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Bonnies Cafe_5363

Neighborhood ‘community’ closes its doors

Posted on 12 April 2016 by Calvin

Bonnie’s Cafe forced to close after 38 years on University Ave.

Personal reflections from waitress MARIA HERD

“How would you like your eggs with that?”

After graduating from Hamline University last year, I set out to pursue a career in journalism. I had been itching to get out in the world and ask hard questions to policymakers and those who influence our community. But with a competitive job market, I found myself waitressing at a cafe and asking different types of questiocasns.

Bonnies Cafe_5363“For your toast that comes with the meal, would you prefer white, wheat or English muffin?”

However, a job that I took to make ends meet, ended up being a window into a community, a family-run business and a piece of St. Paul history that I feel grateful to have been a part of.

Bonnie’s Cafe (photo left by Maria Herd), 2160 University Ave., was opened in 1978 by Juanita “Bonnie” Roell. Bonnie passed away in 2013 with cancer and gave the cafe to her daughters to run.

When I first started working at Bonnie’s last summer, I learned a lot about Bonnie just from all the articles that were posted around the cafe.

The year she died, the City of Saint Paul designated June 5 as Bonnie Roell Day, honoring her for creating a lasting neighborhood diner that served generations of customers, as well as her “entrepreneurship and character.”

And from an old Midway Como Monitor article, “But she was also well-known for hiring staff from all walks of life, and for making an effort to give jobs to those in need of a second chance.”

I can’t tell you how many times an older customer would tell me, “Oh I use to come here all the time in the 80s, the place hasn’t changed a bit.”

“Then you must have known Bonnie,” I would usually say.

And everyone did know Bonnie. The way they spoke about the woman seemed to bring her to life—sometimes I felt like she could walk through the kitchen any minute.

They went on about her big heart, her graciousness, always making sure that no one left her cafe hungry, even if they couldn’t afford it.

Bonnie’s legacy lived on. I saw that same spirit among the customers during my time waitressing.  On several occasions, a customer gave me extra money for their bill and asked me to put it toward another person’s bill who appeared in need of a helping hand.
It would warm my heart when it was my turn to pass along the message that their meal was covered by a kind stranger. It’s not every day that you see someone’s face light up like that.

Furthermore, after the cafe closed at the end of March, our cook Chris Johnson organized to donate the leftover food to the Union Gospel Mission and Lutheran Church Wellness Center, which fed over 200 people.

“My message is to uphold my mother’s impeccable reputation, her dignity, and respect for others. Let it be known I did everything to carry out her legacy, of which I couldn’t have done without our stand-up staff members, our dedicated customers, our community and supporters, every single person who walked through those doors,” Bonnie’s daughter and owner Becky Moosebrugger told me as her final statement about the cafe.

How Bonnie’s Cafe had to close finally after almost 40 years, was really, really sad. The Dubliner, the bar next door, made a deal with the landlord to take over the space and turn it into a restaurant. Becky hadn’t known about the negotiations and had no say in the matter.

What’s even more sad, is that Becky was planning to give the cafe to her children. Her son’s fiancee, my manager Allie, worked at Bonnie’s for over two years. Bonnie’s Cafe was a small family business that had been run by three generations.

In her interview with KARE11 on our final day of business, Allie said, “The saddest part for me is the customers. There are people we see on a daily basis, and now they won’t have that to come to.”

Bonnies Cafe_5303Photo right: Bonnie’s Cafe was packed with customers wanting one more omelette or blueberry pancake on its closing day—March 26, 2016. (Photo by Maria Herd)

The regulars at Bonnie’s Cafe is another aspect of what made the restaurant so special. So many people would come in for breakfast every day, or couples and families would stop by every weekend. We knew all of these people by name, and they knew us. We would ask about their kids and their jobs; they would ask us about our dogs and vacations. Bonnie’s Cafe was its own little community.

Okay, maybe I didn’t know everyone’s name. But I did recognize a lot of the same people. There were the “coffee and water guys” who always sat at a booth and only had coffee and water. There was the guy with a book who always got blueberry pancakes.

Then there were people I remembered because they always asked for peanut butter on the side, or always ordered the Around the Clock with extra crispy bacon.

And of course, we knew a lot of the regulars’ orders by heart. We would start making their breakfast and getting their coffee or diet Pepsi as soon as they walked in the door.

Furthermore, friendships were made in the Cafe. Later on, I found out that some of the men who frequently ate breakfast together actually met at Bonnie’s.

Bonnies Cafe_5380Stepping into the cafe was like stepping back in time. Up until our last day in 2016, we still didn’t take credit cards. I swear that our ancient looking cash register (photo left by Maria Herd) belongs in a museum next to a typewriter. The cafe sported vintage green booths, green and white checkered tablecloths and floral wallpaper from the 70s.

Last but not least, I miss the food. Bonnie was not only an incredible and caring person—she knew good breakfast. Bonnie’s Cafe won the “best breakfast” and “best cafe” in the Twin Cities awards from City Pages multiple times.

Some of our most popular dishes were the roast beef hash, the polish sausage and the biscuits and gravy. My favorite recommendations were the blueberry pancakes, the scrambler, and the Denver omelet.

Bonnie’s spirit and legacy will live on—in our stomachs as well as our hearts.

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012_View94_NightColor slider

Frustration grows over fast pace of soccer stadium planning

Posted on 12 April 2016 by Calvin


Spillover parking into adjacent neighborhoods and worsening traffic congestion are among the fears community members have about a $150 million Major League Soccer stadium and a redeveloped Midway Center. Community members finally got to question Mayor Chris Coleman and project leaders at a Mar. 15 open house at Concordia University. And, on Mar. 21, Union Park District Council (UPDC) Land Use Committee members met with city staff to review plans.

001_ViewSouth_DayThough a formal stadium groundbreaking wouldn’t happen until this summer, crews are already doing site work. The soccer stadium would occupy much of the former Metro Transit Snelling bus garage site and land now occupied by Rainbow Foods and other center businesses. Midway Centre owner RK Midway owns the rest of the 34.5-acre superblock bounded by Pascal St. and University, Snelling and St. Anthony avenues. RK Midway has unveiled plans that would put high-rise offices, retail, a movie theater, restaurants, housing and hotels on its property.

While there is excitement about redevelopment, many neighbors have concerns about how the area will handle 20,000 soccer fans coming to games. Some pointed out that they now get to deal with more construction and congestion after Green Line light rail and Snelling Bridge and street reconstruction.

And if area residents and business owners are frustrated, so are members of the Snelling Midway Community Advisory Committee. Members are questioning how they are supposed to weigh in with such tight project timelines, and a lack of new information.
Other issues raised range from bird safety in stadium design to access for people with disabilities. Those advocates were reassured that their concerns would be addressed. But the $18+ million city subsidy for soccer infrastructure and other needs, and Minnesota United’s quest for a property tax and sales tax exemptions at the 2016 Minnesota Legislature, also drew protests. Hamline Midway resident and 2015 City Council candidate Tom Goldstein held up a sign stating “Want Soccer? Build More Parks, Not Stadiums” and debated with Coleman about subsidies. Merriam Park resident Mike Madden’s sign said, “I pay my taxes.”

