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Como By The Lake seniors fighting to keep Section 8 Housing

Posted on 12 August 2015 by Calvin

Article and photos by CONNOR KLAUSING

Building1At the Como By The Lake senior housing complex, located on the south shore of Lake Como, residents are fighting to protect a Section 8 housing contract that subsidizes rent for 57 of the building’s low-income seniors.

The owners of the building, local attorney Jim Schwebel and businessman Gary Sauer, are selling the property, and have decided to let their Section 8 contract expire. If it does, previously subsidized apartments would be raised to market rate, making the units unaffordable for many of the current residents.

The move by the owners is made possible by the temporary nature of project-based housing. Under Section 8, the federal government provides financial assistance to either individuals or property owners to help reduce the cost of living for low-income people of all ages. When property owners receive money, the arrangement is referred to as project-based Section 8 housing.

In the case of Como By The Lake, the federal government provided subsidies to help pay for construction. In exchange, the owners signed a 30-year contract to provide a percentage of Section 8 housing in their building. But once a project-based contract is up, the owners have no obligation to continue the program. Residents who stay are eligible for enhanced vouchers, which would work as long as the new owners keep building a rental property.  However, if the building was converted to condos, for example, the voucher would lose its power. As a result, many tenants are left with the choice of either paying up or moving out.

For the seniors at Como By The Lake, there’s more than just housing at stake. Currently, seniors in the Como complex receive a broad array of services including nursing and health counseling provided by the North End-South Como Block Nurse Program.

Executive Director of the program Chris Langer explains, “The idea of our program is to keep seniors in their homes rather than nursing homes.” Seniors also get a daily community meal, health and exercise classes, and volunteer support. However, if units become market rate, seniors who can’t afford to stay will lose these services along with the apartment.

Another asset at stake for residents is the strong community that’s developed within Como By The Lake. “Most people that moved in here moved in with the intention of staying here,” says longtime resident Shirley Williams “Home is where the heart is, and people’s hearts are here. People love each other here; it’s like a big family.” All the residents interviewed seemed to agree—there’s a sense of community and family that goes beyond other apartments.

News of the changes at Como By The Lake first surfaced this spring. Property owners are required, by law, to give residents one year’s warning before a Section 8 contract is allowed to expire. At the Como complex, the warning letter came on Apr. 30. For residents of the community, the news was a complete shock. “After these letters I noticed how quiet it got around here,” noticed Williams. “People became worried about getting displaced. Some got so worried they became sick.”

People1Photo left: Como By The Lake residents (L to R) Jannet Troutman Simmons, Shirley Williams, Elaine Linehan, and Laurie Richardson discuss the impact the news that Section 8 Housing will have on their community. 

To address concerns among the residents, the owners sent a lawyer to answer questions at a community meeting. “But that meeting didn’t answer any of the questions we needed to know,” says resident Jannet Troutman Simmons. Rather than easing their minds, the meeting only heightened frustrations. “The attorney just repeated what was in the papers,” adds longtime resident Laurie Richardson. When I reached out to the owners, a lawyer responded, saying, “The owner is not able to discuss anything associated with the property during the pendency of the sale.”

Frustrated at the lack of transparency, a group of seniors, including Richardson and Simmons, organized the Como By The Lake Tenant’s Association. Homeline, a nonprofit Minnesota tenant advocacy organization, offered organizational support and resources for the group.

In their first action, the Tenant’s Association sent a packet of letters, information, and personal statements to the owners, as well as to local politicians and government officials. “The package explained our position and requested that the owners meet with us,” says Simmons. “We also expressed our desire to help as much as possible.” But a response from the owners never came, and most of the material was returned unopened.

For many residents, the anxiety was building. Richardson, who is blind and lives with other medical restrictions, says the prospect of finding a new place is overwhelming. “I would just sit there and cry… I cry thinking about it now,” she reflects. “Yes we can get an enhanced voucher, but if a private owner comes in and changes it to condos, we have to be out 120 days after Apr. 30, 2016. That’s the longest that enhanced voucher will keep us here.”

For others, like resident Elaine Linehan, it’s the unfairness that hurts. “We’re honest, hardworking people who have worked all our lives to educate our children, to pay our bills.” She pauses. “Now, in our later years we’re just stuck.”

The seniors have found some allies in local government. Amy Brendmoen, the city councilmember for Ward 5, has reached out to the property owners about financing tools available through the government that could help maintain the affordable senior living. “It was pretty clear from their letter that the owners were making a business decision,” she explains, “and of course, businesses are entitled to do business.” Still, she says, “There’s something here that we want to preserve, both in term of current tenants and in terms of having future affordable housing options for people to live in place as they age.”

Others, like County Commissioner Janice Rettman, hope that the next property owners can see the seniors as an asset to their community. “In the best scenario, the next owner will see the people there as value added,” says Janice hopefully. “They’ve added a lot to this community, and continue to add to this community. Really, they’re the biggest commodity.”

Although Simmons’ attention is focused locally right now, she also has hopes that the struggle in Como can help others organize nationwide. “I said, ‘What we need to be doing here is to gather our information to come up with a program that people in other places in other parts of the country can follow.’ I would love for us to have a St. Paul plan,” she says with a laugh. Then, more seriously, she adds, “People can’t fool around and wait because there are no laws protecting us.”

