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A Line marks step forward in bus service

Posted on 07 June 2016 by Calvin

Ride for free during opening weekend; special events planned on Sat., June 11

On June 11, locals will have a new transportation option.

The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) A Line will begin operating locally from Rosedale Mall, down the busy Snelling Ave. commercial corridor to Highland Village and over to 46th St. Station in Minneapolis.

The A Line will offer a new kind of bus service that will cut the journey from 46th St. station to Rosedale Mall from 48 minutes to 35 minutes.

The line officially opens at 10am.

Bus service on the A Line and Route 84 will be free June 11 to 13.

InsideBus_25228268919_438249dd6a_oSmPhoto right: The 40-foot Gillig model buses look significantly different than regular-route buses. Passengers will be able to get on and off faster, thanks to low-floor buses and raised curbs at stations, plus wider bus doors and boarding from the front and back. (Photos submitted)

Midway resident Jessica Treat of Transit for Livable Communities is looking forward to the start of the A Line. “It’s a significant change and the first in the region,” pointed out Treat.

Como resident João Medeiros said, “I am excited that the BRT will provide an efficient connection from my side of the neighborhood to the Green Line, which should provide easy transit access from the neighborhood to both downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul.”

ALine_Bus_25503107941_467b1a7af9_oSmMederios is looking forward to seeing whether the BRT helps alleviate some of the congestion at State Fair time. “As an all-season user of the Como and Snelling bus stop, I am also excited that the stations are going to have radiant heating in the winter, like light rail stations,” he added.

Opening day events
Events planned from 10am to 2pm on June 11 include:
• Snelling and University: Official ribbon cutting ceremony begins at 9:30am with the ribbon cutting at 9:50. There will be live music and food trucks. Community groups and businesses will have tables set up.
• HarMar Mall: The first bus will bring the mayor of Roseville to HarMar at about 10:10am, where there will be a short ceremony and music by the Roseville City Band and other groups.
• Highland Park: The event will take place at Hillcrest Park, located at Ford Pkwy. and Kenneth, an A Line stop. Community groups, local businesses, and the park board are coming together to host an event celebrating the launch of the A Line route. There will be a climbing wall and children’s craft activity.
• 46th Street Station: A Line bus on display and Metro Transit personnel available to answer questions.

Cross between bus and train
Bus Rapid Transit makes riding a bus a bit more like riding a light rail train.

Customers will pay their fares at ticket vending machines before boarding the bus.

By extending the curbs at stations, buses can merge more easily into traffic after serving a station. The buses won’t pull over to board passengers, but will instead remain in the right driving lane.

Each A Line station is comprised of a northbound and southbound platform. All station platforms will have a customer waiting shelter with interior light and heater, as well as a pylon marker with a real-time NexTrip display.

Passengers will be able to get on and off faster, thanks to low-floor buses and raised curbs at stations, plus wider bus doors and boarding from the front and back. These 40-foot Gillig model buses will look significantly different than regular-route buses.

The A Line buses will stop at fewer red lights courtesy of transit signal priority, and stay better in sync with traffic flow.

While people typically think that traffic is the main reason for bus delays, a traffic analysis showed that delays actually occur from stopping every block, customers paying fares, and stopping at red lights.

BRT addresses these issues.

21 stations every one-half mile
The A Line will connect the Twin Cities’ two metro light-rail lines with the busy Snelling Ave. commercial corridor and several popular destinations, including Hamline University, Macalester College, Midway, Highland Village, Minnehaha Park, Rosedale Center, and HarMar Mall.

The A Line will operate every 10 minutes along the 9.7-mile-long route during rush hours, midday, evenings, and weekends, with less frequent service in the early morning and late at night. The span of service is very similar to today’s Route 84 schedule, with trips beginning at approximately 4am and continuing until approximately 1:30am.

Twenty-one stations are located roughly every half-mile.

The A Line will become the primary bus route serving Snelling Ave. and Ford Pkwy. with increased service in evenings and on weekends, substantially replacing much of Route 84.

Local Route 84 will operate every 30 minutes and make off-corridor branch connections to St. Paul Ave., West 7th St. and Davern St.

Transferring between the A Line and light rail is easy. No matter where you purchase your ticket, it will be valid for 20 hours of unlimited rides. Additionally, A Line tickets are valid for regular-route buses; present your ticket to the driver but don’t insert it into the fare box so that you can keep using it.

Are people riding for free?
Some residents are concerned that riders aren’t paying for their light rail trips and won’t pay for the A Line ride either.

For Hamline Midway resident Dave Olson, not paying for a ride is theft.

“I take the Green Line fairly often and while waiting for trains observe how many just walk past the payment machines and get on the train. Am I an idiot for not riding free also?” asked Olson.

The issues for Hamline Midway resident Tom Goldstein are the $180 fine people are charged if caught riding without a ticket and the use of police officers rather than train monitors for the fare checks. “I wish that everyone were honest—or had the means to pay for transit—but I’d rather see our focus be on keeping the trains safe for all riders than creating a system with out-of-whack penalties and out-of-whack priorities for how we do enforcement,” remarked Goldstein.

“Some of us will perceive rampant fare-theft and some of us will observe near universal compliance in the same train ride. Thankfully the Met Council undertook a controlled study with sound statistical methods to determine an estimate of compliance,” pointed out Hamline-Midway resident Bryan Kennedy.

According to the April 2015 report, the Blue Line fare evasion rate is between 2.6% and 3.6%, and the compliance rate is estimated to be between 80.8% and 84.8%. The Green Line fare evasion rate is between 4.6% and 9.0% and the compliance rate for is between 81.6% and 87.6%. The audit found that Go-To Card users were the largest group of people not to comply, perhaps because of a misunderstanding of how the card works. Data was collected in 2014.

Neighborhood resident and transportation researcher Guillermo Narvaez thinks that the BRT model seems well suited at this time for Snelling. However, he pointed out that “while it does increase the amount of passengers it can carry, it does not really inspire developers in the same way more permanent forms of transit does.”

BRT is attractive because the overall project costs less, but it is less effective in moving people than a light rail or metro system, he noted. “The idea is one that the GOP will tolerate (versus light rail or streetcar) as it shares the same road infrastructure that cars and trucks use,” Narvaez said.

Why the Snelling Ave. route?
In 2011, Met Transit studied 12 high-ridership corridors and determined that BRT would perform well along the Snelling/Ford/46th route. As a bonus, it was shovel-ready.

The other routes included in the Arterial Transitway Corridors Study were: Lake St., American Blvd., Central Ave., Chicago Ave., E. 7th St, Hennepin Ave., Nicollet Ave., Robert St., Snelling Ave., West 7th St. and West Broadway Ave. The study later added Penn Ave. and Chicago-Fremont in North Minneapolis.

Construction on the line began in 2015 with road improvements, new shelters, and other amenities. The line was originally slated to open in 2015, but a lengthy review period set the project back.

