Community Notebook: Artspace moving

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December 5, 2011
By: Jeremy Zoss
Jeremy Zoss

MILL DISTRICT — Artspace, the nonprofit developer of artist housing and projects such as The Cowles Center for Dance & Performance Arts, is planning a six-story development on Washington Avenue that it hopes to have open by fall of 2013.

Along with the new headquarters for the organization, plans call for 61 artist live/work spaces, a new gallery space and a rooftop urban farm.

“One thing that’s interesting for us about this is that Artspace started here in the Twin Cities and has grown into a national organization working from coast to coast,” said Colin Hamilton, Artspace’s senior vice president for national advancement. “What we’ve been known best for is our artist workspace housing, of course we do a lot of other things as well. Curiously we’ve never done that core work here in Minneapolis.”

While Artspace has completed several live/work spaces in St. Paul, the decade-long development of The Cowles Center kept Artspace from launching other major projects in Minneapolis in recent years. Once plans for the opening of the Cowles Center began to solidify, Artspace began searching for a new home to accommodate its growing staff. The group found the perfect spot at the corner of Washington and Chicago avenues, a parcel that’s split with the in-construction American Academy of Neuroscience.

“A lot of what we look for is that proximity to other activities, and the opportunity to bring what we bring in a way that leverages the creativity that’s already around it,” Hamilton said. “To be able to go someplace where you’re in short walking distance from the Guthrie, from MacPhail, from Open Book, to be right on light rail. We’re increasingly thinking more and more about use of environmental issues in our projects. So all of that was very appealing to us.”

Another appealing aspect is its proximity to the Mill City Farmers Market, which Hamilton said fits into Artspace’s plans to bring environmental sustainability to the project.

While plans for the rooftop farm space are still being fleshed out, Hamilton hopes to consult with Mill City Farmers Market on the operation of the urban farm. “Increasingly we’re thinking about environmental sustainability, which can be difficult in a model that’s heavily dependent on low income tax credits,” he said. “So we’re looking at different ways to incorporate environmental features.”

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Planning Commission OKs Jackson Flats

LOGAN PARK — A long-planned artist housing project in Northeast is closer to becoming a reality.

Jackson Flats, planned for a 10-parcel property at 1843 Jackson St. NE, in November got site plan approval from the Minneapolis Planning Commission in November, and also received low-income housing tax credits that will help pay for the $8.8 million project.

Andrew Commers, the director of property development for Artspace, the project developer, said city officials still need to vacate an existing alley that runs through the property but described the step as merely procedural.

The hope now is that construction can begin by the end of next year. Construction will take roughly 10 months, and leasing could begin as early as fall 2013, Commers said.

The project, several years in the making, was initially designed to include condominiums. With the collapse in the economy, developers decided to convert it to apartments.

Plans now call for 35 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments that will rent from $430 to $1,200 a month, depending on a resident’s income. The units will be available to residents whose income is 60 percent of the median income.

Commers said the building will not be able to be converted into owner-occupied units because of the low-income financing involved.

Artspace, which also developed the new Cowles Center on Hennepin Avenue, has created art-living spaces in other parts of the country, but this is the first project of its kind in Minneapolis.

Plans call for the building to include studio and gallery spaces, a performing arts space and classrooms.

When the project was initially proposed, there were more than 100 expressions of interest. Commers said interest in the project remains high, and that the company is keeping a list of those who are interested in living there.

“It’s almost a little overwhelming, the number of calls we get on this project,” Commers said.

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Cowles Center director resigns

HENNEPIN AVENUE — Only two months after the opening of the Cowles Center for Dance & The Performing Arts, executive director Frank L. Sonntag has resigned his position and will only stay through the end of the year.

In the statement announcing his resignation, a particular phrase set off a loud reaction in the local arts community.

“I have the utmost respect for the leadership of Artspace and I’m confident that The Cowles Center will continue to thrive,” said Sonntag in the statement. “I came to Minnesota because I believed in the mission of The Cowles Center, and I still do. But after spending most of my professional life in New York, I don’t feel the Minnesota culture is one I’m well suited for. It has been a struggle, but ultimately I think this is best for the organization.”

Sonntag’s comment about “Minnesota culture” drew a quick and negative reaction from many online commentors who perceived the statement as a slight on the local arts community. But Sonntag insists he meant nothing of the kind.

“The kind of reaction it got was surprising to me because it was not what I had intended,” said Sonntag. “When I was talking about culture, I was talking about culture with a ‘small c,’ not a ‘capital c.’ It was interpreted as a slam on the arts community, and that was not my intention. My attention was to focus on my inability to adjust to Minnesota culture. That’s what caused me problems, way back in the middle of summer.”

The aspect of local culture that caused Sonntag problems was communication style, he explained. “I tend to be very direct. I’ve always been that way,” said Sonntag. “There are people that relish that directness, and there are people who find it abrasive. I understood from the very beginning the potential for that kind of conflict. As hard as I tried to work around it, I just wasn’t able to do so.”

Despite his looming departure, Sonntag’s influence will still be felt at the Cowles Center for some time, as he continues to work on the organization’s second season. The future, he says, will include a wider variety of programming, with more music and theater mixed into the schedule.

“This place will always be predominantly dance, and it will always be predominantly local dance,” Sonntag said. “But there are a wealth of phenomenal vocal groups and music ensembles, and this place was designed to take advantage of that. What I’m looking to do is expand the musical presentations and the theatrical presentations. The thing about music productions is that they come in for one night, and it doesn’t block out a whole week on the calendar. It’s a matter of more efficiently scheduling the space. And those groups bring in new audiences. Crossover appeal is very important.”

