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Inside La Famila Tapatia

Despite glitches, La Familia Tapatia restaurant is an instant hit

Posted on 06 February 2018 by Calvin

It’s just past noon when customers begin to line up at the counter at La Familia Tapatia, a new take-out Mexican restaurant at 1237 Larpenteur Ave. Opened the week after Thanksgiving, the place is already popular even though, in early February, there is still no signage of any kind on the nondescript building. A sign with the restaurant’s name was to be installed at the end of January, but it arrived with a typo and had to be sent back.

Photo right: Inside La Famila Tapatia, 1237 Larpenteur Ave. (Photo by Stephanie Fox)

Abe Ponce-Delgadillo, the manager and eldest son in this family-run business, said he is expecting a banner installed over the front door, very soon. “When we get signs,” he said, “we’ll be flooded.”

The Ponce family had been running a taco truck, also La Familia Tapatia, for four years, setting up at the Sun Ray Shopping Center and at breweries. It had a loyal following, mostly from the Mexican community.

He said that the family was expecting a slow start at the brick-and-mortar restaurant when they first opened, thinking they’d have a few curious people wandering in at lunch and dinner. But, the word had already spread on social networks, especially the local Nextdoor pages, and they found themselves facing crowds of hungry fans from the first day.

Photo left: Customers line up for Mexican take-out. (Photo by Stephanie Fox)

“We got sold out of some things, and there was a line out the door. That’s when we decided that we were going to put our main energy into the store and not just the food truck,” said Abe.

They found themselves shorthanded, as well. “We called up friends and family who had any experience in restaurants and asked them if they wanted some part-time work,” he said.

The head chef is Abe’s mother Martha Ponce, who said she always had a passion for food. “I love to eat and love trying new foods,” she said, and she fussed over preparing the lengua and tripa (cow tongue and tripe) for the next day’s menu.

Martha, her brother and her husband (now her ex), were using Martha’s recipes, inspired by the traditional foods from the Guadalajara region of Mexico. But, sometimes in business and with families, things don’t always go smoothly. The food truck, said Abe, was “stolen.”

Photo right: Erensto Ponce cooks for the lunch crowd. (Photo by Stephanie Fox)

“The thief wasn’t a criminal, but my mom’s ex-husband and brother,” Abe said. The truck’s title was in the brother’s name.

“Technically, he owns it,” he said. “We didn’t have anything between us in writing. It was a word-of-honor thing. He has leverage on it. We don’t even know where it is. It’s frustrating.”

“The truck was an old 1977 Wanabox food truck, in rough shape, but we needed it. It was our main income source. With it gone, we needed another truck, and it’s hard in this economy to find money for small startups,” he said.

But, they were lucky, finding an angel investor in Craig Ramsey, Abe’s fiancé’s business partner, who lent them money to purchase a new truck.

The family also decided that they needed a full kitchen to prepare the more complicated dishes they’d sell out of the new truck. They started thinking of a brick and mortar solution.

The meats like the tongue and tripe need to boil for five or six hours before they are ready to chop, spice, cook, and stuff into tacos, burritos, and quesadillas that customers will be ordering, Martha explained.

“The intestines,” she said, “need to be cleaned and cooked, and although I order 30 lb. of the meat, I end up with eight after cleaning and cooking,” she said. “The tongue needs to boil for four hours then cooked and peeled and chopped.”

She says she was surprised at the popularity of some of the more unusual meats among her non-Latin American patrons. “People are very open to ordering exotic meats,” she said. “It’s not just the Mexicans who are ordering these. They’re popular enough that sometimes we run out.”

Abe said that they looked at some locations but stumbled upon an ad on a business site saying, ‘Kitchen for sale.’ The space, on Larpenteur Ave., was perfect.

“Currently, both the kitchen and the food truck aid each other. The kitchen depends on the food truck, and the food truck depends on the kitchen, to repay the loan and pay the bills,” he said.

Customer Forrest Kelley came to pick up lunch, the second visit for him. Like many in the area, he originally heard about it on the social media platform, Nextdoor. Kelley lives and works in the neighborhood, he said, and today, he’s brought along a couple of co-workers who are eager to try some of the shop’s specialties. Kelley, who ordered a variety of tacos, is already a fan. “The food is great,” he said. “They use quality ingredients,” he said. “And they have this really good sauce used on the tortillas. It’s not spicy. It’s kind of smoky and rich. It’s hard to describe, but I almost want to drink it.”

Adam hopes that La Familia Tapatia faces a bright future. Right now, they’ll have to jump through some legal hoops and city regulations before they know how much seating they can add. He also sees a possible expansion in the future. He said he wants the restaurant to have a casual atmosphere, almost like ordering from a food truck. “Except, it’s inside,” he said looking out the shop’s windows on a new coating of snow.

Right now, the restaurant is strictly take-out, although there is some seating for those who are waiting for their orders.