The total cost of the A Line project is about $27 million, with money coming from the federal government ($7 million), the state of Minnesota ($16 million) and the Metropolitan Council ($4 million). Of that, $15 million was spent constructing stations and adding related technology and fare collection elements; $7 million on new BRT vehicles for the service; $1 million on transit signal priority; and $4 million on design.

Plans call for 20 rapid transitways by the year 2040—16 to 17 of those would be BRT lines. This system will allow another 500,000 people to be a 30-minute commute from their workplace.

“I believe in transit and other forms of transportation that make cities more livable and attractive,” said Narvaez. “Is the BRT a perfect solution? Hardly, but it has us talking and thinking about it instead of just driving through places that hopefully will become destinations in the near future.”

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The Emily Program slider

The Emily Program ‘gave me my life back’ says local woman

Posted on 07 June 2016 by Calvin

Program set apart by staff who have been there too, and are working to increase care standards for eating disorders

One in five women struggles with an eating disorder.

St. Anthony resident Billie Gray is one of them.

At 39, her best friend asked her to be an attendant at her wedding, and Gray spent more time worrying about how she was going to look in a sleeveless dress than she did being happy for her friend.

“Luckily I had enough awareness to recognize that as distorted thinking,” stated Gray.

IMG_1012TheEmilyProgramSmShe walked herself down to her “friendly neighborhood eating center,” The Emily Program, and asked for help.

She got it.

“It gave me my life back,” said Gray.

Photo right: The adult treatment site at 2265 Como is one of several in the neighborhood. A center for youth is located across the street. The Emily Program offers outpatient, intensive day/partial programs with lodging available, and 24/7 residential care at ten sites across Minnesota as well as sites in Washington, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The administrative offices, including the Foundation, are based in St. Paul’s Bandana Square. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

For Gray, having an eating disorder meant that she kept a part of herself set aside to manage that disorder.

She knows she could have been diagnosed with binge eating disorder when she was 24, but she kept her habits hidden from others for years.

“Eating disorders come in a lot of different manifestations,” Gray observed.

She wasn’t the type of binge eater who drove to three different drive-thrus and ordered a meal at each to devour in one sitting. No, hers was harder to see because it didn’t manifest according to the stereotype. Her eating disorder involved grazing from the time she got home from work to the time she climbed into bed. Every night she ate to the point where she felt full and then kept going until she felt physically ill.

IMG_1005Bille-and-JillianSm“It was like I had two stomachs,” Gray explained. “One was so full. One couldn’t stop eating.”

Photo left: The Emily Program Foundation Executive Director Billie Gray and The Emily Program Chief Strategy Officer Dr. Jillian Lampert stand in the kitchen at the 2265 Como Building, a place where cooking classes and meals are held. Treatment at The Emily Program involves a lot of different food experiences, pointed out Lampert. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

For some, grazing is fine, but Gray’s habits were normal behavior taken to extremes, as all eating disorders are. Hers was a problem in part because of the time she spent obsessing about food and the internalized shame that surrounded eating, Gray pointed out.

Every day she woke up and told herself today would be different. Every day it was the same.
Gray isn’t alone. Middle-aged women are among the fastest growing segment of the population diagnosed with eating disorders.

Relaxing and welcoming atmosphere
Gray is grateful for the help she received at The Emily Program, which is primarily staffed by 520 people who have had eating disorders themselves.

“I love the atmosphere here,” Gray stated. “It’s very relaxing. Everyone was kind and willing to meet me where I was. If I had had one negative experience, I would have left.”

Once she was being treated at The Emily Program, she felt like she got steadily better as she put time into it, but change didn’t happen all at once.

She attended individual therapy, met with dietitians to learn about nutrition, and focused on the behavioral piece, as well.

Treatment at The Emily Program involves a lot of different food experiences, pointed out Dr. Jilllian Lampert, The Emily Program Chief Strategy Officer. Residents and therapists engage in intimate meals together in the dining rooms at the facility, cook meals together, and go out to eat together.

Other components are art therapy, body image support groups, and mindful, restorative yoga.
“Being disconnected from your body is a hallmark of an eating disorder,” pointed out Lampert, “so getting back in touch with your body is a part of healing.”

Gray’s breakthrough came during a somatic experience group session, a type of therapy she didn’t think would be valuable for her at all. She considers herself to be analytical and logical and didn’t want to focus on sensations.

When encouraged to stop and pay attention to the sensations in her body, Gray realized, “I literally couldn’t feel anything between my pelvis and my throat.”

Lampert pointed out that another common part of an eating disorder is being unable to close one’s eyes and count a pulse beat. Restorative yoga helps patients reconnect with their body’s biorhythms.

Emily at Whittier ElementaryPhoto right: The Emily Program Foundation staff meet with a group of girls at Whittier International Elementary School in Minneapolis. They present at daycares, middle and high schools, universities, churches and other community groups to increase awareness and education of eating disorders. “The seeds get planted very young,” observed Gray. “We’re doing what we can to change the environment and minimize the number of seeds that get planted. They’re currently partnering on a pilot program with the St. Anthony Park United Church of Christ Preschool. (Photo submitted)

The underlying issue creating Gray’s eating disorder was control. “I wasn’t ok with who I was,” she observed.

Through art therapy, she learned how to express herself, a practice she found empowering and continues today.

There is a debate about whether one is ever really cured of an eating disorder. Gray finds it helpful to continue attending a support group every two weeks.

After her three-year treatment, she realized she wanted to make a difference for other people struggling with eating disorders. She quit her successful corporate job and became the executive director of The Emily Program Foundation in June 2014.

The Emily Program Foundation presents at daycares, middle and high schools, universities, churches and other community groups to increase awareness and education of eating disorders. Bullying about body size and appearance is the most common form of bullying in schools.

An program set apart
In 1993, psychologist Dirk Miller, Ph.D., LP, opened The Emily Program, named after his sister, Emily, who recovered from an eating disorder.

Previously, Miller had started the first hospital-based eating disorders treatment program at South Bend General Hospital in Indiana. He had also worked with the University of Minnesota’s intensive bulimia program and started an eating disorders group at The University of St. Thomas.

The 23-year-old organization has grown a lot since its start with one employee in a former St. Paul fire station.

Today, The Emily Program offers outpatient, intensive day/partial programs with lodging available, and 24/7 residential care at ten sites across Minnesota as well as sites in Washington, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The administrative offices, including the Foundation, are based at 1295 Bandana Boulevard W.

They also have an Outpatient Eating Disorder Treatment location for adolescents and adults at 2265 Como Ave. and at 2230 Como Ave.

The program is for people of all genders from age 8 to 78 who struggle with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating, compulsive overeating, obesity, and other specified feeding and eating disorders (OSFED).

The approach to treating eating disorders is based on the belief that individuals are unique and that they intuitively seek meaning, value, and creativity in life. Effective treatment requires awareness of the genetic, biological, psychological, social, and cultural impacts on each person.
Lampert noted, “It’s the way we do things that sets us apart.”