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Work Horse 13 slider

Workhorse Coffee Bar

Posted on 12 August 2015 by Calvin

New coffee shop promotes art in unexpected places

Article and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN

The storefront at 2399 University Ave. has been a coffee shop for more than 20 years: first the Prairie Star, then the Edge and, since May of this year, the Workhorse Coffee Bar. Co-owned by business partners and spouses  Ty Barnett and Shannon Forney, the space has been repurposed to suit their vision. “This business,” Forney said, “is our baby.”
As all new parents must, Barnett and Forney have defined their roles and are playing to their respective strengths.

Work Horse 13Photo left: Shannon Forney, business manager, and Ty Barnett, proprietor, are co-owners of the Workhorse Coffee Bar at 2399 University Ave. They are breathing new life into the old space, located in the historic Security Building (ca 1910). Their newly renovated coffee bar boasts the only original tin ceiling remaining in the building.

Barnett, a tinkerer by nature, loves the mechanics of making great coffee. A self-confessed motorcycle hoarder, she understands engines and moving parts both large and small. Her coffee equipment is in tip-top shape and, as the proprietor, she’s almost always the one behind the bar serving up sublime coffees and fragrant teas from 6am-6pm, Monday through Friday, and from 7am-5pm Saturday and Sunday.

Work Horse 19Photo right: More and more people are informally “officing” out of coffee shops these days. On a Saturday morning, Donald Stephens created illustrations for a graphic novel he was working on—with his coffee nearby. The portraits of Masanari Kawahara grace the walls above him. 

Forney works as the business manager while continuing to hold down a day-job as program director for the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council. She’s the Workhorse logistics specialist and described with pride a loan officer from the Neighborhood Development Council who helped them get started.

“The officer,” Forney said, “valued that we were a women-owned, local establishment. She also commented that we had the best-developed business plan she’d ever seen and that she loved our cash-flow projections.”

Barnett and Forney are a like a team of work horses. They have their individual talents but share an enthusiasm for the neighborhood, a strong desire to work hard and to welcome every customer who walks through their door. Forney said, “Nobody opens a coffee shop to get rich. You do it for the love, and you hope to earn a living along the way.

Like many coffee shops, Workhorse exhibits original art that changes every four to six weeks.  Barnett and Forney decided early on not to take a percentage of sales, as a way of supporting the work of community artists.

Currently on exhibit are the gentle, wide-eyed portraits of neighbor Masanari Kawahara, a resident of the C & E Lofts across the street. “All of art we choose to hang here,” Forney said, “is hyper-local.” Painter Eric Pearson is up next for exhibit on the walls and lives a block away in the Carleton Artist Lofts.

Work Horse 17Photo left: Shannon Forney holds the keys to the Smallest Museum in St. Paul. She and Ty Barnett were awarded a $5,000 Knight Grant to complete the project. Out of 868 proposals for the St. Paul Arts Challenge, only 42 applicants received funding.

Slightly less conspicuous is the famed Smallest Museum in St. Paul, located in a vintage fire hose cabinet—recessed into the exterior wall near the entry door. With help from the Knight Foundation’s St. Paul Arts Challenge, Barnett, and Forney were able to transform the 24” X 35” space into a micro-museum gallery. They believe that small art can make a big impact, and have lined up an ambitious monthly rotation of artists through June 2016. Up next is artist Ruthann Godollei with a small exhibit on micro printing.

“We hope to give visibility to artists living and working nearby with this project,” Forney said.  “The Smallest Museum in St. Paul invites pedestrians to consider art in unexpected places; it promotes a sense of humor and maybe some sidewalk conversation.”  Forney added that the project was inspired by Little Free Libraries, which pepper the Twin Cities.

Who knows? There might even be artists from Minneapolis vying for a spot there soon.

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Kinder Village 49

It’s not just child’s play

Posted on 12 August 2015 by Calvin

New Kinder Village at Episcopal Homes explores inter-generational community

Article and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN

The Episcopal Homes of Minnesota has been providing shelter and services to seniors for 121 years. Walking past their campus at Fairview and University avenues, you’re likely to hear an unexpected noise: the laughter of small children. In addition to the newly opened pool, fitness center, restaurant and hair salon, Episcopal Homes is now offering on-site child care in an innovative program called Kinder Village.

The concept behind the program is simple. Its goal is to bring senior residents and young children (from six weeks to five years) together, to build a more inter-generational community.

Kinder Village 62Pam Tufts, Kinder Village director, explained, “Our program is open to families in the neighborhood, grandchildren of residents and children of staff.” The philosophy of Episcopal Homes is that bringing elders and young children together will enhance the community for all.

Photo left: Pam Tufts, Kinder Village director, came from a corporate child care background where she managed centers of 125+ children. Kinder Village is licensed for 23 children, with a few spaces remaining. The small size, dedicated staff and interaction with residents offers children many opportunities for social engagement—and fun.

The child care center, located at 504 Lynnhurst Ave., is bright and cheerful with windows overlooking Iris Park across the street. Twice a day, weather permitting, the older children take hands and march outside to the Kinder Village playground with their teachers and a volunteer resident or two.

Kinder Village 49It’s a relationship that benefits everyone. Children get extra supervision and play time with caring adults. Seniors get the joy of “being children again themselves,” as resident Truus Ingebritson said. “I’m 89 years old. I still have a lot of responsibilities but when I’m with the kids, I feel like I can just play.”

Research has shown that children who regularly play with adults show more creativity and better problem-solving skills. According to the findings of Generations United, a non-profit dedicated to promoting inter-generational play, “engaging with adults supports children’s optimal cognitive and social development.”

What’s in it for the seniors?

