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Wonderlust Productions to work all year on a ‘Capitol’ idea

Posted on 07 February 2017 by Calvin

Wonderlust Productions experienced a swirl of growth and activity in 2016. The theater group received a grant from the Mardag Foundation that allowed them to lease rehearsal space at 550 Vandalia St. in the Midway. As company manager Deb Ervin said, “It really was time to get out of our kitchens.”

They had a successful run of their most recent work, the “Adoption Play Project,” at Mixed Blood Theater in Nov./Dec. The play was funded by a Metropolitan Regional Arts Grant and explored the many facets of adoption with stories gathered from more than 200 voices in the adoption community.
Along with Ervin, co-artistic directors Alan Berks and Leah Cooper created Wonderlust Productions three years ago. The Wonderlust mission is to forge new ways of seeing common experiences by creating plays that transform the past into a better future.

Their method? To listen, to wonder, to create, and to repeat.

“We don’t write plays from our own agenda,” Berks said. “Our plays are a retelling of stories that have been shared by others. Our goal is to work in communities that may have been overlooked or misunderstood and to bring those stories to life. ‘The Adoption Play Project’ was a perfect example of that.”

Wonderlust Productions 02Photo left: Wonderlust Productions illuminates shared stories through live performance, mixing community members from across generations, ethnicities, and perspectives with an ensemble of professional actors, designers, writers, and directors. Pictured are two of the three founding members: Alan Berks, co-artistic director, and Deb Ervin, company manager. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

The company is already gathering stories for their next play. Generously funded by the Knight Foundation, the “Capitol Play Project” will look at the day-to-day business of how government works.

Anyone who has experienced the Minnesota State Capitol in a meaningful way is welcome to participate in a story circle. Have you been a lobbyist, a custodian, a protester, a teacher who led grade school field trips, or a nervous college intern? What brought you to the State Capitol Building either recently or long ago?

More than a dozen story circles were held over the summer. There will be three more open to anyone with a story to tell on Mar. 2 and 7 from 6:30-8:30pm, and Mar. 4 from 11am-1pm in Room 317 of the Capitol Building. Learn more about the story circle process by visiting wonderlustproductions.org/story-circles.

According to Berks and Ervin, “Wonderlust projects take anywhere from 12 to 24 months to develop. After a theme is chosen, like the state capitol, we look for community partners and hold story circles where people can share their experiences. That’s the foundation. Next, we host workshops to experiment with text and movement, draft a script, and present public readings of the work in development. Finally, we hold auditions, rehearse, and stage a world premiere of our new play.”

“It’s a gratifying, time-consuming, and transformative process for people who participate in any of the steps along the way,” Ervin said,

Berks anticipated that “once the story circles are completed, we’ll start writing the first draft of the script in March. Open auditions will be held this summer, and the play will be cast with a mix of community members and professional actors. Our intention is to perform the play at the Capitol in Nov./Dec..”

Why a capitol play project? “We hear a lot about politics, sensationalism, and conflict,” Berks said, “but on a practical level, somehow things have to get done. The building is used, maintained, and appreciated by ordinary people every day. The way our capitol building is accessible to the public is unusual. There are spaces within the building that can be reserved for free on a first-come, first serve basis. It’s meant to be a building for everyone.”

Berks concluded, “Leah, Deb, and I make plays because we believe this way of working has the potential to change people’s attitudes and behaviors. We have an ambitious growth plan for Wonderlust Productions, and lately we feel like we’ve been running at a sprint. But at our core, we love theater because it gives us the chance to ponder—to be filled with wonder.

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University Avenue Retail 01 slider

Historian relates the history of retail on University Ave.

Posted on 07 February 2017 by Calvin

Midway Chamber of Commerce presentation explores past and present

Photos and article by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
University Avenue Retail 01The Midway Chamber of Commerce sponsors a lunch meeting of their economic development committee each month. As part of January’s meeting, local historian Brian McMahon (photo right) explained that “to understand the history of retail along University Ave., it helps to go back to when it all started.”

Imagine traveling back in time to the 1880’s, when the Midway neighborhood became home to the Minnesota Transfer Railway Company. The inspiration of railroad magnate James J. Hill, it served as a depository for almost all freight sent to the Twin Cities: lumber, coal, leather, horses, dry goods, anything that could be put on a train passed through here.

According to McMahon, “Railroad and industrial development worked together to help the neighborhood grow.” One example of this was Brooks Brothers Lumber, located for years at the corner of Prior and University avenues. Because of easy access to lumber coming off the trains and being sold at Brooks Brothers, a vast array of manufacturing soon sprang up along University Ave. – giving rise to the neighborhood motto, “We make it here.”

Much of the identity of the Midway area has been shaped by business leaders and residents who came together in 1919 to form the Midway Club, the predecessor of the Midway Chamber of Commerce. According to the chamber’s website, “The club was instrumental in attracting new business to the Midway, improving transportation systems, and obtaining street lights to run the length of University Ave.”

With commercial development, railroad transportation, and the growth of the streetcar system, retail in the Midway area was well on its way.

Fast-forward to the present, past years of entrepreneurship involving the changing population of University Avenue’s merchants and customers.

University Avenue Retail 06Dr. Bruce Corrie (photo left), the next presenter at the chamber event, is a professor of economics and dean of the College of Business and Organizational Leadership at Concordia University in St. Paul. A native of India, Corrie has devoted years to researching the economic contributions of African, Latino, Asian, and Native American (ALANA) communities locally and nationally.

“When I came to Minnesota,” Corrie said, “one of the things I noticed right away was that minorities and immigrants were perceived according to a ‘deficit model.’ They were viewed according to what they were taking, or what was being given to them, and not according to what they were bringing to the table.”

Corrie developed a concept he called ethnic capital, in which members of the ALANA community are seen as entrepreneurs, as employees and employers, as creators of trade networks. He estimated that “there are at least 300 ALANA businesses in the Midway area,” and asked, “How can we create a trickle-up economy? How can we all share in the changing prosperity?”