Tim Mangan lives in Snelling Park, a tiny neighborhood bounded by Pascal and Marshall, Snelling and Concordia avenues. Residents use Pascal as their route in and out. “No one’s coming to us to address our concerns,” he said. “You’re going to shut down my only egress. Where are all those people going to go?”

Sandy Vincent and Billy Todd live on Sherburne Ave. which already has spillover Green Line commuter parking and parking spillover from the Turf Club. Vincent said she is going to start a residential permit parking petition because of the problems. “I don’t know where they think 20,000 people coming to games are going to park,” Vincent said.

Nan Fergen, who lives one block off of Snelling near Hamline University, said her neighborhood already deals with parking issues. “Traffic in the last five years has been horrible. What relief do we get?”

Coleman told the 150-plus people at the Mar. 15 meeting that the city is studying traffic and parking issues and will work with the community to resolve those. He said the intent of redevelopment is to have the stadium and shopping center redevelopment blend into the fabric of the surrounding neighborhoods. The intent is not to create what the mayor described as a “state fair” atmosphere.

The projects’ impacts are being studied in an Alternative Urban Areawide Review (AUAR), said Josh Williams, senior planner with the St. Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development (PED). The initial scoping phase of the AUAR closed Mar. 23. Scoping identified different development plans to analyze.

The AUAR process studies issues such as traffic, parking, transit, light, noise, air quality and other impacts that could be tied to redevelopment. “The AUAR is meant to look at a project’s impacts and what can be done to mitigate those impacts,” Williams said. The draft document is to be published in late May and will be the focus of a meeting in June. State agencies then weigh in with their comments. The final document should be compiled by mid-July.

While there are questions about the rapid pace of stadium development, the flip side are worries on how long Midway Center redevelopment could take. UPDC Land Use Committee Member David Rasmussen said he’s concerned about how long it will take to redevelop the shopping center itself, and the prospect of an empty lot in the meantime.

But Williams said while some redevelopment, such as the planned plazas along University Ave., will be built with the stadium, the city’s power in approving a master plan for the shopping center doesn’t include requiring the developer to meet a timeline.

Other reviews are also underway. The engineering consulting firm SRF is conducting a traffic study, which will be ready in this month. Metro Transit is looking at transit capacity of Green Line light rail, regular route bus service and A Line rapid bus service which starts in June.

Another frustration for some community members is how quickly the review and approval processes are moving, and how the review processes are overlapping each other.

014_InteriorSouthMinnesota United wants to start playing soccer here in 2018. The St. Paul Planning Commission is expected to see the stadium site plan and the master plan for the rest of the superblock this spring, with a public hearing in May. Recommendations then go to the St. Paul City Council by mid-July or August, with final votes on each plan.

The studies will consider existing streets and not the possibility of connecting Ayd Mill Road at its north end, said Williams. He also said that by the end of April, city staff and community members should have a better idea of the overall project impacts. But the complexity of who is responsible for which aspects of development, and the conceptual nature and lack of a timeline for shopping center redevelopment, are frustrating.

UPDC Executive Director Julie Reiter said “We don’t know how a transportation study can be done if we don’t know where the cars are going,” she said.

Parking for soccer is the responsibility of Minnesota United and not the city. Where people park for soccer games and stadium events could change over time, so the transportation and transit issues are being studied in that context. Williams said because the shopping center redevelopment is likely to take place over a period of many years, where people park for games and events could change.

Shuttles and off-site parking are already being studied, Williams said. “We don’t have enough capacity to carry everyone on the buses to the train at the same time, and we certainly don’t want everyone to drive to the games,” he said. Short-term ideas include remote lots and shuttles, including the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.

Funding the soccer stadium is complicated

Tax exemptions, $18.4 million for infrastructure, 52-year lease, and Tax Increment Financing all in the mix


With development agreements, a lease and an $18.4 million infrastructure commitment in place, the proposed Minnesota United FC stadium plans are moving ahead toward an anticipated June groundbreaking and 2018 completion.

But getting agreement on the financing package, and a disagreement over future tax increment financing (TIF) for Midway Center redevelopment, roiled the St. Paul City Council in March. The council approved the stadium subsidies on 5-2 votes Mar. 2, and shot down the notion of banning a future TIF district 3-4 on Mar. 23.

The stadium project now rests in the hands of the 2016 Minnesota Legislature. State lawmakers are being asked to provide an ongoing exemption from paying property taxes on the stadium site and any improvements. A construction materials sales tax exemption is also sought, as is a liquor license. One potentially tricky procedural issue is that because last year’s session ended without a tax bill passed, any stadium request will have to be added to the stalled 2015 tax bill.

If the exceptions aren’t passed, City Finance Director Todd Hurley said the stadium agreements are terminated.

The $150 million Major League Soccer stadium construction and maintenance would be privately funded. The almost 150 pages of documents that are part of the agreements don’t cover all details of the planned mixed-use redevelopment of the entire 34.5 acre Midway Center superblock, which is bounded by Pascal St. and St. Anthony, Snelling, and University avenues. But Minnesota FC owner Bill McGuire and Rick Birdoff of the shopping center ownership group RK Midway have said the stadium is the catalyst for the long-awaited center redevelopment. Birdoff also issued a statement after the Council vote saying he is working with Rainbow Foods owner Supervalu to find space on the site for a relocated grocery store.

Lengthy debate at the Mar. 2 St. Paul City Council meeting preceded votes on the agreements. A full house of project proponents looked on, including many young soccer players, as well as foes of public subsidy for sports facilities. The council split 5-2, with Dan Bostrom and Jane Prince against and Amy Brendmoen, Rebecca Noecker, Russ Stark, Dai Thao and Chris Tolbert in support.

Bostrom said it’s concerning when the city has so many other unmet needs and is making cutbacks in areas including public safety, that stadium infrastructure funding moves to the front of the line. “Yet for other neighborhood projects we cannot get a dime.”

But other council members said the city has considered the potential risks and needs to take advantage of the opportunity to bring soccer here. Stark said that while the proposal does have risks, those are “greatly outweighed” by the benefits the stadium would bring. As to concerns about parking, Stark said that providing a lot of on-site parking would simply encourage more people to drive to the stadium.

Opponents said the project is moving too quickly and that the impacts on the surrounding community haven’t been fully explored.

“I-94 and Snelling are already very congested, and I don’t know why we’d want to put any more congestion there,” said Hamline-Midway resident Claire Press. She also questioned how the neighborhood, which has years of street and light rail construction, would get through another two years of stadium construction.

160225_Midway Presentation overview niteBut supporters cited the spinoff economic development potential, jobs creation, the possibility of youth soccer stadium use and the convenience of having soccer games in the community as benefits. “We have the opportunity here to really transform the Midway,” said Midway Chamber Board Chairman Jeff Fenske. He said the stadium would bring new jobs and new businesses, and revitalize the area.

The Mar. 2 council vote sealed the lease and financing agreements, as well as the development and stadium use pacts. The lease between the city and Metropolitan Council for the bus barn property is for 52 years. The club will pay the city, and then the city will pay the council $556,623.96 per year.

Minnesota FC will also pay to maintain areas such as sidewalks and green space. It won’t pay city right-of-way maintenance assessments.

Superblock site planThe city will build infrastructure including streets, sidewalks, bike lanes, green space, and utilities. Of these costs, storm sewers are the biggest piece at $3.07 million. Public green space would cost $2 million. These items will be built to city standard design. Wider sidewalks as proposed would have to be covered by Minnesota FC, and on shopping center land by RK Midway.