Kinder Village 48Regular play offers psychological and health benefits to the elder population too, including reduced depression and anxiety. Building and maintaining relationships through play is associated with better mental and physical health, as well as a stronger sense of purpose.

“We have two residents who come to the child care center one afternoon each week,” Tufts said. “Neither of them has grandchildren of their own, but the kids here all call them Grandma. They engage with the children in different ways depending on the day, sometimes rocking babies to sleep or reading to the older children. In a society that is so stratified by age, this can only be described as a win-win situation.”

The playground volunteers and designated grandmas come from independent or semi-independent living situations. There are also opportunities for children to interact with seniors receiving more intensive services.

Kinder Village 18A wing of Episcopal Homes, called The Gardens, is Minnesota’s first nursing home facility designed around the trail-blazing model of “Green House Care.” In this model, quality of life is put at the center of daily life, and daily life is meant to resemble a home rather than an institution. Residents live in communities of no more than ten seniors and two caregivers. They can assist in preparing their meals and caring for their living space if they are able.

When the children visit The Gardens, they enjoy stories spoken or read by the caregivers and, in the process, become part of the residents’ lives.

Every other week, the children are invited to participate in music games with an Episcopal Homes music therapist in The Gardens. “The children may help residents with finger plays and gentle movement activities to music, as many of the residents are wheelchair bound,” according to Tufts. “All of this exposure to seniors really benefits our children, and vice-versa. Kinder Village is unique to Episcopal Homes of Minnesota and was the brainchild of our Chief Operating Officer Mike Karel.”

So, whether you are 9 or 99, if you’re looking for a fun, easy way to enjoy lifelong benefits for your heart and mind – PLAY.

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Midway Murals 11 slider

Midway Murals Project to debut Aug. 29

Posted on 12 August 2015 by Calvin

How spray paint and broken glass can beautify a neighborhood

Article and photo by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN

It’s been a long, hot summer of road construction, detours and delays along Snelling Ave. But when the dust clears on Aug. 22, there will be a new street, new lighting, new sidewalks and the beginning of a new era for Snelling—once considered the Main Street of Minnesota.

On Sat., Aug. 29 from 12-6pm, folks will have a chance to gather at Hamline Park (Snelling and Thomas avenues) to celebrate the changing face of the neighborhood at the Midway Arts Festival. There will be live art such as the Poetry Mobile, where you can talk to real, live poets; and Jon Reynold’s Street-Corner Letter Press, where you can experience printing done the old-fashioned way. Enjoy the food and culture of African, Vietnamese and Korean businesses in the neighborhood, and leave plenty of time to take a self-guided walking tour of the four new public art works brought to you by Midway Murals—one of the winners of this year’s Knight Arts Challenge Grant.

According to Jonathan Oppenheimer, project lead for Midway Murals, “Snelling Ave. is due for its renaissance.”

Midway Murals 11Photo right: Adrienne Sherman (left), Mosaic on a Stick employee, and Julie Dapper, volunteer, are two of the many pairs of hands helping Greene’s mural come to life. The ten or so volunteers who have contributed time are all experienced mosaic makers – some putting in as many as 20 hours/week on the project, as it comes down the home stretch.

“The intersection of Snelling and University,” Oppenheimer said, “is one of the busiest in the state, and that busy-ness has been a big part of its identity problem. A lot of people have a negative perception of Snelling and University. Our hope with Midway Murals is that people will be intrigued by what they see here. We hope the murals will enliven the neighborhood, inspire people to get out of their cars, and start experiencing all the great things we have to offer.”

Oppenheimer ought to know the strength and weaknesses of this neighborhood; he lives only a block away from Snelling and University. As a resident, he couldn’t help noticing how many times local businesses were “tagged” by graffiti and had to be repainted. As a public policy student at the Humphrey Institute and an intern at the Council on Crime and Justice, he started to wonder what kind of project could be a catalyst for change—especially during this time of reconstruction.

A series of murals seemed like the most impactful choice. The project set out with three goals in mind:
—to create an artist-led initiative that would engage the local community;
—to build a bridge across cultural divisions; and
—to bring new opportunities for economic growth.

Midway Murals was made possible with a $25,000 Knight Arts Challenge Grant.

Oppenheimer and his creative team were able to raise matching funds through an enthusiastic Indiegogo campaign.

Once the money was in place, Oppenheimer invited four local artists to design and create the project murals. Along with the addresses where their murals can be seen, they are:
—Lori Greene, mosaic artist (555 Snelling);
—Greta McLain, painter and mosaic artist (512-520 Snelling);
—Eric Mattheis, graffiti-style spray painter (638 Snelling); and
—Yoya Negishi, traditional Japanese and American idiom painter (681-89 Snelling).

With the artists on board, Oppenheimer began the process of meeting business owners along Snelling Ave. He walked from door to door over several months explaining how public art can be a powerful medium, and how it can be used to connect with people on the streets. “Placing these murals in our neighborhood will be a way of reclaiming it,” he told people, “of demonstrating that this place where we live and work is valued and cared for.”

There’s nothing small about the dream of Midway Murals, and there’s nothing small about their size either. Lori Green, owner of Mosaic on a Stick at the corner of Lafond and Snelling, has been working on her project seven days a week since early July. Once completed, it will measure 50’ wide by 10’ tall.

Midway Murals 02Photo left: Lori Greene, a full-time mosaic artist for 17 years, specializes in public and community art projects. Her bold colors and forms evoke a sense of strength, power and memory.