A third perspective was offered by long-time Furniture Barn owner Bobby Wilson, whose business is currently located at Snelling and University avenues. Furniture Barn is renovating the former Chevrolet Building at 1389 University Ave., and planning a late-winter move there.

”I’ve learned to say nightstand and chest of drawers in a few different languages,” Wilson shared. “I think about 75% of our customers come from somewhere other than Minnesota. I’ve tried to make my sales staff understand this—that it’s important for people to feel welcome in our store whether they’re speaking Hmong or Somali, English or Spanish.”

Wilson continued, “I have a passion for this community. I think we have the potential to be great like the Uptown neighborhood in Minneapolis—maybe even better. But because of the prevalence of on-line shopping, those of us who do own brick and mortar buildings have to be smart, or we’re just going to die. I bet you can even order a car online these days.”

The irony of the question wasn’t lost on a man who is rehabbing the old Chevrolet building, one of University Avenue’s preeminent businesses in the chapter of history when used cars ruled supreme in this retail corridor.

The history of retail on University Ave. has been one of resiliency and change.

The Midway Chamber of Commerce represents over 330 businesses and organizations. They are dedicated to building a stronger Midway by being a catalyst for economic development, connecting employers with resources to recruit and train a productive workforce, and helping their members grow their businesses.

Visit www.midwaychamber.com or contact executive director Chad Kulas at 651-646-2636 to learn more about the benefits of membership. They hold 5 to 6 events monthly in member businesses throughout the Midway.

Their Fourth Annual Economic Development Summit, “Driving Growth in the Midway: People, Place, Partnerships, and Prosperity,” will take place on Wed., Mar. 15 at the University of St. Thomas. The event will kick off with a St. Paul mayoral forum, and conclude with a keynote address by David Reiling, Sunrise Banks CEO.

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Port Authority will lease 15.6 acres of Midway Center property

Port Authority will lease 15.6 acres of Midway Center property

Posted on 07 February 2017 by Calvin

Stadium should open in 2018 or 2019; superblock redevelopment may take up to a decade or more

The St. Paul Port Authority will lease 15.6 acres of the Midway Center property, under a plan approved Jan. 24. It’s hoped the lease will kick off long-awaited shopping center redevelopment, which is supposed to happen in conjunction with a planned Major League Soccer stadium for Minnesota United FC.

If all goes as planned, soccer stadium construction could start in earnest in April and be completed in 2018 or 2019. Redevelopment of the shopping center could take much longer, possibly a decade or longer.

superblock-photoPhoto left: The proposed lease agreement puts the Port Authority in the position of being a shopping center master tenant. The goal is to find a development partner or partners, and a new potential owner or owners for the 15.6-acre shopping center property. Redevelopment of the shopping center property could possibly take a decade or longer according to officials. The illustration is an example of an almost infinite number of development possibilities. (Photo provided)

The lease agreement, which was recommended for approval Jan. 17 by the Port’s credit committee, puts the development agency in the position of being a shopping center master tenant. The goal is to find a development partner or partners, and a new potential owner or owners for the 15.6-acre shopping center property. Port Board members said they don’t want to be a long-term property owner or developer. Instead, the agreement is touted as facilitating redevelopment.

The Port Authority created a development district at the shopping center last fall.

A private development partner or partners could be announced this month as talks are underway with several interested parties. “The (lease) project will facilitate the Major League Soccer project and will likely be a mixed-use development in a commercial district,” Port documents stated.

Tenants would be consistent with a master plan approved by the St. Paul City Council last year, according to the agreement. That plans calls for offices, retail, restaurants hotel space and apartments on the 34.5-acre “superblock” bounded by Pascal St. and St. Anthony, Snelling and University avenues.

Port Authority President Lee Krueger has characterized the Port’s necessary participation due to the “complicated financial aspects” of redevelopment. RK Midway and Minnesota United FC owner Bill McGuire have been in talks for several months but aren’t commenting about how that is going.

The Port Authority involvement and the likelihood or another developer are being watched closely by Union Park District Council as the council’s land use and transportation committees prepare to review more detailed site plans for the soccer stadium before construction begins in April. The detailed site plan starts city staff review this month. That plan will provide more detail on issues including utilities, streets and contamination sites. Several district council committee members said they are concerned that development plans unveiled last year by Minnesota United and RK Midway have stalled and that a new development partner could make changes to the master plan.

“It’s fair to say that there are a lot more questions than answers at this point,” said Union Park District Council Executive Director Julie Reiter.

The Port Authority has done similar deals before, with the redevelopment of the former Macy’s store downtown as the most recent example. That space is being redeveloped into a practice rink for the Minnesota Wild and retail/office space.

The property covered by the Midway Center lease includes much of the shopping center, including Rainbow Foods and properties along University Ave. It doesn’t include land along Snelling, including the former American/Midway Bank Building and a building housing Big Top Liquor. That property would continue to be owned by RK Midway. RK Midway also would retain the vacant lot at the northwest corner of Pascal and St. Anthony.

The master lease agreement gives the Port up to 120 days to do its due diligence, determine the financial viability of the lease and the potential cost of any environmental remediation required in connection with development. This time period would be used to complete an agreement with a development partner or partners. RK Midway would retain control over the shopping center during that time.

If the agreement moves forward it would be assigned to the Capital City Partners arm of the Port Authority. A limited liability company of Capital City Partners and private develop would be formed.
The agreement is for 52 years, the same duration of the city’s agreement with Minnesota United and Metropolitan Council on the stadium.

Annual rent will be negotiated, based on the existing revenues collected from the shopping center’s current tenants, for years one through five, with a three percent increase for years six through 10, and a five percent increase for each five-year period hereafter.

Little work has been done on the old bus garage property despite a ceremonial groundbreaking in December 2016. Xcel Energy has relocated some utilities, and lead contractor Mortenson Construction has hung a banner on a fence.