“We’d like to add a couple of bistro tables and chairs outside when spring comes around. We also would like to open earlier, offering a Mexican breakfast—scones, conchas, orejas (Mexican puff pastries), hot and iced coffee, and blended drinks.

For now, however, he said, the family will concentrate on serving homemade and honest food, the best Mexican food in the East Metro. And, he hopes, the banner will be up soon.

“I’m grateful that everyone has been so supportive and patient with the transition from a food truck to a day-to-day brick and mortar. It’s a different set of challenges, but I believe we’ve got a great team behind me and my mom,” he said.

La Familia Tapatia, located at 1237 Larpenteur Ave. W. If the signs are not up, look for Gold Eagle Cleaners…it’s next door.

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Gordon Parks High School celebrates 10th anniversary in March

Posted on 06 February 2018 by Calvin

Gordon Parks High School (GPHS) plans to celebrate its 10th anniversary in March with a week of special events.

GPHS is the largest of seven alternative day school programs in the St. Paul Public Schools district. Founded in 1991, the school was originally called the St. Paul Area Learning Center. It was renamed the Unidale Alternative Learning Center after the local strip mall it operated in. When the rented space became too small, the district constructed a new $7.5 million, 34,000-square-foot facility.

“We re-named ourselves from Unidale to Gordon Parks High School after moving from the corner of University and Dale to 1212 University,” recalled GPHS Curriculum and Media Arts Coordinator Paul Creager.

The new school was dedicated on March 6, 2008, just one day and two years after school namesake Gordon Parks died at age 93.

“Our interest in naming the school Gordon Parks was built around his legacy of living in St. Paul, and using the arts to transform his life and fight against racism and classism,” explained Creager.

“Since that time, our staff has led internal reform to create a brand of alternative instruction that attempts to reinvest student interest in lifelong learning. After a decade of this work, we have many more miles to go to reach our goal, but we want to recognize accomplishments.”

Carrying on the legacy of Gordon Parks
St. Paul native Gordon Parks’ life and work as a photographer, film-maker, writer, and civil rights activist provides the school with a model for the thoughtful, active, and successful citizens staff are dedicated to helping students become, according to the 10th-anniversary website gordonparks10.blogspot.com.

The school offers flexible programming, media-infused courses and curriculum, a supportive advisory program to help keep students on track for graduation, and a host of community partnerships, internships, and job support activities that use Gordon Parks’ life as an inspiration and guide.

As a small, orderly, and friendly school, staff work to make it impossible for students to be invisible or to get lost in the shuffle.

Gordon Parks High School is proud to carry on Parks’ legacy by infusing media activism and the arts into core subject areas. Like Parks himself, the staff strives to help students choose the most effective intellectual “weapons” that will transform their prospects and the world.

Students can fulfill state and district graduation standards requirements in many ways—from studying documentary film and nonfiction writing with the English department, to hands-on applied experiences in algebra and chemistry and community-based art, social studies, and environmental studies programs.

At Gordon Parks, students are expected to practice thinking in real ways as a part of their daily school experience. They are expected to be full participants in their own educations and to take themselves and their possibilities seriously.

GPHS offers a range of programs that meet the needs of about 200 students between the ages of 16 and 21, regardless of their current level of academic progress or educational achievement.

The school offers an 8:30am start time, with flexible, year-round, academic programs. Since implementing a three-week grading and curriculum cycle, attendance increased by 100 percent although daily attendance is about 50 percent.

To meet student needs the school has social workers, counselors, special education teachers, educational assistants, and on-the-job training.

This wide range of support services encourages lifelong learning while taking into account family situations, parenting concerns, employment schedules, and housing issues.

The school is also home to an evening high school and offers online classes to accommodate full-time and dual-enrolled students, as well as students who are working.

The school is geared towards students who are pregnant or parents; struggling with chemical dependency, mental health problems, or abuse; behind a grade level or two; limited in English proficiency; or homeless.

“We’re not bad kids,” remarked 17-year-old LaDavia Allcorn, who is a senior at GPHS. “People learn different ways. People don’t all learn by sitting in a little box and writing all the time. For me, I can’t sit there.” Instead, Allcorn has gotten involved in the various projects at the school, including creating a park next door to the school, and also serves on the leadership team. She appreciates how school staff has encouraged her to get involved.

She’ll graduate later this year, but she knows she’ll be back. “I’m not done,” said Allcorn. “I’m coming back to help this school.”

Celebration week events
Tues., Mar. 6 is slated as Gordon Parks Legacy Day at GPHS. The day will include comments from the Parks family, as well as showing of “Half Past Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks.”

On Wed., Mar. 7, “The Learning Tree Day,” students are encouraged to create art projects that will be displayed at a gala on Friday. “The Learning Tree,” a film written and directed by Gordon Parks in 1969, will be shown several times throughout the day. Community guests are welcome from 3-6:30pm.