Greene, who draws her artistic inspiration from the African and Native American cultures she was born into, has been partnering with Ethiopian business owner Hassan Hussein of the Gennale Barber Shop for Midway Murals. Hussein is excited to see the Ethiopian-inspired images Greene has created with her cadre of volunteers that will soon cover the wall on the north side of his business.

Hussein explained that his barber shop is named for the Gennale River in Southern Ethiopia and that, “while many people think of Ethiopia as a desert, it is a place of great beauty.” He went on to address the complexity of his birth-country, saying, “In Ethiopia, everybody speaks Amharic—that’s our national language. But there are as many as 80 other nationalities within Ethiopia, each with their distinctive language, culture and traditions.”

Midway Murals 20Photo right: Hassan Hussein’s Gennale Barber Shop and the African Plaza at 555 Snelling will receive Lori Greene’s mural of Ethiopian images. He said of the Midway Murals project, “I like the idea of taking pieces of broken glass, and putting them together to make something beautiful.”

The other business owners whose walls will be home to Midway Murals are also Ethiopian, Eritrean or Oromo. As part of the creation of the Little Africa cultural corridor here, the highly visible murals should help business owners market themselves and their neighborhood together, and hopefully serve as a bridge across cultural differences.

Jon Reynolds, project support artist, said, “With Midway Murals, everybody has dared to dream big. In the beginning, in the middle and in the final stages, it’s always been about bringing people together.”

Despite having met the challenge of the Knight Grant, Midway Murals is still seeking to raise $8,000 to ensure the artists are paid a fair and living wage. Donations can be made online at www.midwaymurals.com, or by sending a check to the Hamline Midway Coalition, with “Midway Murals” written in the memo line.

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Taco Bell 2

Taco Bell wants permit to rebuild aging restaurant

Posted on 12 August 2015 by Calvin

Planning Commission wants restrictions on restaurant’s drive-through and operations


Taco Bell 1Taco Bell wants city approval to rebuild its aging restaurant at 565 N Snelling Ave. But the conditional use permit, under study by the St. Paul Planning Commission for an Aug. 21 vote, could restrict restaurant drive-through window and operations. Conditions are eyed to address what neighbors and some Planning Commission members contend is a longstanding pattern of nuisance behavior.

The permit request has roiled the neighborhood, with some people liking the restaurant’s extended drive-through hours and others describing it as “taco hell.”

Hamline Midway Coalition and neighbors recommended denial of the permit, as did city planning staff. But denying the permit and not allowing the restaurant owner, Border Foods, to rebuild is seen by some Planning Commission members as simply allowing the existing restaurant to operate in a disruptive manner.

The conditions may include setting drive-through hours from 7am until midnight Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, with 1am closing Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

Other conditions focus on litter collection, time and location of deliveries, use of off-duty police or private security from 10pm until closing, and other conditions meant to reduce impacts on neighbors.

The window is currently open until 4am on weekdays and 5am weekends. A city staff study showed that the hours are some of the longest in the city.

All fast food restaurants and all drive-through uses in St. Paul require conditional use permits  to regulate hours of operation, noise, and distance from other uses. Taco Bell needs its new permit modified so its drive-through can be less than the 60 feet minimum from an Edmund Ave. home. The restaurant owners also want 20 parking spaces (which is more than required) and to have lower percentages than required for exterior landscaping, and window and door openings. The Planning Commission recommended approval of 18 parking spaces and approved a landscaping variance but sent the building plans back to the drawing board by rejecting the variance to door and window openings.

What is now Taco Bell was built in 1973 as Zapata restaurant. Its zoning at that time was commercial. The zoning was changed over Border Foods’ objections in 2011, becoming traditional neighborhood. That rezoning was done as part of long-range land use planning along Green Line light-rail.

Taco Bell 2City records show that Zapata got a conditional use permit for the restaurant in 1973. But the city has no records of zoning or building permits being pulled when the drive-through window was installed. So there never was the chance for the city to put conditions on the drive-through window because it never received a conditional use permit.

Neighbors Mark and Kristine Vesley, who live just west of Taco Bell, contended last year that Taco Bell is a nonconforming use in the traditional neighborhood zoned area. The city zoning administrator disagreed but indicated that when a new drive-through window is proposed, a new conditional use permit is required. The Vesleys lost a case before the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals.

Barb Schneider, Border Foods Vice President, said the permit and variances should be granted. She said variances are needed because of the small site and the desire to accommodate parking. She and other restaurant representatives also said Taco Bell is working with St. Paul Police to control behavior.

But neighbors said the restaurant has, over the years, added to its hours of operations and become a nuisance. Neighbors say their current hours till 4am and 5am makes it a magnet for people after bar closing. They described loud noise, drunken behavior, loitering, littering and public urination.

“I can stand in my back yard and take orders,” said Thomas Ave. resident Bernie Hesse.
Kristine Vesley said the noise and behavior have gotten worse, and that hours need to be restricted. She asked that the drive-through be closed at midnight weekdays and 1am on weekends.

“This has become too intense a use to be next to a residential area,” said Mark Vesley. He and others said the drive-through hours increased with no neighborhood notice. The restaurant staff doesn’t respond to requests to turn down the speaker boxes.

Planning Commission members originally discussed denying the request but laid over the issue to allow time for staff research. Several commissioners said they took seriously the six pages of police reports between 2012 and 2015, as well as the videotapes made of late-night patron behavior.