But Rainbow and stores to the east need to be torn down to make way for the planned soccer stadium.
Minnesota United officials wish to have the stadium open in 2018, but Port and team officials have said a 2019 opening is more likely. Most of the stadium will be on 10 acres owned by Metropolitan Council, where a Metro Transit bus garage stood for many years.

Another aspect of the agreement has the Port overseeing environmental cleanup for the entire superblock, not just the stadium site as announced earlier. It has pollution from several sources, including decades as a streetcar and bus garage facility and from a long-gone dry cleaner in the eastern part of Midway Center.

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Grand Round Como Raymond report slider

Is West Midway and Como next step in the Grand Round?

Posted on 07 February 2017 by Calvin

The Grand Round, St. Paul’s citywide bike and pedestrian link to lakes and the Mississippi River, could grow this summer with work in the West Midway and Como areas.

More than 50 people attended a Jan. 17 meeting at Merriam Park Community Center to see the plans for Pelham Blvd. and connections to Raymond Ave. and Mississippi River Blvd. If the project wins approval from the St. Paul City Council, it would be implemented this spring.

The Grand Round is a 27-mile system of bicycle and pedestrians facilities that connect the Mississippi River, Como, and Phalen parks. Parks Planner Kathleen Anglo said the Grand Round was envisioned in the late 19th century by landscape architect H.W.S. Cleveland. Cleveland was hired by both St. Paul and Minneapolis to outline a plan for the cities’ park systems.

Grand Round Como Raymond reportPhoto left: The Grand Round was envisioned in the late 19th century by landscape architect H.W.S. Cleveland, and was meant to be a 27-mile system of bike and pedestrian facilities. This section would come up from University Ave. and run  just south of the State Fairgrounds.  (Illustration provided)

Cleveland, who was a leader in the “City Beautiful” movement, wanted St. Paul to protect its natural areas along the lakes and river. While most of the street parkways were in place by the 1930s, most Grand Round work stalled for many years. Proponents revived the plans in the 1980s, but city financial support and detailed planning didn’t start again until 2000.

Anglo said that the current Grand Round effort focuses on the northern 13 miles of the Grand Round, through East Side, North End, Como, St. Anthony Park and Desnoyer Park. More than 40 meetings have been held to discuss the project, which is supported by the city’s Vibrant Places and Spaces (formerly 8-80 Vitality) Fund. Work along Wheelock Pkwy., from Edgerton to Rice St., was done last year. More work is planned in the Como area this year.

“This has been a gap in the bicycle network for a long time,” said Reuben Collins, a Public Works transportation planner who leads the city’s bicycle planning. Public Works and the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation are working on the plans. This year’s plans call for work along Raymond, Myrtle St. and then to Pelham.

Pelham south of I-94 could have one of St. Paul’s first cycle tracks, to create another leg of the Grand Round.

While plans to continue the Grand Round have strong support among bicyclists and advocacy groups, neighborhood groups are weighing support and concerns about the plans. Desnoyer Park Improvement Association, Union Park District Council, and St. Anthony Park Community Council all are following the plans and will weigh in at some point, as will the St. Paul Planning Commission Transportation Committee. No groups have taken a position yet, although St. Anthony Park Community Council’s (SAPCC) Transportation Committee is considering route options in that area. Union Park District Council’s initial discussions have included more focus on Pelham traffic calming.

Neighbors and businesses along the route had mixed reactions, with some expressing strong support and others asking that heavy rush hour traffic volumes on Pelham be considered in the context of cyclist safety.

A cycle track is a signed and striped set of bicycle lanes on one side of a street, with a buffered area between the bike lane and motor vehicle traffic, between the parking lane, or between both. Pelham would have one bike lane in each direction for its cycle track. Minneapolis has recently installed a cycle track on First Ave. N. between Eighth St. N. and Washington Ave. St. Paul Public Works is looking at cycle tracks in other locations.

The on-street cycle track plans are considered an interim step, with a permanent change eyed when Pelham is rebuilt, said Collins. It doesn’t call for street reconstruction—just paint and flexible plastic posts installed into the street. The posts and paint narrow the street and provide a measure of traffic calming as well as a safer place for bicyclists.

A cycle track does mean extra measures at intersections, including more signage and green pavement markings to denote where bikes go.

Pelham isn’t in the Public Works’ five-year street construction plan, so a permanent bikeway is several years away, said Collins. Its status is a 35 rating on a 100-point scale. Longer-term ideas call for off-street bicycle trails, with landscaping between Pelham and the trails. The street would be narrowed as a result of reconstruction.

The interim and permanent solutions would take away parking on the east side of Pelham in Desnoyer Park.

Pelham is a municipal/state aid street and a collector route, carrying about 4,000 motor vehicles per day. Speed studies indicate that most motorists drive over the posted speed on Pelham, at 39 miles per hour. The limit is 30 mph. Narrowing Pelham with the cycle track is seen as a way to slow traffic. The street varies in width from 36 to 44 feet.

“We have a high volume of traffic on Pelham during rush hour,” said Desnoyer Park resident Marit Bujold. “It’s hard to get in and out of driveways as motorists, and hard to cross Pelham as pedestrians,
“This is a wonderful neighborhood, with lots of new, young families,” Bujold said. “The number of children living here has skyrocketed.” She described rush hour traffic as “bumper to bumper’ at times and questions how the bike project would promote safety.

“We don’t want people to use Pelham as a cut-through,” said Collins. But he admitted that it can be a challenge to redirect motorists. Pelham traffic is something city staff continues to look at. The hope is that the cycle track will narrow the street and slow motorists down.

North of Interstate 94, bike lanes would be striped on either side of streets. In that area city staff and consultants have focused on parking. The Raymond-University area has some businesses and multi-family buildings, as well as Avalon, a charter school.

