Community notebook: Southwest LRT supported by business leaders

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January 30, 2012
By: Michelle Bruch and Jeremy Zoss
Michelle Bruch and Jeremy Zoss
Minnesota’s three largest local Chambers of Commerce — the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce —  have jointly voiced their support for Gov. Mark Dayton’s inclusion of $25 million in state funding for the Southwest Light Rail Transit line in his Jan. 17 bonding proposal.

The proposed Southwest LRT would connect the southwest suburbs with downtown Minneapolis and the region’s three rail lines — the Central Corridor, Hiawatha and Northstar Commuter.

 “As the economy edges toward improvement, major Twin Cities employers will be looking to expand — either in our area or elsewhere — in the coming years,” said TwinWest Chamber President Bruce Nustad in a statement.  “We want to keep businesses growing here and that means making critical transit investments now.”

The TwinWest Chamber of Commerce represents businesses in the western suburbs, such as Plymouth, Golden Valley and St. Louis Park.

The Southwest Light Rail line would run 15 miles through Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Edina, Hopkins, St. Louis Park and Minneapolis.

The Metropolitan Council projects the areas on the Southwest Light Rail corridor will add 60,000 jobs by 2030. By the same year, the Southwest line is projected to see 30,000 daily riders, similar to the Hiawatha line’s current ridership.

“Our members need high-quality transit options to get their employees to and from work,” said Minneapolis Regional Chamber President Todd Klingel in a statement. “In downtown Minneapolis, more than 40 percent of employees rely on transit. We can’t grow our region’s economy unless we can get people to their jobs.”

Hillcrest Development closes on former Burger King site

NORTHEAST PARK — Northeast-based developer Hillcrest Developments has closed on the former Burger King location at 1717 Central Ave. NE., said Hillcrest’s managing partner Scott Tankenoff. The company is working on plans for the site and intends to rehabilitate the existing building.

Takenoff said work at the site will begin in earnest in the spring. The building will stabilized and modernized, but is in good enough shape that it could be adapted to a variety of uses.

“We don’t know what it will be yet. It could be good retail of some sort,” said Tankenoff. “We need to get it looking like it’s not an abandoned former fast food restaurant.”

Free Arts Minnesota expands mentorship program

Downtown-based non-profit organization Free Arts Minnesota, which works to teach at-risk youth about the healing power of art, is looking for volunteers. Free Arts Minnesota partners with other organizations such as homeless shelters and community centers, has recently expanded from 12 partner sites to 30. The expansion means the organization would like to add roughly 75 volunteers.

While many of the current volunteers are artists, Free Arts Minnesota’s Rebecca Johnson stresses that you don’t need any artistic talent to get involved.

“You need a willingness to spend an afternoon with the kids. There’s no artistic capability required,” said Johnson. “It’s not about the finished product, but the process of working with a mentor.”

Free Arts mentors work with at-risk children on a variety of projects provided by the organization’s curriculum. The organization lists greater self-esteem, improved communication abilities and increased positive relations with adults among the benefits of its program.

Cooking classes for tots

LOGAN PARK — Preschoolers mature into sous chefs in a winter cooking class at the Logan Recreation Center.

The new nonprofit Urban Baby is offering classes for 3- to 6-year-olds and their parents, teaching recipes like baked chicken tenders, pumpkin French toast and veggie pancakes.

“They are healthy recipes geared toward getting children involved,” said Michelle Horovitz, executive director of Urban Baby. “Kids have a
blast, and parents really like it too.”

Preshool Sous Chef workshops are Feb. 9 or March 22, and one class is $15 for residents.

Horovitz said she is also working to build a “micro-local movement around healthy eating” in the Jordan neighborhood, across the river from Northeast. Eight cooking workshops open to any city resident would include discussion for an Urban Baby study on how to make healthy cooking easier for families.

New home for water conservation experts

MARSHALL TERRACE — A facility devoted to water conservation is opening on the riverfront at 2522 Marshall St. NE.

It’s the new home of the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, and it’s designed to invite passersby to stroll through the grounds and head down to the river.

A new bike trail will connect Edgewater Park to the boat landing under the Lowry Bridge.

Inside, the Science Museum is helping to develop interactive exhibits, and a “wet classroom” will open to school groups as well.

MWMO staff are already onsite, and the building is slated to open in late January or early February.

City offers vacant lots for gardening

The city had 10 vacant lots available for community gardens as of January.

The lots are available for lease to qualifying groups on a first-come, first-served basis. Groups must be not-for-profit or affiliated with a not-for-profit sponsor.

Those groups new to community gardening will be offered one-year leases, while more experienced groups could have the opportunity to negotiate three- to five-year leases. The city reports the lots are “not appropriate for development,” meaning the land should remain available for gardening even as the economy picks up and construction projects return to Minneapolis neighborhoods.

Community garden operators will have to hold liability insurance. Applicants will also meet with city staff to discuss their plans for managing the gardens and how the gardens will be used to benefit the community.

The gardens can be used for vegetable farming, but are not required to grow food.

For more information, or to apply, visit

St. Anthony Parkway Bridge in line for repair

The St. Anthony Parkway Bridge is now slated for rehab or replacement in 2013.

Bridge Project Engineer Jack Yuzna said the details will become public as soon as the state historic preservation office has a chance to review the project this month. The 1925 bridge, which crosses over railroad tracks between California and Main streets, is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

Metro Transit recently pulled buses off the fracture-critical bridge. Metro Transit decided to detour the buses after city workers noticed the posted weight limits and contacted the agency.

“For a normal car or SUV, this isn’t a problem,” Yuzna said. “If you’re following the postings, it’s safe. ... It’s primarily certain kinds of trucks [that are problematic].”

Lotte Melman, a member of the Columbia Park Neighborhood Association, said she and her husband would prefer to see the bridge restored.

“Even though Mike and I would like a rehabilitation rather than replacement, this has been dragging on for so long it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen,” she said.

Mike Melman sent a letter to the city in early January, recommending a Warren Truss bridge design similar in appearance to the original.

“It would mitigate the loss of a cherished old bridge, long a symbol of ‘industrial’ Northeast,” he wrote in the letter.

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