Civic Engaged Storytelling Day is set for Thur., Mar. 8 with activities from 12:30-3pm. Mario Sprouse, Gordon Parks’ personal music arranger for 25 years, will be among the special guests that day. Presentations will focus on the intersection of civic engagement, storytelling, and curriculum. History of GPHS curriculum about Parks’ autobiography, “A Choice of Weapons,” will be given.

Gordon Parks Gala at the St. Paul Hotel will take place on Fri., Mar. 10, 6-9:30pm. It will include a three-course meal, silent auction, live music, a vibrant student-led showcase of projects and performances, as well as curriculum highlights from the last ten years. Special guests include Mario Sprouse and Gordon Park’s son David Parks. The evening features acclaimed Twin Cities actor and playwright Ronald Collier, who will read selections of Parks’ literary works.

Individuals tickets for the gala are $100. Or sponsor a table for $1,000; this includes five tickets for your organization and five tickets for students. Purchase tickets at spps.org/gordonparks-tickets.

Learn how community members, local businesses, and students can be involved in the celebration by contacting principal Traci Gauer at 651-744-1212.

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Russ Stark

Russ Stark resigns from City Council to work for Mayor Carter

Posted on 06 February 2018 by Calvin

Residents of St. Paul’s Ward Four will have three City Council members in succession in 2018. Ten-year incumbent Russ Stark leaves the City Council in mid-February to serve as Mayor Melvin Carter III’s point person on environmental policy and sustainability.

Stark (photo left provided) said that he’s eager to take the spot in the Carter administration. The issues he’ll be working on are ones he has championed while on the City Council. His council accomplishments include getting the city’s first bike plan passed and helping to guide Green Line light rail construction.

The remaining City Council members will select an interim Ward 4 member in the days ahead. As the Monitor went to press, two people had announced for the interim seat. One is Hamline-Midway resident Samantha Henningson, who has served as Stark’s legislative aide for the past decade. The second is John Van Hecke, a St. Anthony Park resident who was a founding member of the think tank Minnesota 2020. He is a former member of the Snelling-Hamline Community Council.

Ward Four includes all of Merriam Park, Hamline-Midway and St. Anthony Park neighborhoods, and parts of Como, and Macalester-Groveland.

In St. Paul, interim council members typically are appointed with the understanding that they won’t seek the seat on a permanent basis. Both Van Hecke and Henningson have said they would not run in an election if appointed. The special election is expected to be held in August along with the primary for state offices.

The process of choosing an interim replacement moved quickly as the vacancy was posted in late January, and had a Feb. 2 deadline. A new council member could be appointed Feb. 14 and seated by Feb. 21. Stark’s last day on the council is Feb. 16.

The person elected in August could take office immediately and would serve through 2019. 2019 is when all seven council seats are on the ballot. As of Monitor deadline, no one had announced a campaign for the permanent seat.

City Council members in St. Paul are considered to be part-time and are paid $63,000 per year. His new full-time salary in the mayor’s office is $105,000.
Stark admitted that he has mixed emotions about leaving the City Council, but that he is excited to take on a new role.

Stark is now one of Carter’s three top staff members, along with Deputy Mayor Jamie Tincher. Stark’s new title is “chief resilience officer,” and he’ll be working on issues including reducing the city’s carbon footprint and the implementation of organized trash collection.

Carter has also named Toni Newborn as his chief equity officer and Tarek Tomes as point person on innovations in government. All three positions are first of their kind in city history.

Stark said in his final council newsletter that while the chief resilience officer post is a new position in St. Paul, similar positions have been created in more than 100 cities around the world to better position themselves concerning climate change and emergency preparedness. He said the job’s tasks will be shaped by the mayor and the community. “The questions I am already asking include: What more can St. Paul do to lessen our carbon footprint? What will make our City more resilient to coming changes? What future climate-related changes could affect St. Paul, and what should we start doing now to get ahead of these issues?” said Stark.

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CRWD Rendering_News Release.pdf

CRWD to put $7.2mil into Midway building

Posted on 06 February 2018 by Calvin

The Midway neighborhood will soon be a focal point for sustainable design, development, and education once Capitol Region Watershed District (CRWD) moves into its new headquarters at 595 Aldine St.

Construction on the $7.2 million facility is scheduled to start in March, with a move-in date set for fall 2018. MSR Design is the architecture firm, and JE Dunn has been selected as the construction manager for the project.

The renewed building will utilize green building principles including stormwater management practices and energy efficiency measures to conserve natural resources, create a healthy workplace and protect the Mississippi River. Gathering spaces will also be available for community and partner organizations to use.

Plus, CRWD will create a community watershed learning center and will offer on-site educational opportunities to showcase its work to protect, manage and improve water resources including Como Lake, Crosby Lake, Loeb Lake, Lake McCarrons and the Mississippi River. One of the community highlights will be a pocket park, combining the natural and built environments with interactive elements to draw in neighbors and visitors.