Pat Thompson serves on the SAPCC Transportation Committee. “We know there are business concerns about the potential loss of parking on Myrtle and Raymond,” she said. The committee would like to see Wabash Ave. looked at as the connection between Pelham and Raymond, but railroad tracks in the street mean that option has been ruled out by Public Works.

Shannon Forney, co-owner of Workhouse Coffee Bar near Raymond and University said her business would welcome the bike connection. She does see improved bike parking facilities as a need after the project is completed.

Forney also said she likes the idea of a cycle track. “That kind of protected bike lane gives more comfort to some riders, especially novice bike riders,” she said.

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Police in Schools 43 slider

SFER hosts meeting at Central about police presence in schools

Posted on 07 February 2017 by Calvin

A community meeting held at Central High School on Jan. 27 attracted about 200 participants. The meeting was organized by the Minnesota branch of Students for Educational Reform (SFER), a non-profit organization that empowers community members, parents, and students to bring their voices together for educational justice.

At issue was the racially charged question of how community members view having police officers in St. Paul public schools.

Police in Schools 13Photo right: Students for Educational Reform staff (in black) helped with registration and translation for the community meeting at Central High School. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

For the 2016-17 school year, the St. Paul School Board has authorized $984,499 to fund nine school resource officers (called SROs) across the city. The School Board bears nearly all of that cost; $100,000 is covered by the City of St. Paul.

SROs are sworn law enforcement officers who work in the schools but, according to several voices in the audience, that’s about the only commonality they share.

A broadsheet distributed by Students for Educational Reform at the meeting said “SROs work in 28% of Minnesota schools, yet there is no standardized training, certification, or workplace monitoring to guide how the officers interact with students. If SROs do receive pre-service or on-the-job training, it’s related to law enforcement or security. It rarely covers mediation, de-escalation, youth development, working with youth who have special needs or have experienced trauma—all of which are critical issues when it comes to having a positive school culture.”

Police in Schools 43Photo left: Educator Rashad Turner (pictured at right) moderated a youth panel with high school students from Minneapolis and St. Paul. The student panel expressed a unanimously negative opinion of police in their Minneapolis and St. Paul high schools. They perceive that students of color are especially targeted, and do not see SROs as a positive presence in their schools. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Latasha Gandy, executive director for SFER MN said, “We want to make sure that all Minnesota students feel safe and nurtured in the school environment where they’re meant to learn. Once a kid has had even one interaction with the criminal justice system, the likelihood that they’ll drop out of school rises dramatically.”

At the meeting, a panel of community members was moderated by educator Rashad Turner. In response to his question, “Why do you think police are being placed in St. Paul schools?” Annika Foley, community arts activist and Rondo resident, said, “There is a need for public safety, but it’s coming at the expense of students of color.”

The mostly African-American, East African, Latino, and Asian audience agreed.

Jason Mattlock, a 12 year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department and a former SRO, said,“When it comes to doing the job of an SRO, what the officers lack is an understanding of their own biases—as well as an understanding of the importance of racial disparities.”

Tony Simmons is principal and co-founder of the High School for Recording Arts on University Ave. near Lexington Pkwy. He requested an SRO in his school a few years ago, because he felt it was necessary to ensure a safe learning environment. “We haven’t had an incident that resulted in an arrest since then,” Simmons said, “but every day I worry that something could escalate into that.”

Pastor Marea Perry, a parent of a Como High School student, said, “I feel that SROs are trained to be out on the streets, not dealing with our kids in the schools.”

“At SFER,” Latasha Gandy summarized, “our hope is that there would be no police officers in the schools. Our reality view is that SROs will be present – but that they will answer to the same code of conduct across the board. We have asked Governor Dayton for a task force that would create a state-wide curriculum and certification for SROs; clearly defined SRO roles, duties and protocol; an emphasis on prevention and restorative justice, data collection and evaluation of SROs impact on students. We are eager to see what the outcome of that will be.”

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Ground broken for soccer stadium; everything else still tentative

Posted on 10 January 2017 by Calvin

All images provided

Ground was ceremonially broken Dec. 12 for a Major League Soccer stadium south of Midway Center. Major League Soccer (MLS) Commissioner Don Garber, Minnesota United FC lead owner Bill McGuire, youth soccer players and a team of elected officials and fans took turns wielding shovels in a raised garden bed. About 200 people turned out for the event.

stadium-a16q9170_0Photo right: About 200 people showed up to break ground for the new soccer stadium on Dec. 12. Dozens took turns wielding shovels in a raised garden bed since the ground was frozen.

Still, there are more questions than answers about the project. The quest for breaks on property taxes and construction material sales taxes returns to the Capitol for the 2017 session of the Minnesota Legislature. Approval last year stalled when Gov. Mark Dayton didn’t sign the tax bill. Other questions remain, including when construction and pollution cleanup will start in earnest. For the past few weeks, Xcel Energy has done utility work on the former Metro Transit bus garage site, removing power poles and relocating power lines underground.

Otherwise, all has been quiet. No demolition, construction or other permits have been pulled with the city. A final plat needs to be filed, and the stadium developers also need to finish work on conditions outlined in the stadium site plan approved in August by the St. Paul City Council.

stadium-a16q8980_0Photo left: The groundbreaking involved Minnesota United fans, ownership, coaches and representatives from St. Paul and MLS.

McGuire, architects from the Kansas City-based Populous firm and Mortenson Construction, unveiled new stadium designs, showing more rounded lines and a lowered height for the $150 million structure. McGuire, Garber and Mayor Chris Coleman and others answered questions about the stadium. The event was timed a day before an expansion draft event, to add players to Minnesota United and a new team in Atlanta. McGuire also said it was a chance to show stadium design changes, promote season ticket sales and build excitement for the club.

Coleman said that he couldn’t think of a more appropriate stadium site, given the area’s economic diversity. He drew cheers when he suggested a future championship game on a cold day.

Garber quipped that Minnesota United had set a league record. “I can assure you, this will be our coldest groundbreaking,” he said.