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Hamline-Midway Spring Picnic 040

Photo Memory: Hamline Midway 2015 Spring Festival is huge success

Posted on 07 July 2015 by Calvin


Hamline-Midway Spring Picnic 01The Hamline-Midway Spring Festival took place at on the fields behind Hancock Recreation Center on June 16th. There were opportunities for good deed-doing at the festival. On arriving, picnic-goers could bring a non-perishable food item to the Franciscan Brothers of Peace Food Shelf, or give old electronics to Tech Dump, or drop off old shoes with Shoe-Away Hunger. Art making, resource information and eclectic, delicious foods were plentiful. The Festival offered up a great taste of what makes Hamline-Midway such a lively and thriving community.

Hamline-Midway Spring Picnic 010Egg Plant Urban Farm Supply brought a real, live chicken to the picnic. They offer classes in raising chickens, honeybees, edible mushrooms and much more at their Selby Avenue Store.





Hamline-Midway Spring Picnic 024The St. Paul Police Mounted Patrol Foundation consists of six full-time officers and six horses. They are a regular presence at St. Paul festivals throughout the year. While providing law enforcement, they also educate and interact with the public to build positive community relations.

Hamline-Midway Spring Picnic 027People were invited to write a wish for their Hamline-Midway neighborhood on the Community Wishing Pole. Wishes ranged from the practical (more food trucks!) to he whimsical (community music nights).





Hamline-Midway Spring Picnic 032Hamline-Midway Elders is the one-stop resource to connect elders, caregivers and neighbors to resources that will help seniors live independently at home.




Hamline-Midway Spring Picnic 040The Arthritis Foundation welcomed young and old to interactive games at their booth. Through classes, events, research grants, and advocacy activities, they’re raising awareness and funds to help reduce the pain of arthritis.





Hamline-Midway Spring Picnic 042Neighborhood artist Adam Reef showed his hand-painted, leaded glass artwork.

Hamline-Midway Spring Picnic 064Human Foosball sponsored by Can Can Wonderland–the next Olympic sport?

Hamline-Midway Spring Picnic 080The A La Plancha food truck runs on used vegetable oil from its deep fryer. The biodiesel-powered truck started served up its Guatemalan-inspired cuisine.

And the family-style event brought smiles to everyone who attended!Hamline-Midway Spring Picnic 026 Hamline-Midway Spring Picnic 044 Hamline-Midway Spring Picnic 047 Hamline-Midway Spring Picnic 050 Hamline-Midway Spring Picnic 054 Hamline-Midway Spring Picnic 058 Hamline-Midway Spring Picnic 073 Hamline-Midway Spring Picnic 075 Hamline-Midway Spring Picnic 082 Hamline-Midway Spring Picnic 084 Hamline-Midway Spring Picnic 096

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Erik Pearson 11

Make it Here! Many hands at work in Creative Enterprise Zone

Posted on 06 July 2015 by Calvin

Article and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN

Erik Pearson 02The Creative Enterprise Zone (CEZ) is one of six newly established cultural and business districts along the Green Line Corridor. It extends from Prospect Park on the west to Prior Ave. on the east, and from Energy Park Dr. on the north to I-94 on the south.

Photo right: The Carleton Artist Lofts between Hampden and Carleton streets in the Creative Enterprise Zone. These subsidized, affordable apartments for people connected to the arts offer many amenities including studio and rehearsal space, a close-knit community and easy access to the Green Line.

At most recent count, according to writer Catherine Reid Day, board chair of the Creative Enterprise Zone, there are more than 500 creative enterprises within its boundaries. Reid Day said, “We are actively working on retaining and attracting light manufacturing and new creative enterprises to the CEZ. Our motto is: make it here!”

Reid Day explained that visioning for the CEZ began more than two decades ago, coming out of conversations between working artists and makers. “This is a cultural and business district that was already well-established,” she said. “The intention now is to maintain what’s already here with artist and maker studios, residences and live-work spaces.”

In 2009, one of the neighborhood anchors, the C&E Building on the corner of Pelham and University, was purchased by developers. It had long been home to floors of artist studios, and the loss of it was a real blow to the local community. People quickly realized that if they didn’t organize, other buildings with the affordable, ample space artists and makers need would soon be slated for re-development.

“We’ve always known that the formal establishment of the CEZ would take the work of many people,” Reid Day said. “All along we’ve partnered successfully with government officials and planners and have enjoyed an especially good relationship with the St. Paul City Council.”

Resident artists, makers and light manufacturers in the neighborhood started the momentum for the CEZ, and with the help of government and finance partners it has become a solid reality.

Erik Pearson 11Erik Pearson of Shipwrecked Studio is a longtime resident of the CEZ. He makes art at his studio in the Dow Building at 2442 University Ave. and then walks home to the Carleton Artist Lofts (CAL) across the street where he lives with his wife, Deanna. They moved to the CAL building in 2006, just a month after it opened.

Photo left: The Superior, WI native named his creative enterprise Shipwrecked Studio. He said, “The big lake just stays with you,” and professes to have a love for all things nautical. In addition to being a talented painter, sculptor, woodworker and sailor, Pearson is a dedicated musician and gigs regularly with his band The Old Smugglers.

Pearson, a painter/muralist, sculptor, and musician, said CA provides subsidized, affordable housing for artists. “I’ve never lived in a place where I’ve known so many people,” he added. “Everyone here is connected to the arts in one way or another: as a working artist, a passionate hobbyist, an arts administrator or what have you. There are about 175 apartments in our three buildings, and we’ve built a strong sense of community.

Watch for arts and culture events happening here throughout the year, including our art crawl in the spring and fall when we turn our apartments into galleries and art-making spaces.”

Erik Pearson 03Photo right: Pearson with one of his paintings.