The Emily Program meets this high-intensity need for care through evidence-based practices, round-the-clock nursing, and specialized medical treatment. It is affiliated with the University of Minnesota, initiates studies, and lobbies at the federal level.

“We can help people make changes in their behavior, so they don’t have to have an eating disorder,” said Lampert.

Working to raise the standards of care
The Emily Program is leading the charge to improve the quality of residential eating disorder care through its leadership of the Residential Eating Disorder Consortium (REDC).

“Through REDC, we are hoping to raise the bar for quality of care across all residential eating disorder programs,” stated Lampert, who serves as president of the REDC, an organization The Emily Program co-founded.

In the United States, 30 million Americans struggle with eating disorders. Only a fraction of them will need specialized 24/7 care for their mental illness, but few will find it as residential programs only have the capacity to treat less than 0.05 percent of those impacted each year.

Insurance doesn’t always cover treatment costs, despite the Mental Health Parity Bill passed in 2008.

Every 62 minutes someone dies as a direct result of an eating disorder, according to the Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy and Action. Eating disorders can be expensive to treat, but they are serious issues with the highest mortality rate of any other mental health illness.
The Emily Program provides education and training opportunities for health professionals so that they may be better equipped to intervene early in the illness, optimizing patients’ recovery.

When Lampert was struggling with an eating disorder 20 years ago, she bounced from substandard program to substandard program. While things have gotten better, she sees room for improvement. That’s part of what has driven her efforts to push for quality treatment standards, which were adopted by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitative Facilities in 2013 and by the Joint Commission recently.

Few health care providers receive adequate training in recognition and treatment of eating disorders, explained Lampert. “There’s a huge disparity between the number of lives lost and medical training.” The average doctor has received 24 minutes of training. The Emily Program feels so passionately about this that there is currently a bill in Congress, The Anna Westin Act, named in memory of a Minnesota woman who died at the age of 21 as a direct result of anorexia that sets aside existing funds for training. The Emily Program staff and volunteers, including Anna’s mother Kitty, who serves on the Foundation Board, are working hard to ensure it becomes law.
For more, browse emilyprogram.com.

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Hamline Ave. Parking meeting slider

Some, including high rise residents, question parking loss on Hamline

Posted on 07 June 2016 by Calvin

Parking would be lost for a bike lane taking up 10 feet; proponents say north/south bike connection is needed

Hamline Ave. could be restriped with bike lanes between University and Minnehaha avenues as soon as this fall. A future phase of the project could extend the lanes north to Pierce Butler Rte.
Many bicyclists welcome the idea of bike lanes, saying it will provide a needed north-south route through the area. Other project supporters contend it would make Hamline traffic slow down and promote pedestrian safety.

Hamline Ave. Parking meetingPhotos left: A group of residents and other interested parties attended the open house on May 26 to have the opportunity to help shape the future and safety of Hamline Ave. The City of St. Paul Department of Public Works held the public forum to discuss and explain proposed improvements to Hamline Ave. The work being proposed involves removing and replacing the top layer of pavement and updating all non-ADA Haline Ave. Parking meeting 2compliant pedestrian ramps. This route is also identified in the Citywide Bike Plan, and the City is proposing to install on-street bicycle lanes, which would require removal of on-street parking from one side of the street. (Photos by Kyle Mianulli)

But some avid cyclists disagree, saying it wouldn’t be safe. Business owners and residents, including many in the Hamline Hi-Rise, worry about the loss of on-street parking. They note that existing on-street parking bans in the surrounding area, coupled with spillover parking from schools and events, already create a parking crunch at certain times. But St. Paul Department of Public Works staff, using a recent study, counters that many of the parking spots are underutilized and that there would be enough parking remaining even with a bike lane.

Dozens of people filled a meeting room May 26 at Sejong Academy, 1330 Blair Ave., to discuss the project with city staff. Bike lanes and new pedestrian curb ramps would be installed as part of a mill and overlay project. It would also involve removing parking from one side of Hamline between University and Minnehaha.

Hamline Ave. has been eyed as a bike route before. Past efforts have been shelved due to opposition about parking loss and safety. It was identified in the citywide bicycle plan as a key bike route, which the City Council adopted in 2015.

Luke Hanson, Public Works project manager, said plans for Hamline between University and Minnehaha call for two five-foot bike lanes, an eight-foot parking lane on one side of the street, an 11-foot travel lane in each direction and parking bans at all four corners of Charles Ave.

Hanson noted that while Hamline north of Minnehaha isn’t part of the 2016 project, it makes sense to discuss the project extending north. A northern connection would extend to a bike/pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks and additional routes. But because Hamline is narrower north of Minnehaha, it would mean banning parking on both sides of the street.

Public Works is hearing a mixed reaction to the project, Hanson said. “We want to hear from as many people as possible.” While Public Works cannot address every concern raised, he said city staff will do what it can.

Many area residents support the proposal, saying a lot of parking along Hamline is infrequently used. They contend that bike lanes will not only help cyclists get to and through the area, but the lanes could also help slow motor vehicle traffic.

David Rudolph lives on Blair Ave. and is a year-round cyclist. “I ride in this area every day,” he said, adding that rush hour periods can be busy and hazardous for bicyclists.

His children attend school near the north end of the route, and his daughter likes to bike to school. “It would be fantastic to have bike lanes for her,” Rudolph said.

Other cyclists from around the city said they’d use Hamline more as a north-south route if it had lane markings. Brian Martinson, a Macalester-Groveland resident and cyclist, said he’d use bike lanes if they were on Hamline.

Martinson said the bike lanes would indicate that motorists need to share the road with bikes. “I ride where I have to ride,” he said. While experienced cyclists like him ride in mixed traffic, lanes would be a benefit and an attraction for more riders to travel Hamline.

Others said they are worried about the loss of parking. Jim Lovold is president of the hi-rise residents’ council. “Our concern is parking for our caregivers,” he said. The 17-story building has about 180 residents who are disabled or elderly. The parking lot has 55 spaces. Lovold and fellow council member Margaret Gilbert said caregivers already must park on-street and will have to walk longer distances.

“Some days the parking is very tight,” Gilbert said.

Other Hamline Ave. residents have little or no off-street parking, and in a few places, no alleys. Residents said they struggle to park near their homes and worry about having to carry groceries or other items long distances.

Petitions against the project are at locations including Grand Paws at Hamline and Thomas and Fields of Hair at Minnehaha and Thomas. Beth Jackson, who operates a home day care on Hamline, said it’s troubling that no business owners were talked to about the proposal.

Hamline Midway Coalition has posted studies about the project and a survey. Go to www.hamlinemidway.org/hamlineave.

