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ComoFest shapes neighborhood identity, brings people together

ComoFest shapes neighborhood identity, brings people together

Posted on 11 July 2016 by Calvin

Community partners share what they appreciate most about the seven-year-old festival of family-friendly activities

Historical photos submitted

How has ComoFest developed from a small ice cream social with a few hundred people to a month-long event drawing in thousands?

Ask the organizers and they’ll point to how the festival strengthens the community while pulling in neighborhood partners. Plus, it’s fun.

Movie Night & Camp Out 2013 030“ComoFest has an established reputation of building the community through family-fun events,” stated Lyngblomsten Director of Lifelong Learning and the Arts Andrea Lewandoski. In 2012, Lyngblomsten integrated its annual “Mid-Summer Festival” into ComoFest.

“The events allow for an open, friendly atmosphere, the opportunity for community members to meet and speak with local artists, hear live music from local bands and musicians, and provide the chance for community members to visit local businesses and restaurants,” said Lewandowski. “Fine food and a variety of arts and wellness activities add to the festive fun during the entire month of July.”

“When folks think about Como Park, they typically think of the park and zoo, which is a huge draw and major asset to this neighborhood,” remarked AndreaLynn Johnson. “But ComoFest is giving families throughout the Twin Cities and surrounding area another reason to visit the neighborhood—for the food, the music, the arts, to explore new events, and meet new people in Como that they didn’t know. It is a way to highlight what the people of the community have to offer the greater Twin Cities community.”

summer 2010 014Johnson has been part of the festival since the beginning when she coordinated the first art crawl. That year, five artists opened up their studios and homes, including Johnson. Over the years, the art crawl has evolved into an art fair that she continues to organize.
What’s kept her involved over the years?

“I love finding unique ways to promote the arts, and doing so in this non-juried art fair has been a wonderful way to highlight local artists,” said Johnson. “I have enjoyed not only seeing the community come together for one unified event or focus, but getting to know my fellow community members and business even better.”

“The willingness to volunteer time and genuine love for the neighborhood shown by the community is unmatched,” Johnson said.

ComoFestArtFair2014Photo right: Artist AndreaLynn Johnson (at right) has helped organize the art fair since its inception. “I love finding unique ways to promote the arts, and doing so in this non-juried art fair has been a wonderful way to highlight local artists,” said Johnson. “I have enjoyed not only seeing the community come together for one unified event or focus but getting to know my fellow community members and business even better.”

“This has strengthened our working bonds for sure,” said Darcy Rivers, St. Paul Parks and Recreation Community Recreation Director of Programming. “Having the opportunity to work with District 10, Lyngblomsten and others is a no-brainer. We all service the same people, combine our resources, learn from each other, receive new contacts and develop friendships.”

One thing that sets ComoFest apart is that each event operates independently. “There’s no grand planning committee,” explained Michael Kuchta, District 10 Executive Director. “But we do collaborate, we do support each other, and we do coordinate as much as we can on things like logistics, advertising, and publicity.”

Movie Night & Camp Out 2013 036District 10 serves as the hub for ComoFest and hosts the web page and Facebook page. It also handles the finances and contributes its own event, the Ice Cream Social.

This year’s partners include Lyngblomsten, St. Paul Parks and Recreation, Topline Federal Credit Union, The Underground Music Cafe, Honest-1 Auto Care, Como Dockside Lakeside Pavilion, and Como Park – Falcon Heights Living at Home Block Nurse Program. Humphrey Job Corps Center supplies volunteers.

From a weekend to a month
Instead of cramming everything into one weekend, this year there will be eight events spread out over four weekends. “We’re hoping that gives neighbors a chance to sample activities in a way that fits their schedules,” explained Kuchta. “If they happen to be out of town one weekend, or already booked solid for one weekend, they’ve still got a chance to check out a half-dozen other events.”

The festival started with the North Dale Movie Night on July 8 and the ComoFest Art Fair on July 9.

Next up:
• District 10 Ice Cream Social on July 15;
• ComoFest 5K Walk/Run for Everyone on July 17;
• Lyngblomsten Mid-Summer Festival: A Celebration of Arts & Lifelong Learning on July 22;
• Community Appreciation Picnic on July 23;
• Northwest Como Campout on July 29; and
• the Block Party at UMC on July 30-31.