Pearson realized from the beginning that he would need a studio space separate from where he lived. Since his early days in the art department at the University of WI in Superior, his hometown, Pearson’s paintings have just gotten bigger and bigger. His largest installation to date has been an exterior mural commissioned by the Bloomington Theatre and Art Center that measured 38 ‘ high and 65’ wide. Pearson uses a 4” brush and loads of scaffolding to produce his stylized characters inspired by German expressionist Max Beckmann, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, and contemporary poster art.

Nicole Fierce of Fierce Design Studio is a glass blower and a brand new resident of the CEZ. Her 3,200 square foot gallery and in-process workspace are located in the Midwest Commercial Building at 2500 University Ave. Fierce searched for the new space for months. A bright green door on Cromwell Ave. opens directly into her gallery and it was this street presence, along with easy access from the Green Line, which sealed the deal.

Fierce Glass 106Photo left: Every glass object is shaped and smoothed with a wad of newspapers. According to Fierce, “The NY Times is best, having the lowest percentage of clay components in the newsprint. The Star Tribune holds up okay, the Pioneer Press falls apart, and the community papers are just too small.“

Fierce has been repurposing her space since she moved in last January. She has gutted rooms, removing dropped ceilings, installed track lighting, skim coated and painted concrete floors and, last but not least, hired three graffiti artists to make the walls shine. Her eye-catching logo, painted on the side of the Midwest Commercial Building says it all: FIERCE GLASS. Beauty born in fire. Never fragile – always classy.

Fierce Glass 111Photo right: Fierce always blows glass with a partner. “It’s like a dance,” she said, “when two people are really in sync with each other. With my best apprentices, we don’t speak in full sentences, just nods, and grunts. We’re working with glass that’s been

heated to 2,200 degrees. We need to be very observant and responsive toward each other.” When her two furnaces are up and running this fall, Fierce plans to roll the garage doors open on Franklin Ave. so people can see what’s going on. She understands as well as anyone how mesmerizing molten glass can be, and she appreciates the “chemistry of interest” when people walk by.

Asked how she became a glass blower, Fierce answered, “I took one class four years ago and was completely hooked. I blew for a year, continued to learn from community glass artists, and then jumped in with everything I had.”

That seems to be the sentiment of many artists and makers working in the CEZ. The beauty of the formalization of the district is that it will foster even more cooperation and shared opportunities for artists, makers, and light manufacturers.

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1538 Englewood 2

Group plans strategy against housing demolition

Posted on 06 July 2015 by Calvin

The group, Historic Hamline Village, hopes to engage the new president at Hamline University


1549 Minnehaha 2Neighbors concerned about Hamline University’s demolition of homes vow to stay involved. Several also want to continue to see what they can do to save 1549 Minnehaha Ave., although there are still questions as to accomplish that. There is frustration with the slow pace of community-university talks and how to save homes from wrecking crews. There are also concerns that the city isn’t doing enough to help the neighborhood.

Photo right: Neighbors still would like to save the historic home at 1549 Minneaha Ave., but are unsure of whether or not it can be accomplished.

More than two dozen neighbors attended an update meeting June 25 at Hamline Church United Methodist. The activists’ group Historic Hamline Village organized the meeting. Neighbors heard information on 1549 Minnehaha as well as efforts to have a historic properties survey completed for the neighborhood.

They also reviewed two upcoming city efforts. One, which will be heard by the St. Paul City Council at 5:30pm Wed., July 15, will set residential design standards for new infill housing in Ward 3. If that standard is expanded citywide, it could affect Hamline Midway and other neighborhoods.

The second effort is a St. Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development (PED) study of campus boundaries and the issue of Hamline University and other schools buying land outside of their city-approved boundaries.

While discussions June 25 were wide-ranging, there was agreement that more public meetings are needed. There was also discussing of getting neighbors involved with anti-residential teardown efforts citywide and efforts such as putting neighborhoods in conservation districts.

There is also eagerness to engage with a new Hamline University president as Fayneese Miller took office July 1.

Demolition of five properties including the former “White House” university president’s residence prompted an uproar last year. Ward Four Council Member Russ Stark’s office stepped in. After a large community meeting in September 2014, neighbors hoped for a process to discuss the issues of demolition and campus expansion. The university also agreed to a one-year moratorium on tear-downs, which expires Oct. 1.

1538 Englewood 2Photo left: The home at 1538 Englewood is also on the long-range plan for the University to demolish.

But a five-month delay before a university-requested facilitator could step in was one frustration, said Historic Hamline Village member Tom Goldstein. He and others said that while they understand that the University is transitioning to a new administration, neighbors are unhappy with the slow pace of talks.

“We feel there is a disconnect,” Historic Hamline Village member Roy Neal said. Neighbors would like to see Hamline University do what other St. Paul schools have done, such as have a formal neighborhood liaison staff position or even provide funds to improve housing near campus.

Neal said there are two parallel threads of discussion. One is that of neighborhood preservation. The other is community engagement. “We should be working hand in hand with the university to promote the neighborhood,” he said.

Another concern is that while neighbors were told that an 1880s-era home at 1549 Minnehaha Ave. would be sold for $1 or turned over to nonprofit for rehabilitation, they learned that was not a formal offer, but a suggestion. The home is classified by the city as a Category II vacant property and needs a long list of property code violations corrected before it can be sold.

University officials didn’t attend the meeting. Spokesperson Jacqui Getty said the university doesn’t have plans to remove the house in the foreseeable future and that, in November, University trustees will consider a viable offer to purchase and rehab the property. But Goldstein said it’s a great source of frustration that there is no formal offer to transfer house ownership.