The city will cover about $16.9 million of its $18.4 million commitment with revenue from $285,000 from the parking fund and four different tax increment financing (TIF) districts. The TIF contributions include about $7.1 million from the pending sale of the Penfield mixed-use building downtown.

The remaining $1.5 million is to be covered by state and federal grants the city is seeking. The agreements contain many other details, on everything from allowing Minnesota United FC to rename the Snelling light rail station to not allowing stadium use by gun shops, vendors of adult-only materials, pawn shops or “any so-called head shop.” There is a condition that ethnic food vendors be in the mix of stadium vendors after it opens. Another condition calls for outreach to youth sports programs but doesn’t contain specifics. There is also language about meeting affordable ticket goals. But details were left blank.

On Mar. 23, Noecker, Bostrom and Price attempted to block any future Midway Center TIF district. Noecker pointed out that there have already been significant investments in light rail and bus transit, and that the stadium developers have already asked for property tax and sale tax exemptions.

Noecker said sending the message now that TIF isn’t available would “take it off the table early.” She said that future financial scenarios for the project could include a “TIF-shaped gap” that the city would be expected to fill. And, she pointed out, that if the stadium is supposed to catalyze redevelopment as its backers contend, TIF may not be needed.

But other council members said the option to use TIF for shopping center redevelopment should be preserved. Thao was visibly angry about the idea of taking TIF away, citing the rate of poverty in his ward and the need for redevelopment. The shopping center is in his district. “At the heart of the matter, you taking away a tool for development from a community that needs it the most,” Thao said.

“You’re not doing this for the people,” Thao said to Noecker. “You’re doing this for yourself.”

The motion to block a future TIF failed, 3-4

RK Midway, the owner of the center, hasn’t applied for TIF.

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International Institute 16 slider

International Women’s Day hosts 2nd Annual Afternoon Tea

Posted on 12 April 2016 by Calvin

Local woman, Olga Zoltai, recognized for life-long achievement and contributions to helping immigrants flourish


International Women’s Day was celebrated in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood on Mar. 13. The International Institute of Minnesota (IIMN) hosted their second annual afternoon tea celebrating the achievements of women worldwide and in Minnesota. The event was sold out.

The global theme this year was parity, or equality, especially as it pertains to social status and income. The World Economic Forum has estimated that at its current pace, parity for women won’t be fully realized until 2133. That’s 117 years, or nearly four generations away.

Close to home, the International Institute of Minnesota (IIMN) is helping women and men achieve self-sufficiency and full participation in the community every day. Located at 1694 Como Ave., staff and volunteers there help refugees, immigrants and political asylees discover not only a new home—but a new future.

Jane Garner-Pringle, admissions and client services manager for the Nursing Assistant Program, explained, “We offer several career pathways at IIMN. The Nursing Assistant Program is just one of them. A tuition-free course of either eight or 11 weeks duration, it can be a final destination or a springboard to further advancement in a medical career for new Americans.”

“In addition to technical training,” Garner-Pringle said, “students receive English language classes, coaching around American workplace culture, community resources, and if needed, mental health support.”

The Nursing Assistant Program is open to anyone, but, according to Garner-Pringle, “We serve many more women than men.”

A graduate of the program, Samerawit Gebremariyam, was a featured speaker at the event. A native of Ethiopia, she in now working toward completion of her LPN degree. While juggling work and school responsibilities, she also cares for her family which includes three children ranging from 13 months through college age.

“When I started in the Nursing Assistant Program,” Gebremariyam said, “all of us were from different countries and different cultures, but we understood each other. I would not have gotten the education that I have without the support of the other students, the staff and the volunteers at IIMN.”

Hamline-Midway resident Olga Zoltai, creator of the Nursing Assistant Program and many other IIMN initiatives, was the guest of honor at the International Women’s Day Tea. Zoltai worked at the IIMN from 1971 until 1993. Upon her retirement, the Minneapolis Star Tribune dubbed her the local “Patron Saint of Immigrants” in a front page tribute to her career.

International Institute 16Photo left: Olga Zoltai (center) greeted well-wishers at the International Institute’s annual tea celebrating the accomplishments of women. She received the first-ever Olga Zoltai award, which will be given out each year. The award honored Zoltai’s extraordinary contributions to helping new Americans flourish. Samerawit Gebremariyam, a featured program speaker, is pictured at right. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

The IIMN has created an award to be given each year at this event, called the Olga Zoltai Award. Its purpose is to acknowledge outstanding service within the community to new Americans. It was fitting that they decided to give this first year’s award to Zoltai herself, in honor of her extraordinary contributions to helping new Americans flourish.

Born in Sopron, Hungary, Zoltai learned the struggles of being a refugee early-on. In 1944, Hungary was invaded by advancing Russian troops at the close of WW II. With bombs falling from the sky, Zoltai, then 14 years of age, and her family fled on foot to safety in Austria.

The family was eventually able to emigrate to North America. They were accepted in Alberta, Canada, but had to sign an indentured service contract for two years. “My two brothers, mother, father and I hoed sugar beets from sun-up until sun-down every day to repay the Canadian government for our resettlement fees, but we were grateful,” Zoltai said.

Olga (then Wagner) married a fellow Hungarian, Tibor Zoltai, and relocated to Boston, where her husband pursued his Ph.D. in mineralogy. When he was offered a position at the University of Minnesota some years later, they moved to Roseville.

Zoltai began her 22-year career at IIMN following the birth of their third child. She started as a social worker, and eventually became Director of Refugee Services and Resettlement.

Sam Myers, an immigration lawyer and a former colleague of Zoltai’s, said, “She was tireless in her advocacy and innovation on behalf of new Americans: a sweet bulldozer of a human being.”

As already mentioned, Zoltai created the Nursing Assistant Program in 1991. The program has graduated more than 3,000 students who earn a sustainable, living wage.

Zoltai was the first to advocate hiring bilingual case managers at the IIMN, something which is now considered essential practice throughout the state and beyond.

In partnership with Myers, she created the immigration law clinic between William Mitchell College of Law and the IIMN, which ran for several years. Because of her pioneering efforts, Zoltai received the “Immigrants of Distinction Award” from the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association in 2012.

Of Zoltai’s many legacies, Myers lingered over one he affectionately called, “The Olga Case.” He explained that “the situations of immigrants and refugees are often heart wrenching and difficult to solve. Olga became known for tackling the toughest cases. She would look for, and find, loopholes in the law, and convince government officials to bend the rules when humanitarian needs were at stake. She would always argue politely, and invariably she would win. To this day, when we hear a nearly impossible story at the legal clinic, we refer to it as an ‘Olga Case.’”

To learn more about the broad spectrum of services provided by the International Institute of Minnesota, go to www.iimn.org. To donate to the ongoing work of International Women’s Day, make a “Pledge for Parity” at www.internationalwomensday.com.

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Marit Speaking at St Paul Caucus

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense finds neighborhood voices

Posted on 12 April 2016 by Calvin

Local group part of national campaign for common sense gun safety


Moms Demand Action 001Hamline-Midway resident Anne McFaul Reid (photo right by Jan Willms) had an important conversation with a friend a little over a year ago. The conversation was about gun violence. That friend had lived in Norway and said that gun safety there had never been on her mind. But she realized when she moved back to the United States, she was worrying about gun safety all the time.