“CRWD is adopting the City of St. Paul’s Sustainable Building Policy, and the result will be a stunning remodeled building that will meet standards of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED),” says Mark Doneux, administrator of CRWD. “Our new offices will provide a flexible workplace to accommodate our organization’s growth without the need to acquire additional building space. Plus, the uniquely designed workplace will provide all the space, equipment and support systems in one location that CRWD staff members need to excel at their jobs.”

Since its inception in 1998, CRWD has leased office space in St. Paul.

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Senior Strolls slider

Seniors invited to stroll around Como before park opens

Posted on 06 February 2018 by Calvin

Senior Strolls offered indoors and outdoors from 9-11am on the first Tuesday


Seniors, take a stroll through Como Park Zoo & Conservatory before it opens to the public on the first Tuesday of each month.

Senior Strolls is a new, free program for the 55+ community that began in December 2017. It is funded through the Legacy Amendment.

“This new program is a great way to get active and social, with a little adult learning thrown in to spice it up!” said Como staff member Noah Petermeier.

Activities in a beautiful space
The goal of the program is to encourage the 55+ community to engage in physical, social, and mental health activities in a beautiful space.

“We leave it up to the individual to choose how they wish to spend the time,” explained Como staff member Matt Reinartz. “Whether they want to come and chat with a friend, walk for exercise, meditate, or chat with an interpreter and learn some new plant and animal information, the choice is up to each participant.”

Photo right: Interpreters stationed inside the Conservatory share information and answer questions about the specific gardens. (Photo submitted)

Enter through the Visitor Center main entrance during cold months. Doors open promptly at 9am and Como opens to the public at 10am. Participants may bring a caregiver who is not 55+.

Calmer atmosphere
“People enjoy having the space open to them before public hours,” remarked Petermeier. “We receive positive comments from folks excited to be here without the crowds, and talking to the interpreters on an adult level.”

In the cold winter months, participants take refuge in the Conservatory, getting exercise at a comfortable temperature while still seeing lush greenery and plants from all over the world. There is a place for guests to hang up their jackets.

When the weather warms up, and the snow and ice melt away, early entry will shift from the Conservatory to the zoo grounds. Those who participate will get to experience the zoo waking up as they leisurely stroll around the outdoor spaces.

Guided learning
Volunteer interpreters answer questions and share fun facts with visitors as they stroll through the grounds that are calmer in the mornings before Como officially opens.

Photo left: “We receive positive comments from folks excited to be here without the crowds, and talking to the interpreters on an adult level,” remarked Como staff member Noah Petermeier. (Photo submitted)

Interpreters stationed inside the Conservatory share information and answer questions about the specific gardens. “They will be able to help guide your learning as you stroll,” observed Reinartz.

Como volunteer services department members at one station field questions about how people can get involved and volunteer their time at Como for those who are interested.

Right now the program is geared towards individual learning, but as it evolves organizers may include more structured learning opportunities, according to Reinartz.

Como also offers adult classes that provide more in-depth knowledge about plants, animals, and conservation. Browse the education section of at www.comozooconservatory.org or the Facebook page under events. Upcoming morning programs for adults include Orchid Odyssey on Apr. 21, Primate Enrichment on June 16, Japanese Gardens on Aug. 25, and Big Cat Enrichment on Oct. 21.

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Capitol rehearsal 131

‘Our House: The Capitol Play Project’ will showcase local talent

Posted on 09 January 2018 by Calvin

Article and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
“Welcome to the People’s House!” is the opening song of the upcoming Wonderlust Production’s newest work. Our House: The Capitol Play Project is a two-act play about the Minnesota State Capitol that will be performed at the newly renovated Capitol building Jan. 19-28.

The play explores the world of the Capitol through story, song, and movement. While half a dozen of the 18 cast members are professional actors, the rest are a cross-section of the Capitol community and the community at large—giving voice to stories told by politicians, staffers, civil servants, building maintenance crews, security officers, lobbyists, researchers, reporters, and citizens. In short, welcome to the people’s house.

As the play opens, a wild-card governor has just been elected, and the regular order of business at the Capitol is thrown into chaos. A chorus of seasoned employees tries to get their way, while an idealistic new employee finds herself at the center of unexpected controversy. Misunderstandings and mistaken identity lead to a crash course in the realities that both constrain and inspire the people who have devoted themselves to public service. Inside the marble halls, the atmosphere is brimming with idealism, cynicism, absurdity, significance, and shifting power.

Photo right: Andy Dawkins (far left), retired legislator and cast member, rehearsed for the upcoming performances of Our House: The Capitol Play Project. Dawkins learned about the play from reading an article in the Midway Como Monitor last winter. Other cast members left to right are Delinda “Oogie” Pushetonequa, David Zander, and Gabrielle Dominique.

Wonderlust Productions has been creating plays in the Twin Cities since 2014. The method they use for crafting their scripts involves holding story circles months in advance of when the play is first performed. In the case of this play, 20 story circles were held, and hundreds of stories were collected. From those threads, an early version of the script emerged, and two rounds of auditions were held.