Team officials had hoped to break ground in late spring or early summer of last year. However, to build the stadium and public plaza desired in the project’s first phase, the soccer club needs to acquire about two acres of Midway Center property, including Rainbow Foods and storefronts up to Walgreens.

Rainbow’s owner, Supervalu, leases the store from shopping center owner RK Midway. Negotiations between those parties are ongoing. When asked about the negotiations, McGuire and others involved in the project said the Dec. 12 event was about the stadium, not the negotiations nor the proposal to extensively redevelop the Midway Center property with office towers, retail, hotels, and apartments.

McGuire added that everything would be resolved at some point.

There are two property owners on the 34.5 acre Midway Center superblock, which is bounded by Pascal St. and St. Anthony, Snelling and University avenues. RK Midway owns the northern part of the block, as well as a vacant lot at the northwest corner of Pascal and St. Anthony. Metropolitan Council and Metro Transit own the 10 acres at the northeast corner of St. Anthony and Snelling avenues, where a streetcar facility and later a bus garage stood for many years.

Minnesota United will play the 2017 season and at least part of the 2018 season at TCF Bank Stadium. The team has looked into using US Bank Stadium for larger events. Officials didn’t announce a firm opening date for the St. Paul Stadium.

Ken Sorensen, a senior vice president with Mortenson Construction, told reporters that construction would begin in spring 2017, with the idea of moving south to north. Work is ongoing with subcontractors and with the club on construction details. Sorensen estimated it would take one and one-half years to build the facility. The ongoing negotiations over the Midway Center property had McGuire unable to say specifically when the new stadium would be ready, so a 2019 start in St. Paul is not out of the question.

McGuire said the team owners could orient a stadium east-west instead to north-south, to keep it on the bus garage property, and has looked at some options, but would prefer the north-south orientation.

Another wrinkle was a property tax break approved by the 2016 Minnesota Legislature. Dayton didn’t sign the tax bill, citing a potentially costly scrivener’s error. McGuire said Minnesota United is confident the tax break could be approved in 2017.

The soccer team was able to get a liquor license approved by state lawmakers during the 2016 session. The City Council gave its assent to that license in December.

Undated rendering, circa Dec. 2016, of the exterior of Minnesota United FC soccer stadium, to be built in St. Paul. (Courtesy of Minnesota United)

Undated rendering, circa Dec. 2016, of the exterior of Minnesota United FC soccer stadium, to be built in St. Paul. (Courtesy of Minnesota United)

The stadium plans have changed (image left). It is four more feet lower than originally announced, with peak canopy height now at 78 feet. McGuire said that is meant to have the structure be less overwhelming. Sinking the stadium 18 feet into the ground (image  below) also means fewer, if any steps needed to enter.

The stadium will be 650 feet long. It will be 346,000 square feet in size. Its total capacity will be 19,916 fans, with the future expansion capacity to 24,474.

Undated rendering, circa Dec. 2016, of the exterior of Minnesota United FC soccer stadium, to be built in St. Paul. (Courtesy of Minnesota United)

Undated rendering, circa Dec. 2016, of the exterior of Minnesota United FC soccer stadium, to be built in St. Paul. (Courtesy of Minnesota United)

Twenty-five suites, 38 “loge boxes” or semi-private areas and four club rooms are also featured. A restaurant at the stadium’s north end could be open for patrons year-round. Design is about 70 percent complete.

The stadium will still be bowl-shaped, but the new design is more rounded and less boxy. The roof design has also been reconfigured. It will be open to natural light over the turf field, but about 84 percent of fans will sit under a partial roof covering. The roof has been expanded at the south end and cut back in the north, with a slightly lower profile visible from University Ave.

The stadium will be wrapped in a synthetic mesh or skin, embedded with LED lights to allow for color changes. Other features included improved access for people with disabilities

Starting in 2017, Minnesota United will play as a top-tier team in the league, which has 22 teams. The team was granted an MLS expansion franchise in 2015. This year, Minnesota United played in the Division II North America Soccer League.

Fans and business leaders applauded the groundbreaking. Midway Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chad Kulas said business leaders are excited to see the new plans and hear project details. “There’s a lot of excitement about this project and what it could mean for the community,” Kulas said.

Kulas also said the chamber is sensitive to concerns about traffic and parking and will stay engaged as plans unfold.

Fan clubs represented at the event, wearing Minnesota United Loon scarves, were also pleased. More than three dozen fans marched to the groundbreaking ceremony, chanting and waving team flags. Merriam Park resident and True North Elite member Philip Cross said he was pleased to see more stadium details emerge. “It’s exciting to see more detailed plans and to see the stadium move forward,” he said. “I’ve lived in the area for 12 years and bike through every day. It will be great to see the transformation of what used to be the bus graveyard.”
True North Elite is a smaller club, “but we chant louder and we chant longer,” Cross said.

Most people at the event were supportive of the plans.

Mayoral candidate Tom Goldstein gave media his written statement to call for more human-scale amenities, more attention to business development, and to children’s and youth’s recreation and after-school needs. He also criticized the city’s commitment to fund $18 million in site work.

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Elpis Enterprises helps homeless and at-risk youth learn life skills

Posted on 10 January 2017 by Calvin

All Photos and Story By JAN WILLMS
elpis-20161229_124612Paul Ramsour (photo right), Executive Director of Elpis Enterprises, believes there is no reason to let the fact that you don’t know how to do something stand in your way.

He demonstrated that when he started fundraising in the early 90s for Elpis, a program that helps homeless and at-risk youth learn skills in screen design and woodworking as well as preparing them for further employment.

“My background was in hospitality,” he said. “I had no experience working with youth, screen printing or woodworking. Those were my biggest challenges.”