“Don’t miss any of it,” urged Rivers. “Each event brings a new flavor of activity that is representative of the neighborhood.”

“The evolution of ComoFest from one small event to a month-long series of events has been due to our want to include more partners within and outside of District 10, wanting to include a wider variety of activities and by spreading the activities out over a month, giving families a better opportunity to attend more of the ComoFest events,” said Johnson.

Work in progress
ComoFest is a continual work in progress with new ideas and community members, observed Rivers.

River remembers the meeting in 2010 that gave birth to ComoFest. She and then-District 10 Community Council Coordinator Rhonda DeBough recognized that people couldn’t afford to travel because of the recession, and they decided to offer the District 10 Staycation. They combined the Northwest Como Movie Night with District 10’s Art Crawl, Garden Tour, and Bike Ride, along with the Chelsea Heights PTO Flea Market and Coffee Grounds Music Festival on one weekend.

The festival also offered residents a way to discover a little bit more about their neighborhood.
“In that way, nothing’s changed,” remarked Kuchta. “You can still experience ComoFest without spending a dime. It’s still family oriented, and it features a variety of very simple, very low-key, but enjoyable events that expose you to some of what’s available right in your own backyard.”

Some events come and go, he noted, but the essence is still the same.

“It’s not a big festival that shuts down streets and disrupts people’s lives for a couple of days. We’ve got enough high-impact activity in our neighborhood. ComoFest is actually the opposite of that.”

Spreading through Como
Kuchta is excited to see the event growing to include more than just the intersection of Hamline and Hoyt, where things were centered at the beginning. “For the first time this year, we’ve got something going on east of the lake—with North Dale’s movie night—and something going on in South Como—with TopLine’s cookout. I’m hoping we can build on that, so we really do tie in the whole neighborhood,” he stated.

Como Park – Falcon Heights Living at Home Block Nurse Program initially got involved with Comofest by invitation from District 10. The community non-profit began with an information table at the ice cream social and that morphed into sponsoring a 5K run/walk around Como Lake last year.

“It turned out better than we thought,” recalled Executive Director Jody McCardle. “And we loved meeting neighbors who were glad to learn about how we help seniors remain in their homes safely. We even had a few runners become volunteers for our program.”

“Many of the seniors we work with talk about their love of Como Lake and their everyday walks around Como Lake with family and friends—so in a way it is a continuum of celebrating our seniors in our community and the natural resources of District 10 that we treasure,” McCardle added.

All part of Como Park
The Como area is in high demand from people all over the state and visitors, pointed out Rivers. While the community cherishes the Como resources and shares them, residents also value their neighborhoods. ComoFest helps with community identity, strengthens the neighborhood and takes back the space.

“It sounds cliché, but anything that gets us out from behind our own fences helps build community,” said Kuchta. “Something like ComoFest can eliminate, in small ways, the physical barriers that separate parts of our neighborhood: Which side of the park you are on, which side of the tracks you are on, are you in a home or an apartment? Doesn’t matter—you’re still part of Como Park.”

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Galtier saved! Neighborhood elementary school to remain open

Posted on 11 July 2016 by Calvin

It’s a new day at Galtier Elementary School, as parents and supporters work to increase enrollment. The school community plans a public celebration 5:30-7:30pm on Thur., July 21 at the school, 1317 Charles Ave. The school community wants to thank everyone who helped during the battle to keep the school open. There will be free activities, as well as some food for purchase to support the school.They’re also welcoming families interested in the school as an option for their children.

On a 4-3 vote on June 21, the St. Paul School Board voted to keep Galtier open. Superintendent Valeria Silva had proposed that the school close in 2017. Silva had argued that the improvements needed to keep Galtier open would increase Galtier’s budget from $1.259 million to $1.96 million. Silva said that students could be sent to Hamline Elementary starting in fall 2017.

But Galtier parents rallied, with dozens attending School Board meetings to make the case for the school. Many contended that the school district hasn’t given Galtier the resources it needs to survive and thrive and that closing the school would hurt its families.

Galtier was a citywide magnet school before it became a neighborhood school under Silva’s Strong Schools, Strong Communities program. Enrollment dropped to 158 in 2015-16 and is projected at 144 this fall. Supporters contend that the school district hasn’t done enough to help promote the school and that allowing Hamline Midway families to have children bused out of the neighborhood has hurt Galtier.