As with all Wonderlust Production plays, this show reflects a broad community perspective. Contributors to the story circles spanned ages from 20 to 80 years and included voices from varied ethnic and racial communities. This project is the culmination of a three-year effort to tell, not one definitive truth of the Capitol, but an amalgam of stories that rest beneath the sensational news headlines and partisan divides.

Photo left: Ginger Commodore, long-time Twin Cities performer and one of the cast leads, practiced the show’s closing number in the Capitol rotunda.

Hamline-Midway resident Andy Dawkins came to an audition at Wonderlust’s workspace in the Midway (550 Vandalia St.) last year and was cast as Cass Gilbert, the Capitol’s formidable architect, and as Good Dave, a lobbyist who works hard on behalf of education issues. In real life, Dawkins is a retired, longtime St. Paul DFL legislator, and an avid baseball player.

Dawkins practiced law for many years in addition to being a legislator, and has not been in a play since the 8th grade. “I’ve been surprised by how much goes into producing a play,” he said, “all the behind-the-scenes stuff, not just memorizing lines but remembering cues. It’s a ton of work. We rehearse five nights a week and Saturdays too, but it’s been worth it.”

He continued, “I was an insider at the Capitol for a lot of years, and I felt like I had meaningful memories to share in the story circle I attended. There was more of a bipartisan spirit during my time as a legislator than there is now. The Democrats held the majority for the first seven years that I was there, and we had a Democrat as governor. The next eight years that I served, the Republicans were in power. We did a lot more talking across the aisle then; I think I had as many good friends in one party as I did in the other.”

Dawkins concluded, “Seeing Our House: The Capitol Play Project will give viewers some insight into the way state government works. We need to be more transparent at the Capitol, to really invite people in so they can start to think about what’s going on there—so that we can ‘do government’ better.”

Photo right: Co-director Leah Cooper worked with the acoustic challenges of the the play’s final song—set in the Capitol rotunda. The unsupported marble dome is the second largest in the world, after Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The Capitol Play Project will have six performances during the last two weekends in January. The play features a live four-person band and several musical numbers. All of the shows except Jan. 26 are matinees and will be performed during public hours at the Capitol. The play travels throughout the building—comfortable walking shoes are recommended.

Accommodations will be made for those with limited mobility. The performance on Jan. 27 will be ASL interpreted.

All tickets at the door are free but subject to availability. There are only 100 seats for each performance. To guarantee your seat, reservations are available online and cost $25. The Fri., Jan. 19 preview is pay-what-you-can. Visit www.wlproductions.org or call 651-393-5104 for reservations, discounts, and more information. Performance times are 2pm on Fri., Jan. 19; 12:30pm on Sat., Jan. 20 and Jan. 27; 1:30pm on Sun., Jan. 21 and Jan. 28; 7:30pm on Fri., Jan. 26

Photo left: Real-life Capitol staffers Cindy Farrrell (far left) and Ned Rousmaniere (far right) watched rehearsal in “the vault.” Former legislator Andy Dawkins and stage manager Kari Olk also looked on. The vault is one of the newly restored spaces in the Capitol, and will house the play’s first act. The play will travel to several different locations in the Capitol during the second act, adeptly lead by three actors in the role of tour guides.

Our House: The Capitol Play Project is co-written and directed by Alan Berks and Leah Cooper from the words of the Capitol community. It features original music by Becky Dale, vocal coaching by Elizabeth Grambsch, choreography by Leah Nelson, and design by Heidi Eckwall, Andrea Gross, Zeb Hults, Peter Morrow, and Abbee Warmboe.

Editor’s Note: Margie O’Loughlin, the author of this article and long-time reporter for the Midway Como Monitor, is part of the cast of Our House: The Capitol Play Project.

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Emerald Ash Borer

No ‘Happy New Year’ for ash trees in St. Paul

Posted on 09 January 2018 by Calvin

The spread of emerald ash borer means that Como, Hamline-Midway, and Frogtown are among neighborhoods where trees will come down this year.

Tree removal in Highland neighborhood, which is losing more than 250 trees, is to start first the week of Jan. 8. That launches a three to four-month process around the city. Work in other neighborhoods is set for later. Neighbors will be notified before trees come down. Tree replacement will take place in the spring and fall.

A concentration of trees in the Pierce Butler Rte.-Hewitt-Taylor area will come down, east of the Hamline University campus. Stretches of LaFond Ave. in Hamline-Midway and Frogtown will lose trees, as will part of Stinson St. in the North End and Fisk St. in Frogtown.

Image left: stock image

The Como neighborhood will also lose many trees, especially along a stretch of Alameda St. between Maryland Ave. and Wheelock Pkwy., and on Maywood St. between Wheelock Pkwy. and Cottage Ave. Look for trees to come down along Nebraska and Arlington avenues as well.