Ramsour was helping the Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) in Minneapolis fundraise for a youth development program for kids at risk. “I was raising money to fund primarily community projects the Jaycees were involved in,” he said. “But they had some extra money and wanted to have their own youth programs, instead of just granting money away, so they asked me to help design some. Elpis was set up as a special nonprofit organization in 2002, and we moved to St. Paul in 2004.” The organization now occupies 3600 square feet of a building at 550 Vandalia St. The location features a screen printing section, a computer lab that can double as a workroom, a woodworking section that has an assembly area and a general meeting room. “It’s not a huge space, but big enough to do a few things,” Ramsour noted.

“Our focus is on work-readiness,” he continued, describing the mission of Elpis. “We work specifically with kids at risk of homelessness, or who have experienced homelessness. We help level the playing field for them. Some youth who are living in supportive housing need a little help with their resume and help to understand what work expectations are all about.”

The program offers a three-month internship for youths between the ages of 16 and 23. They must be referred to Elpis through a youth agency, housing program, or drop-in center.

elpis-20161229_124123Photo left: Lashay Declerq-Ransom is shown printing t-shirts at Elpis, which has a full-service screen-printing company—printing custom t-shirts, bags, and apparel. The program offers a three-month internship for youths between the ages of 16 and 23, all of whom are referred to Elpis through a youth agency, housing program, or drop-in center.

“Being a part of our program can help add to their resume and assist them in getting their next job opportunity,” Ramsour said. “We do our work in the context of social enterprise, so we created these small businesses and have young people learn what is expected on a daily basis, be part of a team and communicate and follow through. Those are all transferable skills for the next job opportunity.”

elpis-20161229_123915Photo right: Ali Everett (standing left) and Willie Harris are two current interns at Elpis Enterprises. They are shown packaging birdseed for bird feeders which Elpis manufactures out of repurposed and recut cedar from old fences. They also make other outdoor items such as planter boxes.

Elpis has a full-service screen-printing company—printing custom t-shirts, bags, and apparel. The organization also has a small manufacturing operation that recycles cedar fencing. “We work directly with fence contractors,” Ramsour explained. “When they take down an old fence, they recycle that wood through us. We repurpose it or recut it, and we have designed and created a line of cedar products, mostly outdoor things like bird feeders and planter boxes.”

elpis-20161229_124228Photo left: Arione Farrar has been making t-shirts for the past three to four years since he was in high school. But he wanted to learn some things about screen printing and, following his internship, he has been hired on by Elpis.

Ramsour said that through Elpis, the participants do experiential workshops out in the community. “We take the assembly process out and set it up, and then kids or adults—mostly kids—at Parks and Rec or nature programs, step up to the table and build their own bird feeder. They take it home with them. That building event was facilitated by the youth in our program as a work experience.”

He said this project offers the interns at Elpis an opportunity to facilitate a group and focus on customer service. “We talk about that a lot and also do some marketing and sales work. The young people have help with bookkeeping and all aspects of a small business.”

Most of the screen printing is done at the Elpis location, although youth participants do go out in the community and do some simple one-color screen printing projects. He said they created small one-color printers that they take out in the neighborhoods, doing events with other companies that are having open houses. “We come in and print shirts for their guests or those attending the open house. We do that all the time, actually.”

According to Ramsour, much of the training offered to the interns is on-the-job and experiential. They learn in the process of doing the job. “When you print t-shirts, you have a lot of time to talk,” he noted. “Yesterday we had a lively discussion about pricing and how that works.”

He stated that good ideas result from these discussions. “There is good learning on both ends,” he claimed. “Most of the changes we have made at Elpis over the years have come from the young people.” There are usually about eight interns participating at a time over a three-month period. Many go on to become regular staff.

“Our goal is to work with 30 to 40 youths a year,” Ramsour said. The other area interns are involved in is e-commerce. “All of our products are for sale through two e-commerce sites,” he added. “Our next focus, from a learning standpoint, is to get young people involved in managing those e-commerce sites.” He emphasized that understanding e-commerce and how it works and how to navigate in those systems is really important, as e-commerce is here to stay. “Everything you can do in a brick and mortar store you can do in an e-store,” he said.

Elpis is located in the middle of what is called the Creative Enterprise Zone, according to Ramsour. “There are a lot of just really creative businesses that do these creative things, and so they coined this phrase to draw attention to it and celebrate all the businesses that do creative work in this area.”

He said the youth attending Elpis all have some kind of education plan. Some are in school or working at second jobs. Some are pursuing training in other post-secondary programs.

Arione Farrar has already been making t-shirts for the past three to four years since he was in high school. But he wanted to learn some things about screen printing and, following his internship, he has been hired on by Elpis. “I’m trying to figure out how to run a business like a store,” Farrar said.

“He has an interest in the apparel business and design, and we are trying to help foster that and do what we can,” Ramsour said. “And we recently got some new equipment, so Arione has been helping us understand our new press and how to work with vinyl.”

Lashay Declercq-Ransom has worked her way from being an intern to becoming the screen print coordinator running the whole screen print side of Elpis. “We have a six-color press and can do six shirts at a time,” she explained. She points to another press that can do four shirts at once.

“Everything we do is with water-based ink,” she continued. “It feels like more a smooth print to the t-shirt, and it’s better for the environment and easier to work with.”

“I used to be homeless,” she said. “Now I have housing, and I’m going to MCTC to be a nurse. Elpis works well with my hours.” She recalled being out at a Prince Festival where Sounds of Blackness was performing, and they were wearing shirts that had been printed at Elpis. “The coolest part for me is when you see shirts you printed out in the community,” she added.

elpis-20161229_123452Shadaria Brown (photo left) also moved up from being an intern to becoming the woodshop coordinator. “I monitor interns, cut all the wood, get the products ready, organize things and just try to make sure the wood side is good and has all it needs,” she said. “I love being here and have been here five years. I started off as an intern and worked my way up to the top.”