In the weeks up to the Galtier vote, parents speculated that it could be a 4-3 split to either close or save the school. They cheered when the vote went their way.

School Board Member John Brodrick was the most vocal about saving Galtier, saying that district officials were pulling the rug out from under the school and not giving parents time to boost enrollment. He was joined by Steve Marchese, Zuki Ellis, and Chue Vue, who turned out to be the swing vote. John Schumacher, Mary Vanderwert, and Jean O’Connell voted for the closing.

The 4-3 vote was part of a lengthy and contentious School Board meeting in which Silva’s tenure as superintendent was ended and School Board Member Jean O’Connell resigned in protest. O’Connell is done effective June 30. Silva will stay on for a time as a district consultant.

The School Board also voted to close a projected $15.1 million budget gap.

Galtier parent Clayton Howatt said the vote to keep the school open signals a new day as parents, teachers and other school supporters focus on increasing enrollment. Galtier parents, students and school officials hosted an open house June 29, which was attended by several prospective families.

“School Board members have told us they want to see Galtier not just thrive but survive,” Howatt said. Ideas for how Glitter engages parents could be tried at other struggling neighborhood schools.

As they work on other ways to boost enrollment, parents are also reaching out to area colleges to see if they can partner with Galtier.

“We’re moving on and trying to increase enrollment,” Howatt said. School supporters recently changed the Facebook page Save Galtier into Grow Galtier. They’ll use the page and other means to promote the school.

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Rich Purcell & Family 01

Holcomb-Henry-Boom-Purcell turns 100

Posted on 11 July 2016 by Calvin

(Historical photos submitted)

One hundred years’ service to the community is an accomplishment for any locally-owned business. Holcomb-Henry-Boom-Purcell Funeral Homes and Cremation Services will mark its centennial 2-4pm on Sat., July 23, at its Midway funeral home, 536 N. Snelling Ave.

hhbp photos 20004Photo left: The original home of Holcomb-Henry Boom-Purcell when it was just the A.E.Henry Funeral Home. Note the street car tracks in the foreground. (Photo submitted)

Community members are invited in to help celebrate the anniversary, meet the staff, learn about the home’s history and its current services, and enjoy refreshments.

“We’ve been proud to carry on a long legacy of community service,” said Richard Purcell. He and his wife Sharon came to work at the funeral home in 1982 and later became the fourth owners of the business.

Rich Purcell & Family 01Photo right: 2016 photo of (l to r) Dennis Boom, Roswitha Holcomb, and Sharon and Richard Purcell. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

The firm, through its St. Paul and Shoreview locations, serves 300 to 400 families per year.

“We consider it a great honor to have cared for so many families over the years,” said Purcell. “We take our responsibilities very seriously, as we walk with families in their time of sorrow.”

“When you own and operate a business like ours, you’re open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to serve people,” said Purcell. “We have a long tradition of dedicated staff that has continued through our family owners. It has been a privilege to be called on to help people.”

hhbp photos 20003“We’re honored to have served our community for 100 years,” said longtime owner Dennis Boom. “We feel we are very much a part of the Midway.”

Albert E. Henry and his wife, Vena were the first funeral home owner-operators in 1916. It was at a time when St. Paul had a few dozen small, family-owned and operated funeral homes throughout its neighborhoods. Almost a dozen funeral homes have operated up and down Snelling Ave. alone.

The Henrys raised their family in the funeral home at a time when many area residents still didn’t have phone service. The building was never locked, and people could come in 24 hours a day for assistance.

hhbp photos 20005“It was very standard for families to have wakes or visitations in their homes,” said Purcell. When funeral homes started to open their doors, families often opted to have two evenings of visitation, with the funeral on the following day.

When Albert Henry retired in 1948, St. Paul resident and mortician Earl Holcomb and two partners bought the Henry Funeral Home. Holcomb, whose family members still live in the area, also raised his family in the funeral home’s upstairs living quarters.