After that conversation, Reid, who lives about three blocks away from University Ave., was standing in her house one day with the windows open. She heard a gunshot.

“At the time, I had a 14-year-old boy who has a skateboard and skateboards around the neighborhood,” Reid said. “My hair stood on end, and I decided to get involved with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. You don’t know who has that gun and who’s shooting it off, and we’re about keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people. It’s rather simple.”

Moms Demand Action was started by Shannon Watts after the mass shooting of children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT, in December 2012. “She grew that organization so big that now we have a chapter in every state,” Reid noted.

Along with Mayors Against Illegal Guns and the Everytown Survivor Network, Moms Demand Action is part of Everytown for Gun Safety, the largest gun violence prevention organization in the country with more than three million supporters and more than 100,000 donors.

Reid said she attended meetings where participants made cards for families who had lost someone to gun violence. “That was a very moving time,” she recalled. “We just gathered and made beautiful things and shared love.”

She said there is also a campaign about children’s safety around guns. “Common sense things, like making sure your guns are locked up. There are people trained who go to communities and have these parties, and all the moms in the neighborhood come and just open up the conversation about it. People realize ‘Oh, yeah, I really do need to check. My husband has a gun. I need to make sure it’s safely locked somewhere.’ It’s amazing how when it’s not in your awareness, you just don’t think about some of these things.”

Reid said she does not have the answer as to why the United States has so many gun-related deaths compared to other countries, other than accessibility. “You want a gun; you can so easily get one. I’m not an expert at knowing what’s happening in other countries, but knowing what my friend said, you just couldn’t have one unless it was for hunting or things of that nature.”

Reid made it clear that Moms Demand Action is an advocate for the second amendment. “We have no plans of taking away anybody’s gun,” she affirmed. “It’s just really about gun safety and making sure guns don’t get in the hands of dangerous people. That’s the bottom line, and by going at it from a legislative point of view, it’s similar to the drinking age.”

St Paul Moms Demand Action“We know that teenagers still are going to drink alcohol, but we as adults know it’s dangerous for them,’ she continued. “It causes a number of car accidents, so why not make it a little harder to get it by raising the drinking age, which we did, and it helps. So we go at it with that same philosophy.”

Photo left: Moms Demand Action members gather in St. Paul. The members of the group are not opposed to owning guns, but focus instead on what they feel is common sense gun safety. (Photo submitted)

Reid said she knows that people are still going to get guns, but why not make it a little more difficult by closing those three main loopholes: the gun show loophole, buying guns online and buying guns through private sales.

“That is the basic premise Moms Demand Action is going on, in hopes that we are not creating more of a divide but creating more of a community, about keeping us all safe,” she said.

In line with this mission, in March, the Minnesota Chapter of Moms Demand Action joined law enforcement, faith leaders, county attorneys and some gun owners in applauding the introduction of new gun safety legislation. The bill, introduced by Minnesota Sen. Ron Latz and Rep. Dan Schoen, would require background checks on all gun sales—including online sales and sales at gun shows—closing existing loopholes in Minnesota law that make it easy for felons, domestic abusers, and people suffering from dangerous mental illnesses to get guns.

Marit Speaking at St Paul CaucusPhoto left: Moms Demand Action member speaks at recent political caucus. (Photo submitted)

The legislation faces an uphill battle, however, with Republican legislators stating they would refuse to hear it in the public safety committee or see it enacted into law. Reid said the organization has not received a lot of pushback for its efforts. “Many people are in full support of this,” she said. Reid said statistics showed that 82% of Minnesotans support background checks on all gun sales. “That’s a real clear majority,” she said, “so I think it’s more about getting our representatives to hear us so it’ll get done.”

Reid added that on Lobby Day, Apr. 28, she plans to go to the Capitol. “I’m going to wear my Moms Demand Action t-shirt and stand up for gun safety,” she noted. “This is just about keeping our families safe in our communities.”

Reid said she believes gun safety will be a factor in this year’s presidential election. “With our bigger voices, we can let our candidates know we are serious, and we want this done,” she said. “It’s not a real hard thing to do.”

Reid explained that Moms Demand Action is open to fathers as well as moms, and to everyone who has an interest in promoting gun safety. She said the most challenging part, for her, is to continue with the momentum. “It’s real easy to go on with your daily life and just not check your emails and not make calls to legislators. You just have to keep taking little steps; they don’t have to be giant steps,” she said.

Reid said that 88 people every day are killed by gun violence. She is aware of the refrain that guns don’t kill people; people do. “Let’s just check our people then, before we give them a gun.”

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R!SE 01 slider

Twin Cities R!SE settling into Midway location

Posted on 12 April 2016 by Calvin

Article and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN

The Spruce Tree Center at Snelling and University avenues has a new tenant: the St. Paul branch of Twin Cities R!SE (TCR). The 22-year-old organization works with the hardest to employ segment of the population, including those who are homeless or recently incarcerated. TCR provides education, training, and support to make finding, and keeping, jobs a reality for its graduates.

R!SE 02Founder and Board Chair Steve Rothschild once said, “This is an organization with the heart of a non-profit, and the head of a business.” Rothschild, a top executive who retired at 46 from General Mills, dreamed of heading up his own business when he left the corporate world. Always deeply involved in community issues, Rothschild’s retirement dream turned to social entrepreneurship when he founded TCR in 1994.

Photo right: Keith Simons, Empowerment Institute Director, and Tina Rockett, Work Skills Coach, in the St. Paul Twin Cities R!SE offices. The non-profit has two sites: this one in the Midway area and the other in North Minneapolis.

Building careers
TCR is an anti-poverty job training program. Its mission is to transform lives through meaningful employment. Graduates have been employed by companies as diverse as American Express, Best Buy Regions Hospital, and Valspar Paints.

To be accepted into TCR, participants must be able to work legally in the US; have earned income that did not exceed $25,000 in the past 12 months; demonstrate English fluency and basic literacy; have a high school diploma or GED; and have no criminal sexual conduct or arson charges on their record.

Training is offered free of charge in a wide range of work skills areas. One-on-one coaching helps students stay on track, and can continue even after employment begins. Classes on resume and cover letter writing, job searching and interviewing are also available.

In addition to working with individuals, TCR also contracts with businesses to help them develop a skilled labor pool. In one such example, the Metro Transit Company acknowledged that 55% of their employees were 55+, white and male—and starting to retire in record numbers (the “Silver-Tsunami “ phenomenon).

MTC partnered with TCR to create the Metro Transit Technician Training Program; this one-year program prepares candidates for the two-year Associate’s degree for truck mechanics at North Hennepin Community College, leading to a career as a bus mechanic with MTC.

This partnership benefits both TCR participants and the MTC. As of now, more than 30 mechanic positions go unfilled each year at MTC due to lack of qualified candidates. After completing the technician training program, there is a skilled, diverse labor pool ready to meet employer needs. It’s a win-win situation.

Empowering lives
Keith Simons is the director of TCR’s Empowerment Institute. He explained, “You’ve heard of being at the bottom rung of the career ladder? For many of our clients, TCR is the ‘on-ramp’ for getting to that bottom rung. It’s a place to start.“

R!SE 01Photo left: Students in one of Rockett’s work skills courses improve their computer skills.

