economy in Northeast.

The meeting was the first in a series that will bring the city together with artists, educators, community development staffers and local business owners.

City Coordinator Steven Bosacker announced that the city is hiring a new Director of Arts, a high-level position with a whopping 175 applicants. Bosacker said the arts industry caught the city’s attention in 2008 and 2009, when it was one of only three sectors that had a growing presence in the economy. The new director would start around June 1 and help leverage funding and troubleshoot on behalf of the arts community.  

“This is something that has been missing for the last seven or eight years,” Bosacker said. “Hopefully we can make a difference where we need to.”

Another speaker at the meeting was Liz Murphy, a teacher at Edison High School. She said the school wants to bring in local artists to demonstrate that careers in the arts aren’t synonymous with New York and Chicago. The school also wants to hang more of its artwork in local businesses.

City officials got an earful from building owners that rent out studios in Northeast. The owners said it has become increasingly difficult to work with the city. Modern Survey, a company that recently relocated to Northeast, ran into regulatory hurdles that nearly derailed the move. Other owners said they feel the city has become focused on enforcement, rather than education of entrepreneurs.

Jennifer Young, co-owner of the California building, said the difficulties aren’t related to money — entrepreneurs can do a lot with very little money, she said.

“They need the freedom to do it,” she said.

Roundtable participants also debated how to handle the anticipated gentrification of the neighborhood.

“What really scares me is my property taxes,” said Nick Legeros, a sculptor and building owner. “It’s only a matter of time before I’m gentrified out of my studio.”

Ken Koense, a Minneapolis Arts Commissioner from New York, said taxes must inevitably rise as the neighborhood is improved — look at SoHo, he said.

Reich responded that Northeast still has a huge capacity with relatively depressed property values.

Tom Borrup, principal of Creative Community Builders, noted that the city has invested heavily in the Hennepin Theatre District, a spot where traveling theater companies benefit and then leave, as opposed to Northeast, where artists both work and live.

“Artists are often fighting the machine,” Borrup said.

In response, Reich said he is looking for more collaboration.

“On behalf of the machine, that’s why we’re having this conversation,” he said.

— Michelle Bruch

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Mill City Farmers Market returns May 7

MILL DISTRICT — Between the Guthrie Theater and the Mill City Museum sits a stunning plaza that overlooks the Mississippi River. It’s a beautiful place on any day, but becomes something truly special when the Mill City Farmers Market takes over.

“When I first saw this spot, I said, ‘we’ve got to have a farmers market here,’” says founder Brenda Langton.

Now in its sixth year, the Mill City Farmers Market offers a smaller, more focused experience than the bustling Minneapolis Farmers Market. Unlike the 200-plus vendors of the larger market, the Mill City Farmers Market features around 70 vendors selected by the market’s year-round staff to maximize the diversity of products available. Each vendor must fit within the market’s stated mission to focus on local, sustainable and organic agriculture. According to Langton, the Mill City Farmers Market offers more organic and locally sourced food than any other farmers market in the area.

Langton knows a thing or two about the local food movement. As founder of Café Kardamena, Café Brenda and Spoonriver, she has been championing local food sources since 1978. Since then, she’s seen the demand for responsible dining options grow and grow. “More and more people have an awareness of what it takes to produce our food,” says Langton. “People come here to meet farmers and really learn about where our food is coming from.”

Educating the public about the food they eat is one of Langton’s major goals with the market. Along with visiting authors and sustainability teachers, the market features chefs from Spoonriver demonstrating how to cook with the ingredients available at the market. The market also features special events, visiting artisans and live music.

The Mill City Farmers Market runs every Saturday, 8 a.m.– 1 p.m., through mid-October.

Visit millcityfarmersmarket.org for more information.

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Grab a piece of The Dome

ELLIOT PARK — The collapse of the Metrodome roof brought a halt to the facility’s tour program, but only temporarily. Tours of the stadium resumed in April, and the first 2,000 visitors get to take home a piece of the collapsed roof.

Tours are available to the public on most Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays through November. The tours leave from Gate F at 11 a.m. and cost $4 per person. Reservations are not required, but can be made for groups of 15 people or more at $3 a person. Group tours are available Monday through Saturday between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., except on event days.