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Mayor George Latimer 07 slider

Former Mayor George Latimer makes Midway his new home

Posted on 07 June 2016 by Calvin

Story and photo by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
Mayor George Latimer 07Seated in his apartment above the Green Line corridor, former mayor George Latimer has an ample view of the streetscape of St. Paul and the skyline of Minneapolis. Latimer served as St. Paul’s mayor from 1976–1990, and now can look out over a city he and his staff helped to transform.

A resident of Episcopal Homes, 490 Lynnhurst Ave. E., since last year, Latimer joked about the ongoing rivalry between the Twin Cities. “Well, I sure do like to have fun with it,” he said. “In the end, I see two cities that are part of a regional community. We flourish because of each other, but that said, we are still two very different cities. It goes deep into our history on both sides. I see St. Paul as operating in a way that’s more collaborative, and Minneapolis in a way that’s more confrontational.”

He continued, “St. Paul has always been, and probably always will be, Minnesota’s second city. We simply are more parochial in our thinking, which has both pluses and minuses. St. Paul residents care deeply about place, community, and connectedness. We are slower to change and slower to embrace change.”

Latimer is a new-comer to a very changed stretch of University Ave. Beneath his sixth story windows, the Green Line speeds by. More than a few articles credit Latimer’s administration with planting the seeds for light rail but he said, “We never came up with anything quite that great in our thinking about transportation. The idea of using transportation as a powerful tool for new development is brilliant. All of the housing that’s being provided for people, especially young people and people who might not have a lot of money. I see the Green Line as the most transformational thing that’s happened to this old river city.”

Latimer will be turning 81 this month. He said, “Of all the things I reflect on with fondness that came out of my tenure as mayor, the one I feel best about was bringing the Job Corps to St. Paul in 1981. It’s still housed on Snelling Ave. across from the State Fairgrounds. Bethel College had the space originally, and when they moved to the suburbs, we had to find a new a new tenant. It was perfect for the Job Corps—a ready made campus just waiting for the students to move back in. Though the program is much smaller now, it’s still running.”

Job Corps is a residential educational and vocational training program for economically disadvantaged youth. “The last time I checked,” he said, “they had graduated more than 10,000 students ages 16-21. They had a placement rate of 91% in successful employment. These are kids who, for one reason or another, didn’t make it through school or into the workforce the first time.“

Latimer continued, “If you live long enough you’ll see a lot of dreams dashed, and maybe have a few dreams that should have been dashed. But Job Corps will always be a warm, abiding memory for me.

Latimer has retained his signature beard, openness and sense of humor. “We had a lot of successes,” he said, “like creating the Family Housing Fund and District Energy, revitalizing Lower Town and building Energy Park. But, we also had some huge failures. Galtier Plaza was a bust financially, and Town Square was a terrible decision architecturally. I taught a seminar on learning from the failures of our administration at Macalester several years ago. The current mayor Chris Coleman, who’s a good friend of mine, said, “I heard about that seminar Latimer is teaching, and I think it should be a year-long course.”

After his last term as mayor, Latimer went on to become dean of Hamline Law School (1990-93), special assistant to the Office of Housing and Urban Development in Washington DC (1993-95) and a visiting professor in Geography and Urban Studies at Macalester since 1996. He continues to work part-time as a labor arbitrator.

Latimer, whose nearly 14 years in office mark the longest mayoral tenure in the history of the city, is quick to acknowledge that he didn’t stand alone. “What occurs during any single political administration has a lot to do with what you inherit,” Latimer said. “We were lucky because so much positive growth had taken place in St. Paul in the 1960’s. I also had tremendous people around me: the civil servants that were already there when I was elected and the people I was able to appoint.”

The former mayor also gives credit to the strong family that surrounds him. When asked how he chose Episcopal Homes after 40 years of living in Crocus Hill, he joked, “Truthfully, every major decision I’ve ever made has been influenced by one of the women in my life: my Lebanese mother, my wife, or one of my daughters. In this case, my daughters made me do it.”

These days he seems happily ensconced in his new apartment—surrounded by photographs of his family and friends, political cartoons and a great many books. Latimer is a dedicated reader, a quality he claims to have inherited from his English father—a quiet man who was a great lover of books.

When asked about the renaming of the Central Library in his honor two years ago, the outspoken former mayor said, “I hadn’t heard a word about it—until the day it happened. Mayor Chris Coleman came to our house carrying something in a plain, brown wrapper. It could have been a fish for all I knew. I opened the wrapper and inside was a plaque designating the downtown St. Paul library as the George Latimer Central Library. I was completely speechless. Coleman said, ‘I never thought I could silence George Latimer,’ but he was wrong.”

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soccer illus 1 SLIDER

Major league soccer stadium closer to reality in the Midway

Posted on 07 June 2016 by Calvin

Legislature passes liquor license and property tax exemption; advisory committee wrapped up its report May 26

Plans for a Major League Soccer stadium and Midway Center redevelopment continue to change as the St. Paul Planning Commission prepares to hear comments on the stadium site plan and master plan for the Midway Center superblock.

The plan goes to the Planning Commission at 8:30am, Fri., June 10 at City Hall. People can also comment online, at https://www.stpaul.gov/departments/planning-economic-development/planning/snelling-midway-redevelopment-site.

The plans will likely get voted on by the commission in July, with an Aug. 3 St. Paul City Council public hearing. Approval would allow stadium work and related infrastructure work to start in earnest. Shopping center redevelopment would take much longer.

The prospect of the superblock lingering continues to worry some community members and many members of the Snelling Midway Community Advisory Committee (CAC). The committee wrapped up its work May 26, sending a detailed report of issues to the Planning Commission. The detailed report was not so much a simple up and down vote for the plans as it was a summary of the committee’s work and a series of recommendations and outline of issues needing further study.

Those issues include parking, traffic, and environmental impacts. CAC members also said they’re willing to meet again if need be.

Minnesota United FC owner Bill McGuire and Midway Center owner Rick Birdoff of RK Midway reviewed the latest plans May 26 with committee members. McGuire outlined what he called the “near term possibilities” for the site when the stadium would open in 2018. Plans showed the stadium taking up a space that would extend into Midway Center, displacing the Rainbow grocery store, Pearle Vision, Home Choice, Midway Pro Bowl, Walgreens and some vacant mall space.

The rest of the center would remain in place. So too would McDonald’s and Perkins restaurants. A green space anticipated to extend from the stadium to University would instead end south of the restaurants. But the building Big Top Liquors occupies would be gone. The former American Bank building would remain. What is described as temporary parking would be along Snelling, with a lot at Pascal St. and St. Anthony Ave. Much existing Midway Center parking would remain.

Birdoff said he cannot discuss lease details that affect when and where businesses move. Some businesses could opt to move to vacant spaces within the center. Others could leave. He dismissed the notion that shopping center space would remain empty, calling it “economic suicide” to reduce the center by 150,000 feet and not add new space.

Ambitious plans unveiled earlier this year called for mixed-use redevelopment, with high-rise office-retail buildings along Snelling Ave. housing at Snelling and Pascal St., and hotel space near Pascal and St. Anthony Ave.. Much of the site would be mixed use, with parking ramps built inside the buildings.