Personal empowerment training is what sets TCR apart from other job training programs. Simons said, “In our culture, we’re constantly bombarded by messages, and most of them are messages of failure. “

One program graduate named Angel said, “I was looking for work, and couldn’t find anything. I was feeling helpless and hopeless. When I got to TCR, I gravitated toward the Personal Empowerment Training. The more positive thoughts I believed about myself, the more things started changing for me.” Shortly after enrolling in works skills and empowerment training at TCR, Angel got a full-time job with benefits in a call center.

“The things I learned at TCR made me a stronger, more employable person,” Angel said.
The personal empowerment training teaches students how to work with their inner selves. According to Simons, four “building block” areas are addressed: self-awareness, self-control, awareness of others (developing empathy and compassion), and relationship management. The staff at TCR believe that while work skills development may help land a job, it’s the personal empowerment training that helps graduates keep a job.

Ending poverty
A TCR participant isn’t considered a graduate until they’ve been on the job successfully for at least 12 months. Program statistics indicate that 84% of participants did just that in 2015. By comparison, the national average is 39% for participants in similar programs.
“Our graduates earn an average of $27,000 annually, not including benefits,” Simons said. “That’s a big step up and out of poverty, and remember these are folks who are considered the most difficult to employ.”

For information about volunteer opportunities, including classroom assisting or hosting an intern in your workplace, contact Chelsea at 612-279-5828. For information about the Empowerment Institute, contact Keith Simons at 612-279-5831. TCR’s Empowerment Institute is offering a new empowerment course for leaders—designed for executives, management and open to the public.

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160225_Midway Presentation overview nite

Soccer stadium development renderings unveiled

Posted on 09 March 2016 by Calvin

Plans laid out for possible super-block development that could be the catalyst for complete makeover in 10 years

All illustrations courtesy of MN United FC, Populous and S9Architecture

Editor’s Note: On Wed., Mar. 2, the St. Paul City Council approved $18.4 million for infrastructure work around the proposed stadium site. The vote was 5-2 with Council Members Jane Prince and Dan Bostrom voting against. After the vote, Mayor Chris Coleman said, “Not only will we be able to bring the fastest growing sport in the nation to our state, but today’s agreement builds on the promise of the Green Line and ushers in new possibilities for economic growth and development throughout the Midway and the region.”


004_ViewSE_DayPhoto left: Daytime southeast view of the proposed stadium.

An oval, translucent open-air stadium would dominate the Midway Center superblock, with green spaces, high-rise offices, hotels, retail, and housing. Minnesota United FC unveiled its stadium plans Feb. 24, a week after a master plan was revealed for the area bounded by St. Anthony, Snelling and University avenues and Pascal St.

The plans have met with excitement from area residents and soccer fans, but also with questions about everything from parking to how the current Midway Center stores would fit in. The stadium would be near the center of the block at St. Anthony. Plans show it extending into the current footprint of Rainbow Foods.

The public can weigh in on the plans 7-8:30pm, Tue., Mar. 15 at Buenger Center at Concordia University.

Superblock site planUnder the master plan (see photo left), the entire 1950s shopping center and other center buildings would be replaced with new structures, green spaces, and a street grid with bike and pedestrian connections.

McGuire said the intent is to break ground this summer and open the stadium for the 2018 soccer season. The stadium would house soccer games as well as festivals and other events. Rick Birdoff of RD Management and RK Midway, the shopping center owners, said that reconstruction of Midway Center would take place over a period of years and would be phased in.

007_ViewSW_DayPhoto left: Daytime view of the stadium from the southwest.

The stadium itself was designed by the Kansas City-based sports-architecture firm Populous. Populous was the lead architect for Target Field and TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

The stadium exterior would feature limestone, glass and a translucent plastic “skin.” The stadium would have a roof covering most of the seats. Its design is supposed to evoke lakes and rivers, as well as the Aurora Borealis.

014_InteriorSouthPhoto left: Interior of stadium, south view.

The field would be sunk about 16 feet below grade, with the stadium about 70 to 75 feet high.

The stadium would have three hospitality areas, a natural grass field, and field heating similar to that at other Twin Cities stadiums. No seat would be more than 125 feet from the field. McGuire said the stadium skin is meant to block noise and light. It could change color, possibly depending on which team is playing there.

It would cost $150 million or more, an increase from the $120 million initially announced.

015_AerialPhoto left: Ariel view of the stadium at night. I94 is on the north of the illustration.

McGuire said additional investors are being sought to help cover the costs. No public funds would be used to build the stadium itself. Sports team owners the Pohlad family and Glen Taylor are already among soccer investors.

However, there would be substantial infrastructure costs that the city, county, and state would have to absorb in conjunction with the project.

McGuire said the stadium would be similar to Alliance Arena in Munich, Germany. The St. Paul stadium, like its German counterpart, could change color. It would hold more than 20,000 people including 3,000 in a standing area popular with soccer fans.

McGuire said the intent is to offer an “iconic professional soccer experience” as well as provide a quality facility for the Minnesota United FC.

Both Birdoff and McGuire described the stadium as “catalytic” to area redevelopment. Birdoff’s firm has owned Midway Center since 1992.

160225_Midway Presentation overview nite“We’re very excited to redevelop our site and the superblock,” Birdoff said. “We needed a catalytic event to turn the property around.”

Photo left: Artists rendition of the future for the Midway Center / Bus Barn site. In this illustration the freeway is at the top and University Ave. at the bottom. Snelling is on the right of the towers. (Illustration courtesy of MN United FC, Populous and S9Architecture)

Birdoff showed plans that the Snelling-Midway Community Advisory Committee, a city task force, saw Feb. 18. All of the buildings planned would have retail on the first floor. Midway Center is honoring all of its current leases. Birdoff said there is ample space in the new development to accommodate all center tenants and add new ones. But he also noted that market forces would dictate when and how the center redevelops.

“Whether it’s a five-year or a 10-year build-out is to be seen,” Birdoff said.

009_TopOfStepsWest_DayPhoto left: Top of the stadium steps facing left toward proposed office towers.

In the first phase, the plans show 15 to 17-story office towers along Snelling, with a health club and movie theater there as well. The offices will require a major tenant, which Midway Center is working with United Properties to secure. Those buildings would also house much of the structured parking.

001_ViewSouth_DayPhoto right: Green space between University Ave. and the new stadium.

Two large privately owned green spaces would connect University Ave. to the stadium. High-rise residential buildings are proposed for University and Pascal, with two hotels and a large green space at the Pascal-St. Anthony corner. That space could be used for parking as well.

An extensively landscaped  plaza is planned at the corner of St. Anthony and Snelling avenues.
The plan shows the major pedestrian entrances at Shields and Snelling, and on Pascal. One suggestion is to move the Spruce Tree Drive traffic signal to Shield, but how that would affect the Spruce Tree-Fry Street bypass route to University remains unclear.

Birdoff said the intent is to make the entire area one with 24-hour activity, where people could live, work, shop and enjoy recreation. Having Green Line light rail and arterial bus service by the property provides an opportunity for transit-oriented development.

Costs to redevelop the shopping center property is unknown.