In an email, Getty said, “We had purchased the property a few years ago with a plan to remove the house. It is in significant disrepair and was that way when we bought it. Over the past several months, however, we’ve been in discussions with neighbors, some of whom have expressed an interest in coming up with a proposal to purchase the property from the university so they can rehab the house. Our Facilities Committee of the Board of Trustees is willing to consider that, and the committee members will review any such proposals at their November meeting. It is possible that the committee may determine that before they can make any decision about divesting of property that we may need to update our campus master plan. The last time we updated such a plan, it took a year.”

Attendees at the meeting said they also want to see the university reopen discussions of its 2008 master plan. It shows plans to add student housing, parking, classroom space and green space, much in places where 27 structures stand or stood. Some neighbors hoped the University would revisit the issue in light of stagnant university enrollment and the recent law school merger.

Getty said, that the next steps forward, as advised by the facilitators, likely will entail the creation of a neighborhood engagement or advisory group and a community update meeting this fall. She said that the engagement/advisory group would be a good vehicle for ongoing discussion of issues and opportunities that are important to both neighbors and the university. That discussion could include campus master planning. She added that the fall meeting would also be a good opportunity to talk through broader community engagement plans.

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Alex Liuzzi 1 slider

Como author writes book on transgender child

Posted on 06 July 2015 by Calvin


Alex Liuzzi 3The struggles and emotions of Joey, a nine-year-old child who is dealing with the knowledge that she is a girl growing up in a boy’s body, come alive on the pages of Alex Liuzzi’s book, “I Am Here.”

Como area resident Liuzzi said he has been writing since he was 12 and has explored a lot of different styles of writing, but he has found that taking on the voice of a child has helped him reach emotions much more easily.

“They are more raw, without a sense of vagueness behind them,” he said. “You get what the child is feeling immediately, and how they can react to these emotions.”

For this book, published in April, Liuzzi drew on his teaching experience, as well as his experiences in high school and college.

About ten years ago he was teaching at a middle school. “I had a rainbow flag on my door and often allowed very open conversations with my students,” Liuzzi recalled. “Some students felt very discriminated against based on their sexual orientation, so they asked me to start a Gay Straight Alliance with them.”

Liuzzi said these students opened up about the struggles they faced that adults didn’t seem to be helping with or even allowing them to participate in. He said the students in middle school were just starting to face their sexuality, but for many of them it was gender confusion.

“How do they have that conversation with adults, and how do other kids see them?”

Liuzzi said he switched from teaching at a public school to a private Quaker school, which had very open values and conversations with students, with mutual respect for everybody.

“It seemed like things were changing. But then I switched back to teaching in public schools and while there was more openness, there was a little anger from some kids when other kids stepped outside the established norms.”

Liuzzi said he also drew on his experiences during high school and college with the gay community in writing this book and creating some of the characters.

Liuzzi said he started the book with the premise that the core character, Joey, was a child who was confused about her  gender. “But as soon as I started writing, I knew the book would be about more than gender confusion. This child was going to know she was in the wrong body.”

Liuzzi said as he progressed with the book, he let the other characters come in, and the story unfold.

“With some novels I have gone back, and made lots and lots of edits and taken out some of the characters,” Liuzzi explained. “That wasn’t the case with this one.” He said it felt like every character was doing something for the transition in Joey’s life

“There was a purpose for every character, and it doesn’t always happen that way,” Liuzzi continued. “Some characters feel right when they’re coming out, and then I go back and they feel like they’re a waste of space.”

This book is Liuzzi’s third published novel. His first was “Center of the Universe,” a second person narrative written in a “you do this, you do that” sort of voice. “It’s about a 24-year-old who is going through a life crisis, and it’s a little quirky,” he said. His second novel was called “Over Mud Creek” and is told in the first-person voice of an eight-year-old. His family takes in and fosters a homeless child, and the story is about his interaction with that child and his family.

“That book and the current one are the only two younger voices I have used, of the many books sitting on my shelf that are not published,” Liuzzi said with a smile. “They still need lots of editing.”

Doing the editing is the hardest part of the writing process for Liuzzi. “It’s going back and seeing how I can help say things better, have an order and flow. It’s always felt unnatural.”

He took a class at the Loft 10 years ago that he said was essential in helping him see that editing is a necessary part to make the book readable and not just a voice coming through.

“Writing is the easiest part,” Liuzzi said. “As soon as I get a character that speaks to me, it is the easiest thing in the world. I sit down, and I don’t want to stop. The character becomes very separate from it. It is me making sure their voice is heard vs. me working to write.”

Liuzzi’s first writing experience at 12 was a Halloween story about two characters wanting to push each other down a well. “It was sort of a scary story of how it was going to happen,” he said. “I haven’t read it in a long time, but I think it was pretty horrible. But the teacher read it to the class, and I remember thinking that maybe I could tell stories in that way.”

He wrote short stories for a few years and then started writing poetry in high school. In college, it was back to short stories, and he wrote his first novel when he was 21.

Liuzzi got his undergraduate degree in history and taught social studies for many years. He left teaching to do a Ph.D. in international development. “After finishing half my program, we became pregnant with another child,” he said. “I have two teenagers. Now I stay at home and watch my five-month-old part-time and work at the Minnesota Board of Teachers part-time. So the amount of time for writing has actually shrunk.”