“What’s the incentive or urgency to move forward after the stadium is built?” said Eric Molho, committee co-chairman. He said the shopping center has been its current condition “for a very, very long time.” Birdoff responded by noting that some spaces have specifically been left vacant because redevelopment is coming.

Donna Drummond, planning director for the St. Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development (PED), said city officials view the shopping center plans as interim in nature. The site’s traditional neighborhood zoning calls for denser, mixed-use development.

“Everyone understands that no one wants the center to stay this way,” said CAC member Kirk Wythers. He asked if the city could limit how long spaces would be left vacant and used for parking, but timing is something the city doesn’t regulate.

The timing of Midway Center redevelopment is just one of a number of issues the CAC is raising in its report. The report outlines concerns ranging from the upcoming environmental impact studies to how the success of redevelopment can be measured. Committee members debated how specific the report should be, especially in the comments about affordable housing.

Property tax impacts that could be tied to redevelopment were another concern. Several committee members called the report “aspirational” and wanted to see measures in the report taken to ensure high-density, high-quality redevelopment. Others questioned how redevelopment could impact gentrification.

Some issues, such as a desire to see more minority-owned businesses as part of a redeveloped Midway Center, are beyond what a master plan can impact. One repeated comment May 26 is that there are issues that are beyond the control of a master plan, as the plans regulate land use and density.

As the Monitor went to press, Gov. Mark Dayton pocket vetoed a tax bill adopted May 22 by the Legislature because of, he said,  an error in the bill. A property tax exemption for the stadium property was included in that bill, but the requested sales tax break on construction materials was not. A liquor license was approved under separate legislation and signed by the governor.

ILLUSTRATION BELOW: The current site plan shows how the new soccer stadium will incorporate itself into the superblock while the owner of the Midway Stadium property, RK Midway, considers its plans for redesign of its property. The plan shows the removal of what is now the Rainbow grocery store, Pearle Vision, Home Choice, Midway Pro Bowl, Walgreens and some vacant mall space. The building currently occupied by Big Top Liquor would also be torn down. There will be temporary parking of approximately 220 spaces to the west of the stadium divided by an in/out street. Outlot buildings will remain on University’s south side, as will the rest of the current mall. Some parking spaces at the mall will be lost to a green space that goes partway toward University Ave. One of the concerns of the Snelling Midway Community Advisory Committee (CAC) was that there is no timeline for the future development of the balance of the superblock.

soccer illus 1

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Galtier Elementary School headed for possible closure in 2017

Galtier Elementary School headed for possible closure in 2017

Posted on 10 May 2016 by Calvin

Two years after “major renovation” Superintendent Valeria Silva says, “We cannot run small schools anymore”


Galtier Elementary School families and supporters are fighting to keep their building open. Children, some dressed as superheroes, and their parents attended the Apr. 26 St. Paul School Board meeting to make their case to save the school at 1317 Charles Ave. They also packed an Apr. 21 community meeting at the school.

Galtier 3275But, barring a change in heart by school district leaders, Galtier likely faces closure after the 2016-2017 academic year. That angers and frustrates parents who have worked tirelessly to bring new students to the school, with fundraising, door-knocking, and other outreach.

Photo right: Andrew Collins, assistant superintendent for elementary schools at St. Paul Public Schools. addresses parents, teachers and community members at an open meeting Apr. 21 on Galtier’s future. (Photo by Kyle Mianulli)

Galtier was extensively renovated two years ago, but many parents say the district officials aren’t doing enough to promote the school. They also contend that the school district is focused more on wealthy neighborhoods and their needs, and not enough on schools that serve an ethnically and economically diverse population. Galtier’s enrollment is 89 percent children of color, with 88 percent of children receiving free or reduced-price lunches.

Galtier parents asked the School Board to hold off on a plan to expand St. Anthony Park Elementary, which is scheduled for a $14 million expansion. But the expansion was part of the $484 million facilities plan the board approved on a 5-2 vote Apr. 26. The Galtier parents also asked that Hamline Elementary be considered for a magnet and for the early education facilities that some school district officials have suggested could go into Galtier.

One stumbling block for Galtier is busing. Many neighborhood families opt to send children to other schools including St. Anthony Park, which has almost 90 students on a waiting list for fall. Galtier parents worry that the planned expansion will draw away more pupils. District maps show more Hamline-Midway families choosing St. Anthony Park over Galtier.

Superintendent Valeria Silva made references to a possible closure of Galtier. She said that the renovations there two years ago hadn’t attracted enough families. “We cannot run small schools anymore. As much as we would love to, we cannot open the doors. We don’t have enough dollars.”

Galtier _3148Photo left: A packed room at Galtier Elementary Apr. 21, as everyone heard that the school might close after the 2016-17 school year. (Photo by Kyle Mianulli)

“I think Galtier is a nicer building than the look of St. Anthony Park, but the parents say no,” Silva added.

Families from Galtier and Hamline schools worked with district staff for many months to recruit students for the Hamline Midway neighborhood schools. While Hamline enrollment is on an upswing, Galtier enrollment remains low. The joint recruitment effort is on hold, although school district officials contend they continue to promote both schools.

Galtier parents don’t want to merge with Hamline, which will gain more space in fall 2017 when the building’s Jie Ming Chinese Immersion School moves to the Highland Park neighborhood. Some Galtier parents have said they’ll take their children out of St. Paul Public Schools if Galtier closes.

At the community meeting, Galtier Principal Shawn Stebbins indicated that Galtier would need to attract at least 100 more children to stay open.

Selina Gante has two sons in kindergarten at Galtier. Her family loves the recently renovated building and the school staff, and she is outraged about the prospect of the school closing. “Why would you do this to a group of children who do not have enough stability in their lives?”

“There are so many reasons to tell everybody why this school is a gem and district doesn’t take advantage of it,” she said. “This school is a safe and welcoming place for my kids and many others. What I’d like to say to the school board is why would you give us something so wonderful and then you take it away from us? Why would you pull the rug out from under us?”

“We as people of color have been disenfranchised for so long, in terms of the education system,” Gante said. “It’s just frustrating.”

The Galtier issue has also drawn in the St. Paul Chapter of the NAACP, which urged school board members not to close Galtier and give the community more time to attract students.

Clayton and Kirstin Howatt are also Galtier parents. “We’re not going to give up,” Clayton Howatt said. “But keeping the school open will be an uphill battle.” He said that indicating that the school could close isn’t helping recruiting efforts.

Gante noted that some parents, worried about the school’s uncertain future, are already looking at other options. Jackie Turner, who leads community engagement for the school district, said 17 Galtier preschool parents have chosen to send their students elsewhere for kindergarten in the fall.

“This is the first time that I have ever thought of leaving the district,” said Kristin Howatt. She went K-12 through St. Paul Public Schools. “If Galtier closes, my kids won’t be in St. Paul Public Schools any more. I have lost trust that kids matter.”