— Jeremy Zoss

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Wally The Beer Man won’t return to Target Field

NORTH LOOP — After 40 years serving beer at Twins games, Major League Baseball’s most famous beer vendor is moving on. Wally “The Beer Man” McNeil won’t be vending at Target Field this season. Instead, he’ll be working as the “celebrity beertender” at Sneaky Pete’s before and after each Twins home game.

The 76-year-old McNeil was recently acquitted of selling beer to an underage customer as part of a police sting. He was suspended during the playoffs, but doesn’t cite the incident as the reason for the career change.

“When it’s 95 degrees out, I know it’s air-conditioned,” he told the Star Tribune. “No hard feelings. I’m just 76 years old. Maybe it’s time to slow down?”

— Jeremy Zoss

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Troubled condo developments find new owners

In what is perhaps a sign of a changing economy, two condo developments with troubled pasts have found new owners. Point Capital Partners has purchased the 77 remaining units in the Sexton Lofts in Elliot Park, while two separate developers have purchased portions of Northeast’s foreclosed Pillsbury A Mill complex.

Not too long ago, the Sexton Lofts were at the center of a mortgage-flipping scheme that landed aspiring developer Brett Thielen in jail. The project was then purchased by Andy Chase of Chase Real Estate, who butted heads with Elliot Park neighborhood groups over his decision to mix rental and owner-occupied units in the same complex, as well as his desire to build a surface lot for resident parking. The new owners of the Sexton plan to revert the building to the original plan of owner-occupied units.

On the East Bank, Bloomington-based Doran Cos. has purchased 3 of the 8 acres that comprise the Pillsbury A Mill complex. Doran plans to build a 375-unit upscale apartment complex, while Plymouth-based Dominium has separately purchased the rest of the complex, including the National Historical Landmark A Mill building. Dominium also plans to convert the site’s structures to apartments, although the two developers stress that they are not working together on the projects.

— Jeremy Zoss

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Capella Tower earns LEED Gold certification

DOWNTOWN CORE — The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED green building program is the nation’s foremost authority on environmentally responsible building, and one of Minneapolis’ most recognizable skyscrapers has earned its second-highest rating. The Capella Tower has been awarded LEED Gold certification, thanks to improvements by the building’s property managers Ryan Companies.

Most of the improvements won’t be obvious to the casual observer, as they are focused on increased building efficiency. Ryan improved the building’s cleaning products and processes and upgraded the lighting, water and mechanical systems. Amongst the benefits to the upgrades is a 14 percent reduction in water usage, a savings of 1.3 million gallons of water per year.

In honor of the building’s LEED certification, the lighted crown atop the building will be changed from its familiar white to a glowing green.

— Jeremy  Zoss

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Nicollet Mall closed for repairs

At 9 a.m. on April 11, Nicollet Mall closed for regular repairs such as repaving and curb replacement. The project is expected to last for four weeks, and during that time all bicycle and bus traffic will be detoured.

Here are details of the bus detours from Metro Transit:

Buses will travel on Hennepin Ave. between Washington Ave. and 11th/12th streets, using LaSalle and 11th/12th streets between Grant and Hennepin. Board northbound buses on Grant at LaSalle or at any stop on Hennepin.

Board southbound buses on Nicollet at Grant or at any stop on Hennepin.

Note: On the north end of their trips, Route 18 buses will travel on Washington to Marquette to 1st St. N. to Hennepin. They will not serve 3rd St.

The city recommends Marquette as an alternate route for cyclists.

— Jeremy Zoss

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Opponents of proposed NE  hazardous waste facility lose appeal

HOLLAND — Opponents of a household hazardous waste facility on University Avenue were dealt a setback April 7, when the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment voted to deny their appeal.

The group Don’t Dump on Northeast (DDONE) hired an attorney to help them contest whether the center is correctly labeled a “recycling” facility. The group asserts that the city needs different zoning requirements at the site more akin to waste transfer stations.

Marie Zellar of DDONE said she wasn’t surprised by the decision, given that the board’s focus is quite narrow.

“Half of our issues couldn’t even be discussed,” she said.

Matt Perry, chair of the Zoning Board of Adjustment, explained the board’s jurisdiction.

“The decision before the Board was not to decide whether or not there should be a facility allowed at the property,” he said in an email. “Instead, it was to decide whether or not the proposed use of the property was substantially similar to that of a Recycling Facility as defined by city ordinance.”

The center would allow public drop-off of construction debris and waste like electronics, paint and aerosol cans.