During discussion of the 2018 city budget, St. Paul Department of Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hahm expressed concern about the rapid pace at which the insects are spreading and killing trees. The city has been able to get grants in the past, Hahm said, but as the insects have spread statewide, that funding is harder to obtain.

The city’s structured removal program in the past has focused on areas where there were concentrations of ash trees. Ash trees in decline, due to branch or root injuries, wind damage or other structural defects, were targeted for removal.

Because the borers continue to spread and affect trees throughout the city, the 2018 program will focus only on confirmed infested trees. Those trees were found during 2017 surveys of trees citywide.

Hahm said Park and Recreation’s goal is to have ash tree removal completed by 2025. Parks forestry staff hopes to remove 1,613 boulevard tree removals and 579 parks trees in 2018. About 1,350 trees were removed in 2017.

How the city funds ash tree removal has changed for 2018 and future years. The costs were covered by the city’s street right-of-way maintenance assessments. Those have been moved back to the property tax levy now that the assessments were deemed improper by the Minnesota Supreme Court. The court decision and the city’s need to cover costs for 2017 meant that an additional $517,155 that was earmarked for tree removal last year had to go to other right-of-way costs. That would have allowed for more than 1,600 trees to be removed last year.

Outgoing Mayor Chris Coleman’s 2018 budget calls for $1.7 million in resources, to step up the removal of trees in city parks as well as along boulevards. The ongoing spending for trees along city streets is $892,000, with a one-time added allocation of $798,000. The destructive insects are expected to destroy all the city’s ash trees over time.

Since 2010 St. Paul has used a “structured removal” program to cut down ash trees on boulevards and in city parks, to strategically reduce the number of ash trees citywide. Trees are replaced with other species. Emerald ash borer causes ash trees to decline and become brittle. Branches can easily fall and cause injuries to people or property damage.

Emerald ash borers were found in the city about a decade ago. The insects, which bore under an ash tree’s bark and feed on the tree’s circulatory system to the point where the tree dies, have spread throughout St. Paul. They affect all species of ash trees. The city in recent years has done some targeted tree treatment and allows property owners to treat their ash boulevard trees if they obtain permits to do so. But there has been ongoing debate as to whether treatment is a long-term, cost-effective solution. The city only treats ash trees that are between 10 to 20 inches diameter at breast height, in good health with no known defects and in areas where there are no conflicts with utility wires, street lights or street clearance.

Want to see the status of your block’s boulevard ash trees? The city has an interactive map showing trees to be treated and trees to come down. The map can be enlarged to better find streets. Go to www.stpaul.gov/departments/parks-recreation/natural-resources/forestry/emerald-ash-borer.

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S.A.F.E. Sundays at Como Zoo focus on endangered animals

Posted on 09 January 2018 by Calvin

New program helps people understand what they do locally makes impact globally


Help polar bears this winter by turning down your thermostat two degrees.

“That amount of change in temp may seem small to us, but it has a positive impact over time,” observed Como Park Zoo & Conservatory Events Coordinator Lindsay Sypnieski.
In fact, if every American adjusted the thermostat up or down by one degree each season, it would save as much energy as the state of Iowa uses in a year.

Taking action now won’t result in an immediate stop to climate change, but new studies show that people could see the effects in about a decade, according to the Polar Bears International, an organization that Como partners with that is focused on how climate change is affecting polar bears in the wild.
Ways that people can help endangered animals is the focus of a new program at Como Park Zoo.

S.A.F.E. Sundays at Como
While Como has been a part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Saving Animals From Extinction (S.A.F.E.) program since 2015, it began S.A.F.E. Sundays last November.

The purpose of the new initiative is “to communicate Como Park Zoo and Conservatory’s effort as part of this program and engage our visitors in conversations about the animals here at Como, how we help them in the wild, and what the visitor can do to help save these animals from extinction,” explained Sypnieski.

Polar Bears will be the focus on Jan. 14, and orangutans, tigers, spider monkeys, and langurs have been discussed since the program began.

Palm oil affects orangutans
In early December, the S.A.F.E. Sundays program focused on palm oil and orangutans.

Orangutans (photo right courtesy of Como Zoo and Conservatory) are being affected by the palm oil crisis due to deforestation, habitat degradation, climate change, animal cruelty and indigenous rights abuses in the countries (primarily Borneo and Sumatra) where palm oil is harvested. A century ago there were more than 230,000 orangutans in total, but the Bornean orangutan is now estimated at 104,700 based on updated geographic range (Endangered) and the Sumatran about 7,500 (Critically Endangered).

Here in Minnesota, people can help the orangutans by “making conscious choices with our buying habits and making sure that companies we purchase items from are part of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil,” observed Sypnieski.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is working to transform the market to make sustainable palm oil the norm. The North American Sustainable Palm Oil Network (NASPON) was just established on Dec. 19. Founding members of NASPON include Ahold Delhaize, Albertsons Companies, Barry Callebaut, Blommer Chocolate Company, Conservation International, Control Union, Dunkin’ Brands, Fuji Oils, International Flavors & Fragrances, IOI Loders Croklaan, Kellogg Company, Kraft Heinz, PepsiCo, Rainforest Alliance, and Target.