The school district estimates put 144 students K-5 at Galtier for fall, plus 60 preschoolers. The building can hold 469 pupils.

Galtier was a science, math, and technology magnet before becoming a neighborhood school again. Galtier and other schools were affected five years ago after the school district made sweeping changes to schools and school choice as part of the “Strong Schools, Strong Communities” effort. Some schools have grown while some neighborhood schools have suffered.

Hamline Elementary parents are watching on the sidelines. Hamline Elementary has a capacity of 583 students and a projected enrollment of 269 K-5 and 40 preschoolers for fall. After Jie Ming moves there would be room for Galtier students.

Hamline parent Jessica Kopp said parents there enjoyed working with Galtier parents on promoting neighborhood schools. “We are heartbroken for the Galtier community because we understand what it’s like to wonder and worry about the future of a place you love,” she said. “The Hamline community wondered and worried about their future from early May 2015 until the end of February 2016—that’s a long time to have a worried heart, and it’s a long time to work so hard for something and be unsure of the outcome. The Hamline Midway Community Schools process worked well for Hamline, and if it didn’t work for Galtier, we hope they have more time and the opportunity and support to become a permanent fixture in the Hamline Midway neighborhood.

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Sparky the Sea Lion Show turning 60

Sparky the Sea Lion Show turning 60

Posted on 10 May 2016 by Calvin

Story and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN

After a quiet winter of training, Como Zoo’s seventh Sparky the Sea Lion is ready to take to the stage on Memorial Day weekend—kicking off the 2016 season.

Sparky the Sea Lion 016The new Sparky has big flippers to fill. Her predecessor, a female named CC, retired last summer at the age of 25. Known for her elegance, CC was regarded as something of a sea lion diva.

Photo left: Subee’s eyes are checked during a training session with zookeeper Becky Seivert. The zookeepers use training as a communication tool because, as they like to say, “we don’t speak sea lion, and they they don’t speak English.”

Sparky VII has a very different personality, characterized by an exuberant style of swimming and diving. Her name is Subee, and she came to Como several years ago from a rescue center in California. One of her rear flippers had been severely damaged, almost certainly the result of a shark bite. The rescue center considered her unlikely to survive release, which made her an excellent candidate for zoo life.

Sparky the Sea Lion 101Photo right: Zookeeper Kelly Dinsmore in front of the old large cat exhibit at Como Zoo, which was built in 1931 as a WPA Project. The concrete pens and iron bars are a reminder of how far zoos have come in education, conservation and species preservation.

Kelly Dinsmore is a zookeeper for Como’s marine animal collection, which includes sea lions, harbor seals, polar bears, puffins, and penguins. “It’s important to understand that our animals aren’t taken from the wild,” she said. “They’re acquired either from other zoos or rescue centers.“

“Our training methods are very humane,” Dinsmore continued. “We don’t ask the sea lions to do anything they wouldn’t do on their own. Essentially, the ‘tricks’ Sparky performs in a show just build off of existing behaviors.“

All of the training exercises are geared toward animal husbandry, and the sessions are short: only four to five minutes, three times each day. “Essentially,” Dinsmore explained, “Sparky gets a full physical every time she trains. The trainer has a chance to check her eyes, test her joints for mobility, perform an ultra sound, or even take a voluntary blood draw if needed. In captivity, a sea lion can live to be more than 30 years old (twice the average length of a life spent in the wild). By developing trust through training, we’re able to manage the health care of our marine animals in a positive way.”

Sparky the Sea Lion 003Photo right: Zookeeper Laura Engfer worked with operant conditioning on CC, using the “sleep” command. This gave her a chance to examine the surface of CC’s skin and continue building trust with a gentle touch.

The training sessions are optional for Sparky and CC, but because they also serve as meal time, it’s rare that a session is passed up.

CC’s predecessor, Sparky V, was the first to receive a new kind of animal training at Como Zoo, called operant conditioning. This progressive approach to working with animals relies on positive reinforcement to stimulate the animal’s natural behaviors and encourages them to participate in their own healthcare. Over time, the operant conditioning program at Como was so successful that it expanded to include mammals, birds, amphibians and even reptiles.

Operant conditioning involves three steps. First, a behavior is named such as “sleep,” in which the sea lion lies down as if going to sleep. Then the trainer clicks a clicker, which serves as a bridge between the behavior and the reward. Next, the trainer gives a reward: in the case of the sea lions, either a herring or a capelin fish treat.

The trainers have been practicing since early spring on the empty stage before the zoo opens, getting Subee ready for her debut. Shows will start Memorial Day weekend and continue throughout the summer. There will be one show daily Mon.-Fri. at 11:30am; Sat.-Sun. there will be two shows daily at 11:30am and 3pm.



MN Legislative request
Como Zoo has requested $14.5 million from the Minnesota legislature, as part of the current bonding bill. According to Como Friends, the zoo’s nonprofit fundraising organization, the plan calls for several major upgrades including a salt-water filtration system, a shaded amphitheater, and underwater viewing areas. The multilayered habitat would give visitors more insights into the natural behaviors of marine animals, and would contribute in a positive way to zoo revenue and the local economy. It’s not too late to write or call your representative to express your opinion about the bonding bill. Como Zoo applied in 2014 (the bonding bill process takes place every other year) and was denied funds.

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Neighbors discuss concerns over stadium project

Posted on 10 May 2016 by Calvin


As Minnesota United FC stadium plans and a master plan for Midway Center redevelopment move ahead, project neighbors continue to weigh in with concerns and support. More than 100 people filled a MidPointe Event Center room Apr. 19 for a meeting sponsored by Neighbors Against Corporate Subsidies and Neighborhoods First!

The meeting was organized so that advocacy groups and neighbors could raise questions including the use of tax increment financing, infrastructure, tax-base impacts, noise, traffic, parking, and other issues. Organizer Tom Goldstein said the forum should have been held months ago, before a March City Council vote on stadium infrastructure and pollution cleanup financing and property lease agreements.

Superblock site planBut the greatest concern may be parking. When asked for a show of hands, more than half of those present indicated they are worried about spillover parking in the adjacent neighborhoods. When one speaker asked, “Where is parking going to be?” Someone else in the audience replied, “In front of your house.”

St. Paul Director of Planning and Economic Development (PED) Director Jonathan Sage-Martinson repeatedly said that the stadium project isn’t a done deal. Key steps must be taken before the two projects can move ahead. Master plans for the $150 million stadium and the shopping center must be reviewed and approved by the St. Paul Planning Commission and City Council.

“Nothing can be built before the master planning process is completed,” Sage-Martinson said. That is expected to conclude in August.

In the meantime city officials are studying potential traffic and environmental impacts, including the use of an Alternative Urban Area-wide Review (AUAR) to identify potential redevelopment impacts and how those can be mitigated. That also has to be completed before the project moves ahead.