A replacement director was expected to be announced Nov. 23, after this edition of The Journal went to press.

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People Serving People and Cub Foods bring Thanksgiving to needy families

DOWNTOWN EAST — At a brief but spirited event on Nov. 21, the People Serving People shelter at 614 3rd St. S. distributed free Thanksgiving meals to formerly homeless families.

Donated by Cub Foods in partnership with People Serving People, Simpson Housing Services, Project Pride for Living and St. Stephen’s Human Services, bags of turkey, stuffing and other Thanksgiving mainstays were distributed to about 150 families, with hundreds more to receive meals later.

People Serving People provides a wide variety of services to homeless children and families looking to improve their lives, from shelter to medical services and education. This year was the first to feature the Thanksgiving meal generation, which was prompted by Cub. “Cub came to us and wanted to organize something like this, and we looked around for a venue and said ‘why not do it here?’” said Janine Wenholz, chief operating officer of People Serving People.

“For just one day, every family should be able to set aside their worries and simple enjoy a good meal with the ones they love,” said Cub President Keith Wyche.

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Charlie Awards recognizes local restaurants

HENNEPIN AVENUE — The inaugural Charlie Awards were announced on Nov. 20 at The Pantages Theatre.

The brainchild of legendary local foodie and James Beard Award-winning food writer Sue Zelickson, the Charlie Awards were created to honor the best in the Twin Cities food and restaurant community. The awards take their name from Charlie’s Café Exceptional, one of Minneapolis’ first fine dining restaurants.

The award winners are as follows:

• Outstanding pastry chef: Khanh Tran of Cosmos/Bradstreet Craftshouse

• Outstanding chef: Tim McKee

• Outstanding restaurant design: Parma 8200

• Outstanding restaurant service: La Belle Vie

• Innovation to reduce food waste: Heartland Restaurant

• Outstanding food item: Salmon with roasted corn sauce from Porter Creek Hardwood Grill

• Outstanding restaurant: Piccolo

• Emerging food professional: Mike Phillips of Green Ox Meat Co.

• Lifetime achievement: D’Amico & Partners.

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Give to the Max Day raises over $13 million for charity

The third annual Give to the Max Day on Nov. 16 raised more than $13.4 million for Minnesota charities, making it one of the most successful one-day charity fundraising drives in history.

Organized by GiveMN, a collaborate nonprofit effort to encourage online fundraising, Give to the Max Day raised funds for organizations such as Second Harvest Heartland, Animal Humane Society, Mounds Park Academy and more.

Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners was the largest recipient, with donations of $319,9388. The Whittier neighborhood nonprofit Jabbok Family Services brought in the most donations in the small nonprofit category with $103,385, and St, Olaf College earned $230,713, the most in the higher education category.

Nearly 50,000 donors participated in Give to the Max Day, to the benefit of almost 4,000 local nonprofits.

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Country stars to play first-ever Target Field concert

NORTH LOOP — Country music stars Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw’s “Brothers of the Sun” tour will be the first musical event held at Target Field.

The concert will be held on Sunday, July 8, with tickets going on sale to the general public Dec. 10 at 10 a.m. Tickets will be sold online at twinsbaseball.com/concerts. Tickets will range from $39.25 to $297.75.

Earlier this year, a story circulated that Paul McCartney would be the first to play Target Field as part of his baseball stadium-exclusive tour that kicked off at Yankee Stadium. Scheduling conflicts scuttled that show.

“The Twins are thrilled to have country music legends Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw headlining the first-ever concert at Target Field,” said Twins President Dave St. Peter.

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City overturns church-booze buffer zones

An ordinance change approved by the City Council on Nov. 18 will allow microbreweries to operate next door to churches.

A related ordinance change approved at the same meeting would also do away laws requiring restaurants to collect no more than 30 percent of their sales from alcohol.

In both scenarios, city ordinance had required a 300-foot buffer zone between religious institutions and microbreweries and restaurants that serve over 30 percent alcohol. Restaurants will still be required abide by the 60:40 ratio of food to beer.

The ordinance amendments do not apply to liquor stores, which will still need to abide by the 300-foot buffer. Also, buffer zones separating schools from bars, microbreweries and liquor stores will remain in place.  

Council Member Gary Schiff (Ward 9) authored the measure. He noted that Portland now has 40 breweries and Minneapolis has only two — Fulton and Harriet Brewing. The ordinance change will allow brewer Rob Miller to open his planned Dangerous Man Brewing Company at his proposed location, 1300 2nd St. NE.

Barb Johnson (Ward 4) and Diane Hofstede (Ward 3) voted against the buffer zone changes as they relate to microbreweries.

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Higgins joins other senior DFLers leaving Senate


The exodus of long-time DFL state senators continued in November, as Linda Higgins announced she would not seek re-election for her Senate District 58 seat, which includes North Minneapolis, the North Loop and Downtown.

Higgins was first elected to the Senate in 1996 and plans to serve until her term ends in January 2013.

Higgins is the third DFL senator from Minneapolis to give up her seat in the past few months. Larry Pogemiller (DFL-59) and Linda Berglin (DFL-61) resigned after 28 and 30 years service in the Senate, respectively. Combined, the three Senators had 84 years of experience serving in the Legislature.

Drew Kerr, Nick Halter and Mike Munzenrider contributed to this report