Cell phones affect gorillas
Recycle your cell phone, save the gorillas.

It may not be as simple as that, but a recycling program to collect old cell phones at the Como Zoo and other American zoos is highlighting the little-known connection between cell phone use and the survival of African gorillas.


Coltan, a mineral that is used in making cell phones, is extracted in the deep forests of Congo in central Africa, home to the world’s endangered lowland gorillas  (photo left courtesy of Como Zoo and Conservatory).

Columbite-tantalite (coltan for short) is a metallic ore that, when refined, becomes metallic tantalum, a heat-resistant powder that can hold a high electrical charge. These properties are ideal for making capacitors, which are used in many electronic devices, including cell phones.

Conflict, illegal mining, and the growing bush-meat trade (the hunting of wild animals for food) have all contributed to a 70 percent population decline of the eastern lowland gorilla, according to some estimates.

Como partners with Eco-Cell, a cell phone-recycling firm based in Louisville, KY, and receives funds for each phone donated. The newer smartphones, such as the Apple iPhone and Samsung Galaxy, can usually be reused and are worth money back. Many old cell phones cannot be reused and must be recycled. Eco-Cell recycles these types of devices properly and uses best practices regarding smelting, diversion of toxins and reclamation of precious metals.

Drop off unwanted cell phones in the collection boxes located in the Como Visitor Center and Primate Building. Collections from recycling drives can also be mailed directly to Eco-cell; contact ComoEducation@ci.stpaul.mn.us to receive shipping labels.

Upcoming programs
Plan to attend upcoming S.A.F.E. Sundays at Como. Learn about penguins on Jan. 21, lemurs on Jan. 28, gorillas on Feb. 4 and snow leopards on Feb. 11. Each program runs from 1-3pm, and you can find a full schedule online. Look for the S.A.F.E. Sundays table at the featured animal’s exhibit.

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Ways to connect with your Metropolitan Regional Arts Council

Posted on 09 January 2018 by Calvin

Long before University Ave. became a corridor of nonprofit organizations, the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC) established itself at 2324 University Ave. in the Midway neighborhood.

Senior program director Greg Nielsen explained, “Our primary function is to be part of the state arts funding system. A state as geographically diverse as Minnesota would be difficult to serve with just a centralized state arts board in the urban core. The 11 regional arts councils can meet the needs of Minnesota’s 87 counties more responsively, reaching into the cultural nooks and crannies of our state.”

Photo right: MRAC’s Greg Nielsen, senior program director, and Becky Franklin, grants and operations manager. The two are serving as interim co-directors until a permanent executive director can be named. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

According to the 2017 Creative Minnesota Report, Minnesota is home to “an astonishing 104,148 artists and creative workers who make their home in every county.” The term creative workers refers to 41 occupations including architects, curators, librarians, dancers, actors, choir directors, writers, editors and more—with an economic impact upwards of $600 million annually.

MRAC serves the highest density of artists state-wide: those living in the seven-county metro area, and will award some 500 grants to organizations and artists in fiscal year 2018.

“Regional arts councils are the entry points for many emerging, small, and mid-sized arts organizations and groups,” Nielsen said.
There are grants available through MRAC for arts activities support, organizational development, capital purchases, management consulting, and more. Most grants are publicly funded, with dollars received from the Minnesota State Arts Board.

The only privately funded grant is called the Next Step Fund, made available through a partnership with The McKnight Foundation. These $5,000 grants are awarded to individual artists for career advancement, and the application deadline is approaching fast on Mar. 19.

“In the spirit of MRAC being as accessible as possible,” Nielsen said, “work samples are not required for the Next Step Fund—and the application narrative is only two pages long. We’re often the first funder for recipients of this program. The untold story of MRAC is that we’re a community-directed organization. Our seven-person staff serves as the conduit of information, but we don’t choose who gets any of our grants.”

Grant selection for all of MRAC’s grants is determined by peer review panelists, who volunteer their time throughout the year. MRAC will use the services of more than 250 community volunteers in 2018. Each team of 4-10 will be assigned 25 applications to evaluate before making funding recommendations to MRAC’s board of directors. MRAC is currently accepting applications from new panelists who would bring a diverse personal, professional, and artistic perspective to the process. For more information, contact community connections manager Oskar Ly at Oscar@mrac.org.