He said city officials were very much aware of the spillover parking concerns. “We’ve heard that throughout the process, and it’s very much on our radar,” he said. City officials hope an ongoing transportation study provides answers.

The property will have about 4,500 parking spaces, most in ramps built into the proposed retail and office structures. There’s also a plan for a lot near Pascal and St. Anthony, which would have about 300 spots. That is for stadium personnel and what have been described as “select” guests. City officials are pushing transit options and remote parking.

Another key step is getting property tax relief and a liquor license passed for Minnesota United. Those issues have gotten through the 2016 Minnesota Legislature House and Senate committee process but haven’t been approved yet.

Several people said they appreciated the chance to ask questions and meet with city officials. Other than a 15- minute period at a community open house earlier this spring, the meeting was the first chance for discussion between city leaders and neighbors. Minnesota United FC and Midway Center owner RK Midway didn’t send representatives.

But there was frustration that not all of the development-related questions could be answered, given the fast pace of the ongoing planning process. “The city does not have it figured out,” said Goldstein. “The city does not have the answers tonight.” Sage-Martinson and Deputy Mayor Kristin Beckmann said they would take the groups’ questions and provide answers. Answers were recently posted on the group’s Facebook page.

Ward Seven Council Member Jane Prince and Rep. Dave Pinto joined Sage-Martinson and Beckmann on a panel that fielded questions. Prince was one of two council members voting against the stadium agreements. She objected to a lack of time given to review the documents before approval and the project coming forward before community review was complete. “I think this is a project that deserves much more public process,” she said. She criticized the notion of a stadium as a catalyst for economic development, calling it “magical thinking.”

Sage-Martinson said the success of CHS Field in Lowertown was proof that a stadium can spark development in a surrounding neighborhood. But several audience members objected, saying much of that redevelopment was happening well before the ball field opened.

Several people asked about shopping center redevelopment and the potential displacement of tenants. The plans call for replacing about 330,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space with two million feet of office and retail space, as well as housing and hotels. One man questioned whether development would happen at all, given the number of plans developed and then shelved. But because the stadium development would require the removal of Rainbow Foods and businesses to the east, there is an incentive for RK Midway to relocate tenants and start the redevelopment process.

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Transit for Livable Communities working to better Midway Como

Posted on 10 May 2016 by Calvin

For Executive Director Jessica Treat, definition of ‘transit’ is about movement


A trip to Europe planted a seed that grew into a planning career for Midway resident Jessica Treat.

Treat grew up in suburban Bloomington, MN and then attended college in Tempe, AZ, a place of massive urban sprawl. When she had the chance to travel to Europe, she saw how things could be different.

JessicaTreat_daughterPhoto left: When Treat bicycles with her six-year-old daughter from their home on Snelling to her sister’s house in Falcon Heights she heads all the way over to Lexington because she doesn’t feel safe biking on Snelling. (Photo submitted)

Back home, she enrolled in a planning class. “I learned that the environment we have around us is of our choosing,” Treat observed. “If you want to have a place that’s oriented towards cars that’s what you’ll get, but you don’t have to.”

She also learned it takes a community to agitate for change.

Treat brings those lessons to her position as the executive director of Transit for Livable Communities (TLC), 2356 University Ave. W. She was named to the position this past January.

“Transit for Livable Communities is very enthusiastic about this next chapter for our organization,” said board chair Adam Welle. “Jessica Treat is a smart, strategic leader and a passionate advocate for transit, bicycling, and walking in the region. Under her direction, Transit for Livable Communities will be well-positioned to advance our mission, grow our impact, and create positive change in Minnesota.”

Different level of vitality in the streets
Treat comes to Transit for Livable Communities from St. Paul Smart Trips where she had served as executive director since 2007. In addition to her eight-year tenure at St. Paul Smart Trips, she previously worked at the Midway Transportation Management Organization and served as the executive director of the Lexington-Hamline Community Council.

It was during her stint with the community council that she was propelled into the discussion about Twin Cities transit. Residents were debating what should be built at the southwest corner of Lexington and University. They wanted something that would work well with future transit. In the end, the Wilder Foundation building was constructed.

For Treat, the definition of “transit” is a broad one. While some think of transit as being about trains and buses, Treat defines it as “movement.”

She pointed out that big box stores are spread out and by their nature don’t lend themselves to tight-knit communities. But when you have bus stops and train stops that people are walking or biking to, they rub shoulders with strangers with whom they might not otherwise interact.
“There’s a difference,” Treat insisted. “There’s a different level of vitality in the street.”

Health and equity benefits
Treat is also passionate about transit because it offers her the ability to impact climate change directly. When she bikes, when she walks, when she rides the bus or the train, she’s able to limit her footprint and be kinder to the environment.

“The impact of personal transportation on the environment is important,” Treat stated.

Then there are the health benefits of transit that are important to her. “We live very sedentary lives in the United States and have significant problems with obesity and diabetes,” she pointed out. Transit offers a way for people to build physical activity into their day. “If you take the bus, you have to walk or bike a bit,” she said.

There’s also the equity side to transit. Owning and operating a car costs about $8,000 a year, which isn’t affordable for many, she observed. Transit gives people options to get to jobs and school.

Gaps in the Midway Como transit system
As a 12-year Midway homeowner, Treat has seen the big transit changes that came with the Green Line. She is looking forward to the start of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) A Line down Snelling in June. (Watch for article in next Monitor on the A Line.)

“It’s a significant change and the first in the region,” pointed out Treat.

But there are still some gaps in the system where things need to be buffed up. In particular, there are some bus lines that would benefit from greater frequency, especially at night and on the weekends.

Treat is paying attention to changes that will come with the proposed soccer stadium and hopes that it will include bicycling improvements.

There are also places where there are no sidewalks, such as in the industrial areas.

There’s a significant gap in one’s ability to get from the Midway to downtown Minneapolis via bicycle. The industrial areas and rail lines create real challenges there, according to Treat.

Snelling presents a barrier for those trying to cross it, despite the recent improvements of curb cuts and a wider median. The biggest problem is simply that vehicles don’t stop at crosswalks, she pointed out. That’s a city-wide issue.

When Treat bicycles with her six-year-old daughter from their home on Snelling to her sister’s house in Falcon Heights, she heads all the way over to Lexington because she doesn’t feel safe biking on Snelling.

And she gets nervous when she bikes along Pierce Butler or Energy Park Dr. because there aren’t designated bike lanes, and she can hear the cars close by.

Charles Ave., however, is a great roadway to bike on, and Treat would like to see more bicycle boulevards like it in the city. The roundabouts at intersections help slow cars down and allow bicyclists to avoid stopping.

“As a woman and a mom who rides, I’d like to see protected bike lanes,” Treat remarked, such as those in Minneapolis with some kind of barrier between cars and bikes. She’s not alone. TLC has heard from other women who feel the same way.