Community advisory committee members who saw the plans Feb. 18 said they are excited about the idea of walkable, bikeable redevelopment. But they raised concerns ranging from the fate of the current businesses to how the already busy Snelling-University intersection would handle large crowds coming in via transit or their own vehicles. Committee co-chairman Eric Molho acknowledged the excitement over redevelopment, adding “But the devil is in the details.”

Elected officials said they are excited about the plans. “This is about the redevelopment of the Midway, the central district of St. Paul, and quite frankly the Twin Cities,” said Mayor Chris Coleman. He added, “We get closer and closer every day to breaking ground on this project.”

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Block Nurse Program 02 slider

Como resident becomes a centenarian

Posted on 09 March 2016 by Calvin

His secret? ”You should choose your parents very carefully,” he notes with a smile


Bill Treumann, a resident of Como by the Lake Senior Apartments, is proof that staying phy­sically and mentally active can im­prove the quality and quan­tity of your years. Treumann turned 100 on Feb. 26. When asked the secret to his longevity, he smiled and said, ”You should choose your parents very carefully.”

Block Nurse Program 02Image right: NE-SC Block Nurse Program executive director Chris Langer (left), Bill Treumann (center) and wellness coordinator Molly Fitzel (right) at Como by the Lake Senior Apartments. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Current research shows that while genetics matter, there are other factors that are just as important. Treumann displays the optimism, good humor and sense of community connection that researchers say support aging long and well.

The centenarian was born in 1916, midway through World War I, in Grand Forks, North Dakota. At age 16, he contracted tuberculosis and would spend a total of 1,009 days in a sanatorium over the next few years.

Sanatoriums were commonplace in the first half of the 1900’s: hospital settings where people with long-term, chronic illness could rest and recover in the days before antibiotics were available.
Treumann was able to return to finish high school in 1936. During his first year in the sanatorium, he had a roommate who was a chemistry graduate student. Treumann read all of his textbooks and found them so interesting that he chose chemistry as his own life’s work.

He enrolled at North Dakota State University in 1937, had to return to the sanitarium to heal his lungs for another year, and then completed his chemistry degree. He would go on to earn his Ph.D. in chemistry at the University Of Illinois.

During one of his sanatorium stays, Treumann read Harry Frank’s book, “A Vagabond Journey Around the World.” It tells the story of a young man who sets out to see Europe with only $3.18 in his pocket. The author’s travels in Europe were so successful that he kept going, eventually circling the globe.

In a similar style, Treumann longed for adventure. Before starting his doctorate program, he took several months to hitch-hike across the United States, seeing every state except Oregon and Hawaii. “I visited Alaska when it was still a territory,” he said proudly.

He wasn’t ready to stop yet, so his travels took him across Canada from British Columbia to Nova Scotia, through Mexico and Cuba.

Following graduate school, Treumann married his first wife—whom he had met at the sanatorium. She would die at the age of 30. He married again to a woman who, like himself, was a professor.
Treumann started his teaching career in Fargo, North Dakota, before moving across the Red River to Moorhead. He would finish his long academic career as Dean of Mathematical and Natural Sciences there.

At 100, Treumann is still quite physically mobile, and his memory is uncannily sharp. One of the things he most looks forward to is the bridge game that takes place every Wednesday in the lobby of his apartment building.

Chris Langer, executive director of the North End-South Como (NE-SC) Block Nurse Program, organized the bridge club for Treumann several months ago. She knew how much he liked to play and realized there weren’t any other players in the building. She asked three bridge-playing friends of hers, and they were happy to volunteer. Treumann is an excellent player, and his 100-year-old mind doesn’t struggle with the complexities of the game.

Langer said, “Friendly visits like these are just one of the ways our block nurse program helps keep the elderly engaged and connected. A community that has a diverse population in every way, including age, is a stronger community.”

The NE-SC Block Nurse Program is one of 26 programs of its kind throughout the state of Minnesota. Part of the Living-at-Home Network, this non-profit organization helps seniors stay in their homes, improves their quality of life and strengthens neighborhoods by not isolating the elderly.

They contract for medical services through Recover Health, a Medicare-certified agency offering in-home health care with nurses, health aides, and physical therapists.

The senior apartment complex Como by the Lake is one of the locations where the NE-SC Block Nurse Program provides services. Located at 901 East Como Blvd. in the South Como neighborhood, there are several benefits being offered to seniors living in the area at little to no cost.

Molly Fitzel is the health and wellness coordinator for the program. She teaches a free Chair Yoga class at 11am on Monday and Thursday mornings in the Community Room. This non-strenuous form of exercise helps improve flexibility, balance, and strength. “The movements build a healthy sense of body awareness,” Fitzel said, “and the closing meditation leaves participants feeling calm, restored and happy.” Call Molly at 651-487-5135 to learn more or to sign up.

On Monday thru Friday at noon, a nutritious lunch is served in the Community Room of Como by the Lake. The suggested donation is $3.50 for persons over 60, but no one is turned away for inability to pay. An intake can be done over the phone by calling Optage Senior Dining 651-746-8280.

The NE-SC Block Nurse Program offers volunteer opportunities for people in the neighborhood. “It’s so important to look out for your neighbors,” Langer said. “We welcome volunteers to help with raking, shoveling, grocery shopping, household chores and friendly visiting, among other things.”

Questions about volunteering can be directed to volunteer coordinator Jamie Schlough at 651-489-4067.

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Bounty + beauty: the art of Night Owl Farm

Posted on 09 March 2016 by Calvin

All Photos provided

As I look out the window at the colorless winter landscape, I find myself dreaming of spring and colors and weekly deliveries of fresh, seasonal vegetables.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a concept that has always appealed to me. I’m a bit of a lame gardener myself, yet I love veggies fresh from the ground, in rich abundance and variety. The anti-capitalist in me also likes the economic structure of democratizing investment costs at the start of the season and the shared risk. As a member of a CSA, I share the risk of both the rampant disasters that can befall attempts to tease food from a mercurial earth, as well as the generous bounty equally possible. In a single growing season, you can even have both.

For years I have sought out the right combination of inspiration, convenience and value from a CSA, and for a variety of reasons, we have shopped around and had occasion to try some the farms in our area. I’ve eagerly anticipated the ritual of each week’s box of surprises, and I’ve generally been pleased with the quality and breadth I’ve received. Fresh, seasonal, organic produce—what could be bad?

But I didn’t realize there could be even more. Until last year.

In 2015, we completed our first summer with Night Owl Farm, a joint venture of Midway artists Susan Andre and Rosie Kimball. They started their farming adventure in 2014, on a 20-acre tract of land near North Branch. Both were avid gardeners, and had organized community gardens, but neither had experience growing for a CSA in the past. With an abundance of enthusiasm, they jumped in. The first season, they experimented with a limited group of family and friends. This year, Night Owl Farm CSA officially launched, opening up the field to the broader public.

_MG_2685Photo left: Midway residents and artists Rosemary Kimball (l) and Susan Andre co-own Night Owl Farms near North Branch.

I signed up and quickly learned what happens when you have your food grown by artists: it becomes an exercise in transcendence. Most local CSAs deliver a standard cardboard box to their weekly customers, typically a 5/9 bushel. There are all kinds of reasons for this, like that it’s economical, and that you can stack the boxes in the truck and at the pickup site. Also, you can close them, which keeps everything inside, and protects delicate produce from getting squished. Makes sense. But also, the boxes are innately limited, in that when they’re full, they’re full, and if you need to close them to stack them, there’s no way to fit more inside. Plus, well, they’re just a box.