The opponents can appeal the decision to the city’s Zoning & Planning Committee in a May 19 hearing.

— Michelle Bruch


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Minneapolis MOSAIC holds tryouts for artists

Minneapolis MOSAIC, the city’s annual celebration of the cultural diversity, is scheduled to return on June 4. And like every year, the organizers are looking for performers for the central event, the MPLS TLNT SHW!

The talent show is open to performers between the ages of 13–18 from any of Minneapolis’ 11 neighborhoods. One act from each of the 11 neighborhoods will perform at the Pantages Theater during MOSAIC, and Mayor R.T. Rybak will present the winner with a monetary prize from the Edward R. Bazinet Village Scholars Program.

To be eligible for a slot in the MPLS TLNT SHW!, performers must first compete in one of three preliminary events:

Parkway Theater: 6–8 p.m. April 26

The Capri Theater: 6–8 p.m. May 17

Minneapolis Central Library: 6–8 p.m. May 23

The preliminary events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit facebook.com/MPLSMOSAIC.

— Jeremy Zoss


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New NE women in business group launches

The founder of the Northeast Neighbors & Business Association has spun off several new websites in recent months, the newest of which is tailored for women in business.

“As a woman business owner myself, I wasn’t really seeing this niche being filled at a neighborhood level in the Northeast Minneapolis area,” said Shelly Leeson, the owner of businesses for pet products, pet-sitting and alterations.

The new group is called “Winners,” and Leeson said she envisions a series of casual gatherings where women can connect for inspiration, information and networking. Eventually, she would like to see Winners work to benefit local women’s organizations through donations or volunteers. The website (winnersmpls.com) will provide a link to resources and marketing opportunities, with a directory of women-owned businesses. A “Wednesday Wake-Up” coffee meeting is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, May 4 at Hazel’s.

Leeson’s other new sites include a MarketPlace of job postings (marketplacene.com), a Free Stuff clearinghouse listing free events (freestuffne.com) and a Northeast Minneapolis Crime Watch facebook page to provide another resource for public safety information. The crime site (crimewatchne.com) features a section called “Ask Gladys,” which is designed to be a fun way for residents to ask questions about public safety.

“As with everything that the NENBA does, the objective is to develop and offer free and low-cost marketing alternatives for area businesses, while offering ‘shop local’ information and incentives to local consumers for the purpose of strengthening our neighborhood and local economy,” Leeson said in an email.

Leeson founded the Northeast Neighbors & Business Association (northeastnba.com) three years ago, and she said membership has doubled from a year ago, reaching 120 members.

— Michelle Bruch

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Neighbors for Nations forms to help Somalia

Minneapolis is home to the nation’s largest Somali community, and for a generation Somali Americans have been sending money back to their home country to deal with the nation’s ongoing humanitarian crisis. Despite the millions of dollars raised by Minnesota Somalis for Somalia, their efforts have been hampered by a lack of organization and strategy. A new Minneapolis-based organization aims to change that.

Neighbors for Nations is a joint effort between the Minnesota Somali community and the American Refugee Committee, with backing from United Way, UCare and the city of Minneapolis. The goal of the program is to partner the fundraising efforts of the Somali community with the organizational, operational and technical expertise of the ARC.

Neighbors for Nations has been in the works for about 18 months, and was initiated by the Minneapolis Somali community reaching out to the ARC. The two groups agreed to work together in partnership, with headquarters in Minneapolis and Somalia. The dual locations reflects the organization’s goal to help Somalis both here and in Somalia — by helping Minnesota Somalis prosper here, they will have more resources to contribute to their home country.

Amongst the first projects Neighbors for Nations will undertake are a youth center in Somalia, a fund for Somali entrepreneurs, crisis care and a scholarship program. A fundraising effort called “1,000 Giving 1,000” has also been launched, which seeks to find 1,000 volunteers to pledge $1,000 to the organization. Thirty-five members of the Minneapolis Somali community have already committed to the effort, as has Mayor R.T. Rybak.

The organization was announced April 13 at a pair of events at the Karmel Somali Mall and City Hall. Around 300 people turned out for the larger event at City Hall, roughly half of which were of Somali descent. Several speakers took the podium to explain the partnership, including two representatives of the Internationally Displaced Somali Advisory Council and the heads of ARC, UCare and the Greater Twin Cities United Way.

— Jeremy Zoss


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