In 1963, Dennis Boom began his career as a funeral director with the firm. In 1981, he and his wife, Elaine purchased the business and the property from the Holcomb family. Dennis and Elaine Boom built a second chapel in Shoreview and made their home above the chapel. The Booms grew up in St. Paul and furnished their Shoreview home with a collection of antique furniture, some of which came from their childhood homes. Elaine Boom passed away in 2015.

hhbp photos 20001Dennis Boom grew up in the area and still attends Hamline Church United Methodist. Last year he was honored at the Minnesota State Fair as a 50-year volunteer at the Hamline Church Dining Hall. Visitors might find him serving up coffee to the breakfast crowd.

“We’ve always believed in community service and being part of the greater community,” Boom said. “That’s part of our tradition.”

Richard Purcell notes that funeral home directors have collectively had a long record of community service, including the Midway Area Chamber of Commerce, Shriners, churches, St. Paul Winter Carnival and other organizations.

In 1982, Richard Purcell was hired and in 1995 his wife, Sharon, also a licensed funeral director, joined the staff. The Purcell’s purchased the business in 1999 and in 2003 they purchased the properties.

hhbp photos 20002Purcell noted that much has changed in the way people care for their deceased loved ones. Visitations are the same day or the day before. Cremation is a much more popular option. “We also have the opportunity to host receptions, with a range of food options, which we weren’t able to do before.”

Despite the changes, Purcell said the tradition of offering personalized, caring service at a reasonable cost remains the same. “The clients we serve are not numbers, they are family to us.”

Purcell is a native of Forest City, Iowa. As a young man, his family suffered an unexpected death. “Seeing how the funeral director helped our family in our time of loss, and how he helped us get through a very tough time, made a strong impression on me. That service, commitment and ministry to my family was so important.”

When Purcell was assigned a high school paper on career choices, he wrote about being a funeral director. He also worked at his hometown funeral home, doing general maintenance and other chores, as a teenager.

“That left the impression on me that we want families to be comfortable, to be treated with respect and dignity. And that is what we strive for.”

Learn more about Holcomb-Henry-Boom-Purcell Funeral Homes and Cremation Services at http://www.holcombhenryboom.com.

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LPI on University Ave slider

Cutting-edge technology company calls University Ave. home

Posted on 11 July 2016 by Calvin

When Robert Jorgenson was 16, he wandered into an Ax-Man store, a place he liked to explore to see all the gadgets. He saw a sheet of glass that was black and had all kinds of wires on it. He asked what it was for. The store clerk told him that when sunlight hit the glass, it made electricity.

“I said okay. I was hooked. From that day forward, I knew what I wanted to do,” said Jorgenson, now the CEO of Lightwave Photonics, Inc., (LPI) located in a massive old art building at 2500 University Ave.

“I knew when I was young that I wanted to work with semiconductors, and I wanted to do something that would help cut carbon emissions,” recalled Jorgenson. He attended the University of Minnesota, picking up two bachelor’s degrees, one in chemical engineering and another in material science.

Jorgenson said he initially wanted to work in solar cells, but he found himself working with light emitters. “Emitters are a really good way of reducing carbon emissions,” he said.

LPIPhoto left: Robert Jorgenson looks on as engineers Stephanie Tandean and Sara Rothwell work with wafers in their University Ave. lab. His company, LPI, was established in 2007 to commercialize advanced LED technology. (Photo by Jan Willms)

“LED light bulbs cut carbon emissions by 5%, and we are trying to cut them by another 5%,” Jorgenson explained, as he described the goal of his company. “The efficiency of LED bulbs is somewhere around 30%,” he continued. “We are looking to more than double that efficiency.”

Jorgenson said that currently 70% of the energy in the LED bulb is energy wasted as heat. He wants to make the bulb 70% efficient, so that only 30% of the energy is going to heat and the rest for light.

Jorgenson said that growing up in Minnesota he was exposed to a lot of technology with companies that were here. “It’s sort of a little-known secret, but Minnesota is a hotbed for crystal growth,” he noted. “And that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Crystal growth is the foundation of all modern technology.” Jorgenson explained that the University and all the colleges around here are not focused on that, even though there is so much industry in the Twin Cities.

LPI was established in 2007 to commercialize advanced LED technology. LPI provides the only commercially available conductive, reflective, and lattice matched templates for the subsequent epitaxial growth of Gallium Nitride based LEDs and Lasers.