Photo right: Alan Berks, co-director of St. Paul’s Wonderlust Productions said, “For our current production, “Our House: The Capitol Play Project,” we received an Arts Activities Support grant from MRAC, and it has been invaluable. I’m not exaggerating when I say that our theater could not exist without the support of MRAC. Theirs was the very first grant we received when we did our Adoption Play Project last year. They made that play possible, and they have other community-driven grants that are essential to arts groups of our size.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

According to Nielsen, the state of the arts in Minnesota is very, very good. “We consistently rank #1 in the country for per capita dollars invested in the arts,” he said. “We owe our enviable status to the Legacy Amendment, which was voted in by Minnesota voters in 2008 and went into effect in 2010.

Six years ago, as a serious recession was brewing and opposition to tax increases was rising, Minnesota voters chose to write a 25-year tax increase into the state’s constitution. That decision raised the state’s sales tax by three-eighths of 1%, or half a penny for every dollar spent. Money from the Legacy Amendment, worth about $300 million per year, or $7.5 billion over its lifetime, is dedicated to clean water, the arts and culture, parks and trails, and outdoor habitat.

Nielsen concluded that “the Legacy Amendment has significantly broadened MRAC’s reach, but we’re still funding fewer than half of the worthy requests we receive. No artists are going to get rich off of these grants—they’re more like infusions—but they can definitely help artists get to the next level of their careers, and arts organizations to increase access to their communities.”

To learn more about the wide range of MRAC grant opportunities, contact the front desk staff at 651-645-0402.

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Como Pavilion

Como Dockside closes after three years; search on for replacement

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Calvin

What should replace the Como Dockside restaurant and programming operations at the Como Park Pavilion? More than 70 people weighed in with ideas Nov. 27 during a meeting at the facility. The St. Paul Department of Parks and Recreation is already seeking a new partner and hopes to have a new operation up and running by spring 2018. Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hahm said there had been several inquiries from prospective restaurant operators.

Meeting facilitator James Lockwood said the intent of the meeting wasn’t to place blame but to discuss ideas going forward. Comments were transcribed and will be reviewed, along with online comments.

Any change will be reviewed by Como Community Council, which had an advisory committee in place when Como Dockside was retained. Members of the committee were present Nov. 27 and said they’re willing to serve again.

This is the second park amenity that is being replaced this winter. Parks and Recreation in November closed a submission period for requests for proposals for the park’s miniature golf course, for a course operator or operator of a new amenity.

Those at the Nov. 27 meeting had plenty of suggestions. One point several people agreed on is that they’d like to see more restaurants in the Como area. Having something at the pavilion meets a neighborhood need. Desires were expressed for a restaurant with a more varied menu, some breakfast offerings, and at least some limited winter service.

“I think unless you were walking in the park, you wouldn’t know a restaurant was here,” one man said. He suggested better signage along area streets. But, signage in the park is regulated tightly by the city.

A review of Como Dockside was inevitable. There was widespread praise for the variety of entertainment options, ranging from concerts to family game nights. “I liked that there was a lot of variety and we had entertainment we could walk to,” one woman said. Many people said they liked being able to rent boats and bikes at the park.

But restaurant service and consistency of food got mixed reviews. Several speakers said Como Dockside’s prices were too high and the New Orleans-style menu too limited for those wanting a regular family stop. “I felt the prices were a bit steep, especially for a family,” said one woman.

Minneapolis’ parks food offerings came up during the discussion. Some people pointed to the popular Sea Salt seasonal restaurant there. Others were emphatic that St. Paul isn’t Minneapolis and that anything here needs to keep St. Paul needs in mind.

Some people didn’t like walking into the restaurant space with children and seeing a large bar. Others were OK with that. Many people liked being able to pick up grab-and-go food at a service window and enjoy time in the park.

Como Dockside’s closing on Nov. 22 ends operations that began in 2015. In a statement released by the city, Como Dockside co-owner Jon Oulman said, “We had hoped a year-round staffing model and upscale full-service restaurant concept would be successful at the facility, but unfortunately, due to the seasonality of the facility and competitive labor market we could see that long-term we’d need to adjust—and we felt a different vendor would be a better fit for this space.”

But the space was packed at times, and empty other times. That wasn’t sustainable over the long term, especially with such slow times in the winter.

Como Dockside replaced Black Bear Crossings on the Lake. That restaurant operated for 14 years before getting into a dispute with the city and losing its lease. Black Bear owners David and Pamela Glass took the city to court and won an $800,000 judgment.

City staff said Nov. 27 that no decisions had been made on Como Dockside’s contract for the facility, which runs through 2020. Como Dockside was to share nine percent of gross revenues. Fee estimates were exceeded in 2015 and 2016, and looked to be close if not over estimates for 2017.

Como Dockside owners invested almost $300,000 in facility upgrades, to the restaurant/kitchen space, dock, promenade, dock, and concession stand areas. The city reimbursed the operators for almost $100,000 of those renovations. The contract also required Como Dockside to pay the city nine percent of its monthly gross revenue, or at least $100,000 annually after the first year of operations. This year that amount was expected to top the $150,000 mark. Final figures haven’t been released. But city officials said they expect to clear the $540,000 mark with facility improvements and shared revenues.

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