Artful Bounty 6768I have no problem with any of this. Only, this year, we got sprinkles, and now, those plain boxes look a little vanilla to me. Like when you get cupcakes, and some of them are undecorated, some have colored sprinkles on top. The undecorated one is good, delicious; you are so happy until you see the one with the sprinkles. Then you realize you could have more, something beautiful and special, as well as delicious. This is what Night Owl gives you.

Artful Bounty 5040Susan and Rosie eschew the traditional white cardboard box, in favor of a wicker basket. This might sound impractical, but each week’s basket is more than a random assortment of vegetables—it’s an installation! The basket is lined with a drape of colored fabric, and the veggies arranged in a visually thrilling display. And because it’s not a closed box, but an open basket, as the summer goes on and the harvest grows more copious, the basket fills to overflowing. There were a couple of times I could barely lift the thing (thank you, conveniently handled sturdy basket!), so packed it was with eggplant, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, and other assorted delicacies.

But that’s not all; there are little touches. Every week throughout the season, we also received a small bunch of flowers, stems carefully wrapped in a wet paper towel and rubber-banded into a plastic bag, to ensure they are fresh and beautiful when we get them home. All summer long, I had a vase of these flowers on the shelf over my kitchen sink, a little wink of color and happiness every time I rinsed a dish.

Artful Bounty 7142Also, instead of the more typical emailed list of the week’s items and recipes, Rosie and Susan insert a rectangle of parchment-colored printed cardstock. It’s like getting an invitation to a gala event each week! Or a menu at a fancy restaurant, with the lineup of the day elegantly listed on the front, each item an italicized showcase. On the back—which you might not notice, as I didn’t at first, so it feels like even more of a bonus—are two recipes. The ones that I have tried have been unique and awesome.

But wait, there’s more!! Night Owl partnered with one of its neighbors, who has chickens, and offered shares of fresh, pasture-raised eggs. Even the eggs are specially packaged, like a present, in a bag with a satin bow. There also were sweet surprises, like the bag of hand-harvested wild rice, or the bunch of tiny, wild apples.

When the final basket arrived, it was a masterful finale to what had been 16 weeks of pure,
understated delight. I set the basket on the kitchen table and had to call my family into the room, to behold the breathtaking beauty of this last offering. So gorgeous, the array of colors and textures and shapes, all tucked into its enormous wicker nest. I didn’t want to unpack it, even though of course I did, to savor the feel and taste of all this magnificence. This is the transcendent moment that Susan and Rosie give from their hearts: vegetables, and nature, and color, and form, and scent, and feel, and taste, and abundance, and love. The effect is exponentially more than the sum of its parts: exquisite. Make no mistake, this is art!

As if that weren’t enough sprinkles to send anyone into a sugar coma, there is yet a final gift. I didn’t discover it until this morning, when I noticed the baggie sitting on the table, containing a rolled up scroll of paper. I’d cast it aside in my orgiastic unpacking, thought it to be the request for feedback referred to in Night Owl’s final email. Picking it up, I thought, how odd, that they would print their evaluation questionnaire on such heavy paper. And tie it with a piece of sisal. Wow, they can make even a survey a beautiful thing. They’re artists!

I rolled off the tie, pulled the paper from the bag, and gasped. I actually gasped. I unrolled a full-size print of Susan Andre’s woodcut of the Night Owl ‘logo,’ a luscious, color-saturated image of an owl and a farm, signed by Susan. I’m not exaggerating to say it brought tears to my eyes.

Artful Bounty 7093I am so filled up by this experience. It is multi-sensory, it is joyful, it is the most lovely, astonishing representation of all that life can be. I thought I was signing up for a CSA, but Night Owl Farm is so much more. It is CSA, elevated. And I am grateful, for such unexpected grace.
Congratulations, Susan and Rosie, you have created a true masterpiece!

The Midway pickup location is 1689 Hubbard Ave. To find out more about Night Owl Farms CSA program, go to their website at http://nightowlfarm.com.

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Saint Paul STRONG pushes for more community engagement

Posted on 08 March 2016 by Calvin

Among other issues, group concerned about how Midway soccer stadium being handled


Members of Saint Paul STRONG are tired of being invited to city government meetings after the decisions have already been made.

They’re working to do something about it.

StPaulStrong_inauguralEvent“Saint Paul STRONG was formed because too many big decisions—like the one to provide permanent property tax relief to major league soccer or the new Comcast long-term contract—happened with virtually no public input,” said founder John Mannillo.

Photo left: Community members interested in seeing more transparency and community input attended the Saint Paul STRONG event in January 2016. (Photo courtesy of Saint Paul STRONG)

The community-led organization is dedicated to improving open and representative government in St. Paul by encouraging and supporting open and transparent public processes at city hall, engaging and empowering resident participation, and building a stronger, more inclusive St. Paul.

StPaulStrong_WinsorBusuriPhoto right: Saint Paul STRONG members Linda Winsor of Save Our Neighborhoods and Somali-American activist Kassim Busuri participated in a Jan. 7 forum to discuss ways to create a more open process at City Hall that was sponsored by Saint Paul STRONG. (Photo courtesy of Saint Paul STRONG)

Launched in October 2015, the steering committee includes diverse community leaders, such as former City Council member and Ramsey County Commissioner Ruby Hunt, Roy Magnuson of the St. Paul Federations of Teachers’ executive board, disabilities activist Rick Cardenas, Hmong-American activist Pa Chua Vang, former state Representative Andy Dawkins, Somali-American activist Kassim Busuri, former U.S. Senator Dave Durenberger, Linda Winsor of Save Our Neighborhoods, former City Council candidate Ed Davis, NAACP vice-president Yusef Mgeni, and former City Council candidate and American Indian activist David Glass, in addition to Mannillo, a downtown businessman.

Dawkins: more engagement
A member of former St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly’s cabinet, Dawkins said he worked hard to make sure his department was in regular touch with the community and was transparent.

Dawkins said, “The goal I have for Saint Paul STRONG is simple: More public engagement!”
Dawkins represented a part of the Midway area from 1987 to 2002 as the DFL state representative and is married to former State Senator Ellen Anderson. One of his sons is a freshman at Hamline, and the other is a junior at Central High School.

Dawkin’s always been a proponent of third parties and is the founder of Coalition of Third Party Organizers. He was the Green Party of Minnesota nominee for Minnesota Attorney General in the 2014 election.

Dawkins believes that St. Paul suffers from being a “one-party town.”

“I see the need for more transparency/accountability/citizen involvement in St. Paul city politics,” stated Dawkins. “Under our strong mayoral system too much city council work is just ratifying the mayor’s wishes.”

He pointed to the soccer stadium as an example.

“How many of us, as members of the public, knew the City Council took a vote to ask the Minnesota Legislature to give the billionaire owner of the for-profit soccer team tax exemptions?

How much money are we giving up by treating the land as owned by a non-profit? How many of us members of the public showed up at the mayor’s soccer stadium forums only to learn there was no time for public comment? When will we get a chance to learn if making the surrounding area a TIF (Tax Increment Finance) district will impact the city’s STAR program? How much will it cost us taxpayers to do the infrastructure investments owner McGuire has requested?”