Put more simply, LPI is growing crystalline round semiconductor wafers that will make LEDs more efficient. “The current state of the art templates for subsequent LED crystal growth are basically transparent,” Jorgenson said. “Our wafers are highly reflective and ideal for crystal growth of LED materials. If you want green LEDs, you can now grow on top of highly reflective green wafers. If you want blue LEDs, you can grow on top of blue wafers, and blue LEDs power the phosphors in white LEDs used in light bulbs.”

Jorgenson went on to explain that by coupling LED light emission to a mirror positioned precisely by crystal growth, you create more efficient and powerful light emission. “We now have materials to allow that to happen, and we are talking to a lot of different companies. There are about 40 companies around the world to target, and we have generated a lot of purchase orders.”

The beginnings of the company that is creating these major technological changes from its small space on University Ave go back to when Jorgenson first met his wife in Minnesota.
“She wanted to get out of the snow, so she went to Arizona, and I followed along,” Jorgenson explained. “I was doing consulting, so I could be anywhere, and I was able to hang out with my girlfriend Lynn, who is my wife now.”

Originally, he was looking at similar technologies to license from a university in Arizona for a different application. “The metal did not have all the properties they said it had,” Jorgenson said. He started getting deeper and deeper into the physics of his research, and something clicked. Jorgenson and his now wife moved to San Diego, where Jorgenson started his employee-owned company in 2007. “I had filed a patent a year before that using the law services here in Minnesota. The best lawyers I could find who could understand the technology were here in Minnesota,” he said.

There was also so much opportunity in the Twin Cities with crystal growth that the company returned to Minnesota. “We were only supposed to be here six months and then move back to San Diego,” Jorgenson recalled. “We had put everything in storage. But everything went so well here, we decided to stay. We recently purchased a house, and now we are here and plan to stay here.”

The Jorgensons have been back in the state for four years, and the company has been located in the University Ave. artists’ building for nearly three years. LPI is surrounded by potters, a record store, a tattoo artist, and painters.

“Now we can produce the materials we need, but the problem we’re running into is making modifications to our equipment for higher throughput. We have put a lot of hard work into it, and from this point on, it is easier,” he said.

They have recently won a Department of Energy (DOE) grant. “It is a small grant, but it has really helped us take off,” added Jason McGrath, marketing director for LPI. “We’re anticipating winning a Phase II DOE grant in 2017 and are looking for small investors to help us get there.”

The company is also in competition for the annual MN Cup, sponsored by the University Of Minnesota Carlson School Of Business.

“This competition has been helpful, “McGrath said. He noted that as a part of the competition, mentoring services are offered by Carlson as well as the Department of Energy. “They’re helping us build a pretty solid business and commercialization plan,” he commented. “The competition kicked off a couple of weeks ago and goes until September.”

As well as cutting carbon emissions by another 5% in LED bulbs, LPI is helping enable projectors in persons’ cell phones called pico-projectors and better laser-powered headlights.

“BMW is developing laser-powered headlights,” Jorgenson said. “The type of laser we enable is superior to the lasers currently available.”

Jorgenson said some of the companies LPI is talking to have crystal growth facilities the size of football fields. “If you can just imagine, there are these enormous buildings with 100 to 1,000 crystal growth systems,” he described. “We are looking to sell wafers to demo what they can do, then license to those companies. We have patented the technology, and they can take the final product while it also cuts the cost of production.”

The wafers sell between $1,000 and $3,000 each. “We are looking at making six of them a day from this small facility here,” Jorgenson continued. “We estimate each company will buy about 400 demo wafers before they start production and the final licensing agreements.”

Quite an amazing undertaking from a company with seven employees working from a small lab, with a CEO who was influenced by an Ax-Man gadget.

Jorgenson also cites his training at Webster Magnet School. “I really benefited from that science program,” he said. His training at the U of M and working with a laser program at 3M were also helpful in his path towards technology.

“Some of the larger companies with crystal growth are still around, but not many of the little ones,” he said. Jorgenson said he is working with some of the colleges, such as the U of M with its Nano facilities that can be rented out, and St. Paul College. “We’re working with them to create an incubator, and we get some interns from there.”