But no matter what he has been doing, Liuzzi has kept writing. “Writing is the one creative expression I have to do,” he said. “I have done other creative things in my life, but they come and go. Writing is some part of me that needs to be released.”

He usually has written at a desk in his bedroom, but a recent move provided him with an office. He writes at night or early in the morning while the rest of the family is asleep. “I can’t write when other people are around or awake,” he noted.

Liuzzi has already started his next novel, a science fiction story about a woman who has lost her father.

Although Liuzzi usually has his characters struggling with some issue, he said he always likes there to be some lightness to his books.

“I’m a happy ending person,” he explained. “When I read or write, I like there to be some sense of hope at the end.”

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Hamline Galtier schools slider

Parents seek solutions to save neighborhood schools

Posted on 06 July 2015 by Calvin

Steady enrollment decline threatens the future of Hamline Elementary or Galtier community schools


Declining enrollment in Hamline Elementary and Galtier Community schools has raised concerns among parents. They gathered June 8 at Hamline Elementary, 1599 Englewood, along with representatives from the St. Paul Public Schools, to discuss the matter.

Expressing satisfaction with the opportunities and offerings of both schools, parents wanted to know how to raise enrollment figures and make sure that one of the schools would not face closure in the next couple of years.
Jessica Kopp, who has a daughter at Hamline Elementary, said that when her daughter started school, every teacher she talked to was inspiring and amazing.

Hamline Galtier schoolsPhoto left: Parents, public school officials, and concerned community residents met June 8 to discuss the continued declining enrollment at Hamline and Galtier schools. It was a brainstorming/working session. (Photo by Jan Willms)

“I know that every day my daughter has come here for the past few years, she has been well taught,” Kopp said. “She’s a smart kid, and she is not being short-changed coming here. She is being challenged. Her teachers recognize her ability and also offer her opportunities in areas she needs to improve. They have taught long enough and have experience and intuition. I can’t imagine a world where my daughter doesn’t get to have an awesome teacher.”

Kopp also praised the Hamline to Hamline collaboration, a partnership between the elementary school and Hamline University. “The University has people and services our kids can access,” she said. She described the 5th-grade class pairing with the college law school, holding a mock trial on campus in which the elementary students play the roles of defense and prosecuting attorneys. The grade schoolers can also use the pool at Hamline University. “It’s like a second campus,” Kopp said.

Kopp commented on the Hamline University students who come over to assist with classes at the elementary school. “These are enthusiastic young people who are patient with the children,” Kopp said. “I have watched how they crouch down and engage with children at their level, helping with schoolwork or comforting them when they have a bad day. You don’t get that at many places.”

Mara Martinson, a Galtier parent of a kindergartner, said she had been a student at Hamline University and had been a part of the Hamline to Hamline collaboration. She said she had initially heard Galtier had gone through changes, and there were concerns with behavior problems and test scores. She added that after starting her child there, she had decided to stay.
“The change in principal and staff could not be better,” Martinson said. “The principal knows every child’s name; he knows my husband’s name and what he likes to do in his spare time.” She said she was happy with the children’s behavior and their support for each other.

“My personal experience has been nothing but positive,” Martinson added, “and my daughter has shown a lot of growth in the last three years.” The Galtier Community School parent said she grew up in a small town, and the Midway offers that same small-town feeling. “I want urban, but also the experience of my kids’ riding bikes down to their friends’ houses,” something that goes along with a community school.

“I can’t say enough about my experience at Galtier and what it means to my daughter,” Martinson said.

Jackie Turner, chief engagement officer for St. Paul Public Schools, told the parents at the meeting that she was excited about the opportunity to collaborate with them on a solution.

“No decisions have been made about Hamline or Galtier,” she assured them. “We do know we have some realities to face, but it is an opportunity for us at the grassroots level.”

She described Hamline and Galtier as looking different in the school year of 2012-13. “Hamline was a district-wide magnet, and so was Galtier,” she said. “That meant that families from all over the district could choose to come to Hamline or Galtier.” She described Galtier as a technology magnet and Hamline as a language academy. She said Hamline had 550 students at the time. In 2013-14, Jie Ming, the Mandarin Immersion Academy, and Hamline were located at the Hamline school, with 490 students. She said that in 2014-15, Hamline Elementary was down to 291 students, excluding pre-K.

They project 250 students for the Hamline community school for the coming school year.

“The enrollment has steadily declined over the past three years,” she noted, “for no particular purpose, just different types of programming.”

Turner said the school district is looking all over the city at different growth patterns. The elementary population is growing on the east side, with a little bit of a bump in the Highland and Groveland areas. She said the most significant growth is on the east side, and they will need a new middle school. ”We don’t always have the right buildings in the right places,” she stated.

Turner said more numbers of kindergartners are needed at Hamline Elementary, enough so that two classes could be formed.

“If we can have some commitment from parents, we might be able to work hard and get a second section of kindergarten,” Turner noted. “We’re going to be as flexible and open as you want us to be.”

She said the district will be surveying parents to find out why they may have left St. Paul public schools.

Talking in small groups, parents attending the meeting June 8 came up with some ideas to promote their community schools. Getting the word out about the Hamline to Hamline collaboration was a top recommendation. Another was getting prospective families together to visit the school and feel more comfortable with it.

Some said that as parents, they were excited about having an art and music curriculum in the school.

Being proactive and marketing Hamline and Galtier was also emphasized. Suggestions were made to have a table at the Fair in conjunction with Hamline University, and to be a presence at community events.

“We need to have a show of force and a show of love for our community schools,” one parent stressed.

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