Ramsour is proud of his interns and their paths toward success. He said Elpis, which is a Greek word meaning hope, looks for support in several ways, mostly through social enterprise. “We want people to try us out if they have t-shirts they want printed,” he said. “If a church group or school group would like a woodworking activity, we can come out. Of course, like any nonprofit, we will always take cash, but social enterprise is the really big need.” He said having individuals come and speak to the interns about their experiences and how they succeeded in their careers is a big benefit to the organization.

elpis-20161229_124337Photo left: (Photo right) Elpis Executive Director Paul Ramsour (standing left), and Woodshop Coordinator Shadaria Brown. Their philosophy? Sharing knowledge and learning together is the way of success!

And when he speaks of Elpis, he reverts to not letting lack of knowledge or experience stand in the way of success. He later went on to get his master’s in youth development from the University of Minnesota, but he recalls when he first started this organization with no background in the field. “If you can read and reason and think critically about what it is you are doing, there is no reason not to learn how to do anything. That’s what we try to instill at Elpis, and we have learned together.”

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Sunrise Banks uses business as a force for good

Posted on 10 January 2017 by Calvin

Sunrise Banks is one of only 28 banks in the world that belongs to the Global Alliance for Banking on Values—and they are on a mission. According to bank president Nichol Beckstrand, “Our mission is to be the most innovative bank empowering the underserved to achieve.”

“Sunrise Banks is really a social enterprise—our business just happens to be banking,” Beckstrand continued.

sunrise-banks-06Photo left: Sunrise Banks President Nichol Beckstrand. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Current bank owner and CEO David Reiling merged the former Franklin, Park Midway, and University Bank charters to become Sunrise Banks in 2013.

Continuing the family banking tradition begun by his father Bill Reiling, he has built Sunrise Banks into one of the state’s largest community financial institutions with more than $900,000,000 in assets in 2015.

There are six branches of Sunrise Banks in the Twin Cities: four in St. Paul and two in Minneapolis. Of those, four are located in low to moderate income neighborhoods, and all are easily accessible by public transportation. Beckstrand explained that they locate their branches “in the urban core in hopes of attracting jobs and stable businesses there through community development.“

What does that look like and how does it work? Two examples in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood are Habitat for Humanity (1954 University Ave. W.) and the Midway YMCA (1761 University Ave. W.)— both are large-scale, high-impact community development projects financed by Sunrise Banks.

According to Beckstrand, it isn’t always easy to find investors for projects in the heart of the city. Through a US Treasury program called New Market Tax Credits, Sunrise Banks can attract investors for projects like these by offering them tax credits. The purpose of the New Market Tax Credits is to spur or increase investment in the inner city by attracting investors who might not otherwise be interested.

Sunrise is one of 100 community banks nationally recognized by the US Treasury Department for spearheading urban renewal, and individual customers can be involved in supporting community development too.

“We offer all of the consumer and commercial products of a mega-bank,” Beckstrand explained. “We compete very well and with some products, like our Impact Deposit Funds, the customer has the added option of banking according to their values.”

When opening a savings, checking, or certificate of deposit account, the customer can choose to designate account balances toward affordable housing, small business growth, community services and economic development by signing up for an Impact Deposit Fund. “When you bank with us,” Beckstrand said, “you’re choosing to invest meaningfully in our surrounding urban neighborhoods. It really does matter where your money sleeps at night.”

She explained her own dedication to the work of Sunrise Banks saying, “As an accountant, I started in community banking right after college. I climbed the ladder fast and went from being an intern to a partner in six years. I didn’t like the bank I worked for though and the type of accounting I did, called public accounting, felt greed driven. I knew I needed a change. I identified Sunrise Banks as a place where I could put my skill set to use and still work within my values. I started in the back room as chief operating officer. Now in my role as bank president, I’m out in the community every single day.”

This connection to the community is the driving force behind Sunrise Banks. A policy was recently approved to give each of their 200+ employees 40 hours of paid time off annually for community volunteering. Beckstrand said, “We’re effective at delivering socially responsible banking because we haven’t lost touch with our neighborhoods, or with the impact our decisions and actions have on the people who live there.”

To illustrate, Beckstrand noted, “One of our greatest successes has been partnering with Habitat for Humanity to build a house from start to finish. Sunrise donated $120,000 to jump-start the project and another $70,000 in community donations rolled in. With the help of our employees, we engaged 700 additional volunteers, and the house was completed last October. It’s only three blocks from our main bank branch near the Capitol. We were able to create a hands-on experience in community building and, most importantly, a home for a family that needed it.”

Sunrise Banks’ innovative approach to corporate philanthropy also benefits smaller-scale projects that align with its mission. Community-based initiatives that help create affordable housing, narrow the achievement gap, or increase diversity and inclusion will be considered for grants up to $10,000 in 2017. Go to www.sunrisebanks.com and click on the social responsibility tab at the top of the page to check eligibility and apply.

Lastly, Sunrise Banks give a minimum of 2% of pretax earnings each year to neighborhood organizations through corporate donations and sponsorships.

Organizations that have received funding in the past include Ally People Solutions, Episcopal Homes Foundation of MN, Interact Center for Performing Arts, Midway YMCA, Twin Cities RISE, Small Sums, Women Venture and many others.

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Ampersand Families launching new initiative in 2017

Posted on 10 January 2017 by Calvin

Ampersand Families is Minnesota’s only private, non-profit adoption agency whose work is focused entirely on moving older kids (10+ years) from the foster care system into adoptive families. Their offices are tucked quietly behind University Ave. near the juncture with Hwy 280, at 2515 Wabash Ave., but their 10-person staff is anything but quiet about the work they do there.

ampersand-families-07Photo right: As of September 2016, 866 children were under the guardianship of the state of Minnesota. Of those children, 489 were in need of immediate adoptive homes; 377 have already been placed in pre-adoptive homes, meaning that they live with relatives or families who plan to adopt them. These are the faces of some of the youth Ampersand Families serves. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

In 2016, 35 Minnesota kids were placed in adoptive families or had their adoptions finalized with help from Ampersand Families. That number is more significant than it appears at first glance, because older kids are the hardest to place. They have often been living in foster care, group homes or residential treatment facilities for years.