StPaulStrong_BostromPrinceThaoMannilloPhoto right: (L to R) St. Paul City Council members Dan Bostrom, Jane Prince, and Dai Thao, participated in a Jan. 7, 2016 forum to discuss ways to create a more open process at City Hall that was sponsored by Saint Paul STRONG. John Mannillo, at right, helped found the organization in order to increase the amount of public input on city decisions. (Photo courtesy of Saint Paul STRONG)

Ruby Hunt, a former St. Paul Council Member from 1972-1982, is also concerned about how the city has handled the Midway site for the soccer stadium.

“It was approved that day without any opportunity for citizen participation,” said Hunt.

The list of grievances on the Saint Paul STRONG website that affect the Midway-Como neighborhood include:
• The decision to offer permanent property tax forgiveness for soccer stadium, then supporting a Met Council proposal to prevent the public from any access to knowledge and negotiations of internal decisions.
• The Black Bear Crossings legal decision to award $800,000 to a private owner put out of business and the subsequent cover-up.
• Tax dollars committed to the construction of new bikeways without comprehensive public input.
• Community’s need to file a lawsuit to have three Saint Paul LRT stations built in minority/transit dependent areas of the Green Line.

Find more at http://www.saintpaulstrong.com/.

Hunt: checks and balances needed
A former Mac-Grove resident, Hunt currently lives at Episcopal Homes in the Como-Midway neighborhood. Her concerns don’t end with the soccer stadium.

“I am concerned about the way the Consent Agenda has been used over the last several years to pass items without any discussion unless a member requests that it be taken from the Consent Agenda for discussion,” remarked Hunt. “Rebecca Noecker made that request recently. It was a request for approval of a contract for outside legal services. However, as I understand it, this was for a contract that already had been awarded but which should have first been approved by the City Council.

“I hope this sends a message to the administration that they should follow the proper procedures,” Hunt said.

Another issue Hunt sees has to do with notifying district councils when city agencies are proposing development in their districts.

This early notification system has been in place since the establishment of the district councils some 40 years ago, Hunt pointed out. In the Grand Ave. parking meter issue, the district council didn’t hear about it until it was found to be an item in the Mayor Chris Coleman’s proposed budget.

“Having played a part in establishing a strong mayor-strong council form of government for St. Paul, I want to see the mayor and council each play their respective check and balance roles in governing the city,” said Hunt.

Mannillo: City Council abusing transparency and accountability
Mannillo believes that Saint Paul STRONG is needed because of the lack of open government on the municipal level. “As a one-party town, it has abused transparency and accountability, to benefit political goals and to the detriment to good public policy,” Mannillo said.

Saint Paul STRONG represents the entire city. It is non-partisan, and will not support specific candidates or specific issues.

“We support public process,” stressed Mannillo.

In October, the five incumbent City Council members and two new Council members were invited to endorse Saint Paul STRONG’s six principles of openness, accountability, and a more vibrant public process. All seven council members did so.

“We are optimistic with two new Council members working with like-minded incumbents, we will see attention paid to transparency and openness,” said Mannillo. “All the Council members have subscribed to our principles and will be held accountable for their decisions.”

Saint Paul STRONG is work­ing to expand its avenues of communication and plans to work with Community Councils, as well as offer input to the mayor and City Council. “This should be embraced by the city administration as a valuable tool to build consensus with the public,” noted Mannillo.

He said that Saint Paul STRONG will encourage the exploration of new election policy to increase voter turnout.

“We will make our city administration more visible. Our focus will continue to address public process,” Mannillo stated. “We will continue to shed light on the public process and related information that has not been available in the past.”

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Midway Immigrant 5288

Building a business on the needs of immigrants

Posted on 08 March 2016 by Calvin

Article and photos by MARIA HERD

Midway Immigrant 5294There are approximately 85,700 Somali people in the United States, and nearly one-third of them – about 25,000 – reside in Minnesota, according to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2010.
Out of the 2,338 total immigrants that came to Minnesota last year, almost 45 percent were from Somalia, reported the Star Tribune in December.

The Midway Immigrant Center, 1910 University Ave., has been assisting immigrants and refugees, the majority of them Somali, for the last three years out of the Midway neighborhood.

Midway Immigrant 5288Manager and founder Dalmar Jama (photo left) says that although the majority of his clients are originally from Somali and West Africa, the center has served immigrants of various ethnicities and continents, who now reside all over the Greater Twin Cities area.

The immigration center offers three primary services to their clients—temporary mailboxes, discounted international flights, and assistance translating documents.

Midway Immigrant 5280There are currently 60 mailboxes available to rent for up to 6 months at a time, and Jama is hoping to add more boxes soon. Most recently, the immigration center started providing the DHL mailing service after Jama recognized his clientele’s need to mail or receive documents internationally.

The Midway Immigrant Center sells plane tickets to people traveling all over the world, but the majority of tickets are for immigrants that are already living in Minnesota visiting their home country, according to Jama.

Immigrants come to the center looking for help with many types of forms ranging from green card loss and renewal to housing and job applications.

“We help them complete the forms electronically, and then we charge a fee depending on the complexity of the service we’re providing,” said Jama.

He estimates that his office assists about seven clients per day.

Building a business
A Somali immigrant himself, Jama worked at an organization that assisted immigrants and refugees in Minneapolis for about six years. Seeing the need for a similar business in Saint Paul, he took entrepreneurship classes through the non-profit Neighborhood Development Center. Then, Jama opened the Midway Immigrant Center in 2012.

Jama said that many people assume his business is connected to the government or that the services are free. However, that is not the case. “We are just here to to pay the bills,” he says.

There are currently just two other full-time employees besides Jama that assist clients; both are Somali immigrants as well.

Jama is enthusiastic about the Midway location, hence the name of his business.

“And it’s getting better all the time,” he said, referring to the new stadium going up in the Midway. Clients have already asked him for help finding employment opportunities at the stadium.

The Midway Immigrant Center opened right during the middle of the light rail construction, he recalled. But with the office located next to the Fairview Avenue Station, many of his clients now take the light rail.

Jama pointed out that the majority of those clients board in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. That area is also sometimes referred to as Little Mogadishu, or Little Somalia, for its large Somali population.

Immigration trends
Jama says that the majority of people who immigrate to Minnesota choose this state because they have a family member here already. However, “the underlying reasons are employment opportunities, housing and safety,” he said. “Minnesota is a good place to live.”

Jama understands that people have their opinions on the refugee crisis, but he says that refugees are immigrating not because they want to, but because they have to.

“There are some people that think we have too many people coming to the U.S.,” he said. “But at the same time, those people had a reason to run. They have to do it because of their safety. When there is killing, when you see that people are dying, or there is a gun pointed at you, you have no option but to run.”

However, Jama says he has not seen as many recent immigrants lately, or those with refugee status come through his doors. Most clients are immigrants that have already been living in Minnesota for awhile.

But in the early 2000’s while working at his previous immigration organization, Jama says he saw many new refugees. He attributes the trend to discontinued family reunification refugee settlements.

Nevertheless, Jama says that he has his hands full until April.

“My busiest time of year is tax season,” he said.

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