Lobbying efforts
Founded in 1996, Transit for Livable Communities is dedicated to transforming Minnesota’s transportation system to strengthen the community, improve health and opportunity for all people, foster a sound economy, and protect natural resources. TLC is the largest transportation advocacy organization in the state, with nearly 10,000 advocates and members, and a staff of 8 employees. TLC promotes a balanced transportation system that encourages transit, walking, bicycling, and thoughtful development.

TLC has been active this spring lobbying at the 2016 legislative session, pushing lawmakers for new investments in all modes of transportation in the Twin Cities, suburbs, and Greater Minnesota.

They’ve partnered with groups pushing for better streets and bridges. “I don’t like potholes anymore than a driver does,” Treat stated.

She added, “It’s an exciting time for the work we’re doing.”

Lutheran Social Services honored as transport leaders
Earlier this year, TLC recognized a number of organizations, including Lutheran Social Services (2485 Como Ave.), for their work as Transportation Leaders. Through a variety of ways, Lutheran Social Services is supporting transit, biking, and walking.

The benefits for companies are many, according to Treat. When employees are physically activity, they are healthier and more productive. Transit, biking and walking help people save money, as well.

Some companies certified as transportation leaders offer transit passes at discounted rates. Others make sure they have a place to store biking gear and have a shower available. Others make a point of stating on their websites how to get there via car, bike and transit.

Treat pointed out that millennials want to live in a place where they don’t necessarily have to own a car. “How you get around is part of the benefits package,” said Treat.

Learn more at www.tlcminnesota.org.

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Native Plant and Expo Market planned June 4 at Cub Pavilion

Posted on 10 May 2016 by Calvin

The annual metro-wide go-to event for native plants and educational exhibits is right on Larpenteur Ave.


Looking to add flowers and greenery to your property? Hoping to attract butterflies and birds to your garden, or make a difference in helping Minnesota wildlife? Do you want to learn more about plants that are native to the state? If you answer yes to any of the questions, look no further than the Native Plant and Expo Market on Sat., June 4 at the Cub Foods Community Pavilion, 1201 Larpenteur Ave W., Roseville.

“This is the go-to event in the Twin Cities if you’re interested in native plants,” said Nancy Schumacher, who owns The Vagary, a native plant growing business. Schumacher has been growing native plants with her husband for over 30 years and has participated in the annual Native Plant and Expo Market many times.

landscape revivalAttendance has increased over the years. In 2011, there were 400 attendees. Last year 1,800 people purchased plants at the market.

Photo right: The 2015 Native Plant and Expo Market saw great crowds. Last year 1800 people purchased plants at the market. Get there early to get the very best selection of plants for your yard! (Photo by Karen Eckman)

“This is a robust event because it’s hard to find native plants in the metro area,” said Leslie Pilgrim, event organizer and a volunteer at the non-profit Wild Ones that promotes Native Plant education in the Twin Cities.

According to Schumacher, Twin Cities residents have to drive about 30-40 miles out of town to purchase native plants. Her business is located 30 miles south in Randolph. Many growers like Schumacher do not have a retail store and instead come to into the Cities for farmers markets and events like the Expo Market.

“The idea is: let’s bring all these growers together in the cities for a one-day event,” she said.
A total of 12 growers are participating this year, and will be selling everything from potted flowers to shrubs and trees.

Why native plants?
“Native plants are multifunctional,” explained Pilgrim. “They have deep roots, conserve soil, filtrate water, provide pollen and nectar, and serve as a resource for birds.”

Many factors nowadays threaten pollinators’ habitats like climate change, land development, pesticides and non-native plants.

Choosing plants that are native to Minnesota and pesticide-free provides “clean food” for wildlife, said Pilgrim.

In addition, non-native plants “are not going to supply the same quality and quantity of nectar [as natives],” said Schumacher.

Many pollinators–like bees, butterflies, and birds–are dependent on specific plants for their survival.

“Insects are picky eaters,” Pilgrim explained. “Sometimes they don’t recognize these other plants [non-natives] as a food source or even a plant,” she said. This is because native plants have co-evolved with native insects and birds for thousands of years.

monarch on rose milkweedFor example, monarch butterflies are dependent on milkweed for food and to lay eggs; they cannot survive on other plants.

Photo left: A monarch butterfly on a rose milkweed. There are any number of milkweed varieties that can be grown in Minnesota. (Photo by Karen Eckman)

Their populations have declined by 90 percent in the last 20 years, says the National Wildlife Federation, which has prompted many communities to take action.

In March, Mayor Chris Coleman and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges signed the Mayors’ Monarch Pledge to restore habitats in the community and encourage citizens to join the cause. The Twin Cities are the 100th locale nationwide to take the pledge.

Monarchs will migrate from Mexico to the upper Midwest this summer, just in time for the Native Plant and Expo Market. Four types of Milkweed, which Monarchs naturally thrive on, will be available to purchase at the event.

Furthermore, native plants are more sustainable and ready to deal with Minnesota’s harsh winters.

“They are the toughest plants you can get it because they’re from here, so they have evolved to deal with our winters, climate factors, and soil conditions,” said Schumacher.

These plants are like an investment, said Pilgrim, because you know that they will come back next year.

When enough people invest in native plants in a neighborhood, these small patches connect and are called habitat corridors, according to an event press release. These corridors allow animals to move across the landscape and offset wildlife losses due to land development.

“If you don’t have host plants, you don’t have insects, and you don’t have wildlife,” said Pilgrim.

Educating the community
The Native Plant and Expo Market is more than just a sale; it’s an educational event for the community.

There will be a total of 12 exhibition educational participants at this year’s market to educate the public on environmental issues and assist customers in choosing plants that would be right for their property and Minnesota wildlife.

“They are all there strictly as volunteers wanting to get the word out about native plants and pollinators,” said Schumacher.

This year’s participants include Restoring the Landscape, Sue Prints Plants, St. Paul Audubon Society, University of Minnesota Bee Lab and Bee Squad, Monarch Joint Venture, Wild Ones, Blue Thumb, Capital Region Watershed, Ramsey Conversation District, Minnesota Wildflowers Information, Ramsey County Cooperative Weed Management Area and the Minnesota Native Plant Society.

These volunteers have a wide variety of expertise and are willing to share their advice for free, said Pilgrim.

According to Schumacher, this is a fairly competitive industry so plant prices at the market are about the same as they would be at a garden center.

She sells her smallest plants for a $1 a pop in a six pack, $3 for plants that are a little larger around 3.5 inches, and $8-10 for gallon potted plants. Outback nursery shrubs and trees sold by other growers are naturally more expensive. According to one of the grower participant’s online catalog, smaller trees cost as low as $21.45, and big trees can cost up to $160.

While some large-scale environmental issues make people feel powerless as individuals, investing in native plants to restore wildlife is a “practical solution” according to Pilgrim.

“Even if you have a small space, a pot on the back patio or an apartment balcony, you can still make a difference. What you plant matters,” she said.

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