Program Director Misty Coonce said, “Ampersand Families was co-created by our executive director Michelle Chalmers in 2008, based on the belief that adoption from foster care is more likely to succeed if adoptive families receive informed post-placement support.”

“We are a resource for youth, families, and professionals,” Coonce said. “We believe that to heal from the trauma of separation from their families of origin, young people need to build strong relationships with adults who care. Our organization is unique in our unconditional support of the adoptive families we help to create, for as long as they need it and at no cost to them.”

Toward that end, Ampersand Families is launching a new post-adoption initiative called Buddy Families. This is a volunteer opportunity for individuals, couples or families to provide respite for adoptive parents one weekend and a couple of evenings each month by bringing the adopted child into their home.

Kids who have been adopted out of the foster care system either have no parents or they have parents whose parental rights have been terminated. Before any child under the age of 18 is considered legally free for adoption, the state has to complete an extensive search for relatives. Adoption becomes the next best option if no relatives are found or come forward on their own.

In a way, the buddy family is filling the role of extended family: providing the same kind of support that an aunt or uncle would for a niece or nephew.

What is required to become a buddy family? Contact Coonce at misty@ampersandfamilies.org to arrange an initial one-hour consultation with a staff person. An overview of the child welfare, child protection, and foster care systems will be given. All interested persons must understand that being a buddy family means working with kids ten years of age and older. It is crucial that they enjoy spending time with teenagers.

The next step is to register for the upcoming adoptive family training to at Ampersand Families on Sat., Jan. 28, 9am-6pm, and on Wed., Feb. 1 and Wed., Feb. 15 from 5:30-9pm.

Coonce was quick to point out that, “Buddy families are just regular people in the community who recognize how important it is for these adoptions from the foster care system to work. More adoptions fail in this state than we would wish. We’re actively trying to keep that from happening by developing our Buddy Family Program, and by providing a host of other post-placement support services for adoptive families.”

ampersand-families-01Photo left: Ampersand means “and” and is represented by the symbol “&”. Adoptive families, and those who support them, are not replacing the families that adopted children came from—they are in addition to those families. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

The cost of adoption placement for a child through Ampersand Families is about $45,000–but, that cost is born by public and private funds and not by adopting families. Families who adopt a child, teen or sibling group out of foster care in Minnesota have virtually NO expenses, and there is on-going monthly adoption assistance to families adopting in this way.

While $45,000 paid by public and other sources might seem high, consider the alternative. $300,000 is the estimated lifetime cost to a community for each teen who “ages out” of the foster care system without finding a permanent home. That young person is at much higher risk for becoming homeless, pregnant, substance addicted, struggling with mental and/or physical health issues, and becoming involved with the criminal justice system as either a victim or an offender—and the financial cost doesn’t begin to measure the opportunity that is lost to the child.

Ampersand Families extends the same welcome to prospective buddy families as it does to prospective adoptive families: individuals and couples, gay and straight, all religions or none at all, and persons of any racial or ethnic background are encouraged apply.

“Every child should be able to have an unconditional, permanent, and loving relationship with an adult or adults who are not their paid service providers,” Coonce concluded.

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ASL & Coffee is gathering spot for the deaf community and friends

Posted on 06 December 2016 by Calvin

Story and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
asl-and-coffee-16In the basement of the historic Charles Thompson Hall at 1824 Marshall Ave. (photo right), a coffee shop staffed by volunteers is serving up coffee and conversation on Fridays from 10am–3pm. The three-story brick building anchors the SW corner of the Fairview and Marshall avenues intersection, with an off-street parking lot and doorway leading to the coffee shop in the rear.

Once inside, it feels like many coffee shops—but with one notable difference. The patrons are all speaking in American Sign Language (ASL).

The board of directors of the Thompson Hall Deaf Club—housed in the same building—originally thought the coffee shop would be open Monday through Friday, but, according to Richard Taylor, ASL & Coffee coordinator, it hasn’t quite worked out that way.

“Our original purpose,” Taylor said, “was to make a space where ASL students from across the Twin Cities could come and practice their signing with members of the deaf community. And, of course, we wanted to have a place for the deaf community to gather mid-day.”

“Since we opened last July,” Taylor continued, we’ve realized there are a few things working against us. For starters, our building is zoned in a non-commercial district. That means we can’t have any traditional signage outside the building or on the street. We want people to know that we’re here and that anyone can stop by.”

The Thompson Hall Deaf Club is one of the oldest continuously operating deaf clubs in the country.
The club celebrated its centennial last month, with four days of festivities. Representatives from Gallaudet University, the world’s only liberal arts college for the deaf (located in Washington DC), traveled here for the event; St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman also attended.

asl-and-coffee-03Photo left: ASL & Coffee guests relaxed on a Friday morning at the coffee shop.

The building was constructed in 1916 with funds donated by Margaret Thompson. She and her husband Charles were both active members of the local deaf community. $45,000 was given for the construction of Thompson Hall, and an additional $45,000 was invested in a trust fund to provide for long-term maintenance of the building. Thompson Hall was built by the deaf and for the deaf. Its existence has made possible a permanent home for the deaf community in the Twin Cities.

A plaque in the entryway reads: In loving memory of Charles Thompson, who found pleasure in contributing to the happiness of others.

In 2011, the building received a designation as a national historic landmark. Like any 100-year-old building, the upkeep and care required are considerable. In preparation for the anniversary celebration, Hirschfield Paints donated enough supplies to repaint all of the interior spaces.

The club has a full calendar every weekend with activities ranging from game night, quilting, planning meetings for camping and snowmobiling, holiday gatherings, Bible study and more.

As 2016 draws to a close, the future of the ASL & Coffee venture remains uncertain. Coordinator Richard Taylor and the Thompson Hall Deaf Club board of directors plan to give it another six months, to see if word spreads among nearby colleges and community education programs offering ASL classes.

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