Civic beat: Target Field Interchange Project gaining steam

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January 2, 2012
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter
The North Loop near Target Field is quickly becoming one of the major transportation hubs in Minnesota, and the federal government awarded Hennepin County a $10 million grant in mid-December to overhaul the area.  

Known as The Interchange Project, Hennepin County plans to spend about $67 million to build a plaza on the northwest side of Target Field. Officials are hopeful that a bigger plaza will alleviate log jams around light rail stops and also give the west side of the ballpark a plaza like the east side has leading out toward Hennepin Avenue.

“The driving force behind this project is that it will make the transit work better for people,” said Hennepin County Commissioner and Regional Railroad Authority Chair Peter McLaughlin. “In addition to that, we also want to create a strong urban environment.”

The project’s design will go out for proposals this winter, but McLaughlin said that it will expand the size of the promenade on the west side of the ballpark and allow separate platforms for the Hiawatha, Central Corridor and Southwest LRT lines. It will also have “fingers” that allow North Loop residents to get to their community easier and safer.

Below the plaza will be a parking lot, and the county also plans to allow for mixed-use development on 5th Street and Sixth Avenue.

The Central Corridor is scheduled to open in 2014, and planners hope to have the Interchange Project completed before then. More than 240 Hiawatha and North Star trains arrive and depart the Interchange daily. When Central Corridor goes online, that number will increase to 500.

McLaughlin said about half of the project’s funding is in place. So far, about $7 million is coming from the county, $1.7 million from the Ballpark Authority, $14.6 million in state bonding plus the $10 million from the federal government.

McLaughlin said he expects some of the remaining costs to come from the private sector via development rights and parking rights.

The $10 million comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s TIGER program. Hennepin County was one of 46 applicants to secure funding. More than 800 projects applied, totaling $14 billion in requests. Only $511 million was awarded, an impressive feat for the county, McLaughlin said.  

“This is a huge step forward,” he said.

City decreases pet license fees
There may be more than 115,000 dogs and cats living in Minneapolis, but only about 14,500 of them are licensed, according to city estimates.

In an effort to boost the licensure rate and increase revenue, the City Council has lowered the license fee from $30 to $25 and added a $15 discount for limited income households and those on public assistance.

Pet license revenue goes toward a number of things. It pays to shelter stray animals and find them a new home. It covers investigations into animal abuse. It pays for response and enforcement to dangerous animals and dog bites.

Only 12 percent of city dogs and 1 percent of city cats are licensed, according to the city. Those licenses generated about $425,000 for the city in 2011. The city hopes to boost revenue to $2 million.

Since the city lowered pet license fees for seniors and increased pubic outreach beginning in 2007, licensed pets went from 8,700 to 14,500.

Licensed pets, if they go missing, have a 1 percent chance of being put down. Unlicensed pets have a 52 percent chance of being put down.

According to the city, Minneapolis lags behind the nation when it comes to pet licensures. The U.S. average for pet licensure is 20 to 30 percent, compared to 12 percent in Minneapolis.   

DFL primary winner Dziedzic will face Schwanke for Senate seat
After gathering 32 percent of the vote in a crowded DFL primary field for the Senate District 59 seat on Dec. 7, Kari Dziedzic will face Republican Ben Schwanke in a Jan. 10 general election.

Dziedzic beat out Mohamud Noor (27 percent), Peter Wagenius (18 percent), Paul Ostrown (13 percent) and Jacob Frey (8 percent).

Dziedzic now faces Schwanke, a 21-year-old college student at Augsburg. He’s heading into his last semester before seeking a high school teaching job. He grew up in Lester Prairie and moved to Minneapolis for college.

Schwanke says the Legislature should help make a business friendly climate in Minnesota by reducing regulations and condensing agencies to streamline business permitting.

When asked, he did not specify which regulations should be eliminated, but said the state should have one agency for business permitting.

Schwanke said he would not vote to allow the city of Minneapolis to bypass a referendum needed to raise more than $10 million for a Vikings stadium. He said the only public investment in a stadium should be for surrounding infrastructure, like roads and sewers.

“I believe the public should not be subsiding billionaires and millionaires,” he said.

Schwanke said he supports a constitutional ban on gay marriage, but says the ballot question is ill timed.   

Dziedzic, 49, is nearly a lifelong resident of Northeast. She’s a policy aide to Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein with strong backing from the DFL base and unions.

Dziedzic said in late November that she did not support public financing proposals from Mayor R.T. Rybak, but could support a stadium subsidy if the revenues came from user fees, like a ticket tax.

Dziedzic favors a $1 billion state bonding bill in 2012 to help create jobs.

She did not respond to a phone message from The Journal in time for this story.

Senate District 59 includes all of Northeast, the University of Minnesota area and Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

Annual meeting will decide Park Board leaders

John Erwin says he is seeking a third one-year term as Park Board president when the nine-member board chooses leadership.

On Jan. 3, the Park Board is scheduled to hold its annual meeting. Members will nominate and vote for Park Board president and vice president.

Erwin, an at-large commissioner, was first selected Park Board President in 2010 and was chosen again in 2011.

Annie Young, also an at-large commissioner, is currently serving as vice president.

Once the president is elected, he or she will assign commissioners to committees.     

City overhauls website  
After two years of work, the city of Minneapolis launched its redesigned website on Dec. 19.

The new site has a cleaner layout with more white space and more space for photos. It will also allow city staff to update content quicker.  

The news site, www.minneapolismn.gov, has adjustable text that allows visually disabled users to view larger text.

Hennepin County lowers tax levy  
 
The Hennepin County Board on Dec. 13 voted to lower its 2012 tax levy by $1 million compared to 2011, a 0.15 percent reduction.

It’s the second year in a row the board has lowered the Hennepin County levy. The total 2012 tax levy will be $668.4 million.

The Board also approved a $1.65 billion budget for 2012 on Dec. 13.

Reach Nick Halter at nhalter@mnpubs.com.