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Community Oven slider

Bread ministry reaches well beyond the walls of the church

Posted on 11 July 2016 by Calvin

Community oven is ‘on’ at Hamline United Methodist; community pizza parties planned in July and August

Story and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
There’s a new addition to the Hamline United Methodist Church at 1514 Englewood Ave.: a robust, brick community oven that was completed last year with the help of more than 100 volunteers. According to church member and oven spokesperson Mark Ireland, “The football team from Hamline University helped haul concrete, church members and plenty of neighbors who didn’t belong to the Church rolled up their sleeves and pitched in. There were people working on site 5-6 days a week last May and June. Then it took the bread ministry team the rest of the summer to figure out how to operate the thing.”

Community Oven 01Photo left: The handsome community oven at Hamline United Methodist Church takes 10-12 hours to rise to its baking temperature of 900+ degrees. Made of high-temperature concrete, clay bricks and wool insulation, the traditional design keeps the high heat on the inside. On the outside, it’s barely even warm to the touch.

The oven is in full swing now. It’s the one and only community oven in St. Paul, and there are just a handful of them in Minneapolis. Sharing a community oven was a common practice across Europe until the last century, and it’s still the way bread is baked in many parts of the Middle East and North Africa.

“We got to wondering,” Ireland said, “what it would be like to build a community oven in this space, in this time when everyone seems to feel so hurried? Feeding people by baking in a brick oven is SLOW; there’s nothing instantly gratifying about it. We need to haul 3-4 wheelbarrows of wood for starters; then we have to stoke the fire for 10-12 hours to get the oven to baking temperature.”

Community Oven 02Photo right: Life-long Hamline Midway resident and bread baker Mark Ireland with his daughter Kathleen. He said, “The real community building happens when people are hauling and throwing wood together, or standing around waiting for the bread to come out of the oven.”

Hamline United Methodist Church received a grant from the White Bear Lake United Methodist Church to build their oven. Bryce Johnson, a long-time pastor at the White Bear Lake church, had an oven built some years ago for his congregation. The oven was so successful as a tool for community building that the White Bear Lake church created a grant, which any Methodist church in Minnesota could apply for.

Ireland explained, “We won primarily because of our unique relationship with Hamline University, our active inner-city neighborhood and the close proximity of neighborhood elementary schools. “We literally have the chance to impact thousands of people with this project,” he said.

There are two events coming up this summer to taste what the community oven can do, and to savor the company of neighbors. On Wed., July 20, free wood-fired pizza will be served at 6pm with the movie “The Love Bug” showing at dusk. On Wed., Aug. 17, free wood-fired pizza will be served at 6pm with the movie “Shaun the Sheep” showing at dusk. Bring your own blanket, lawn chairs, salads and sides.

“For a pizza party,” Ireland said, “we heat the oven to almost 1,000 degrees, and it stays warm for 3-4 days afterward. It only takes 90 seconds to bake a pizza, but it takes a long time to get to that baking point. As the oven cools, it’s possible to bake other lower-temperature breads. The first to go in are the ciabatta or other artisanal loaves, then the sweet breads. We can bake 30-40 loaves of bread at a time.”

If you’re interested in learning how to build your own portable oven, David S. Cargo (one of the founding members of the St. Paul Bread Club) will offer a class at HUMC on Sat., Aug. 20, from 9am–3:30pm. The fee for the class is $80. The class covers choosing an outdoor oven site, preparing the ground, and all of the skills needed to construct an oven. Each student will receive plans for three different sizes of ovens, a materials list, and bread recipes to use with their wood fired oven. For more information or to register, contact David S. Cargo at escargo@skypoint.com.

For more information on baking events or to learn about baking your own bread in the community oven, email the church office at hamlinechurchum@gmail.com with the subject line “bread oven request.”

Ireland concluded, “The community oven is not an outreach to increase our church membership. It’s a way to bring people together in the neighborhood who might not otherwise get to know each other.”

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InsideBus_25228268919_438249dd6a_oSm slider

A Line marks step forward in bus service

Posted on 07 June 2016 by Calvin

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

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

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

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

The line officially opens at 10am.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BRT addresses these issues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Emily Program slider

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

Posted on 07 June 2016 by Calvin

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

One in five women struggles with an eating disorder.

St. Anthony resident Billie Gray is one of them.

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

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

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

She got it.

“It gave me my life back,” said Gray.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hamline Ave. Parking meeting slider

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

Posted on 07 June 2016 by Calvin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mayor George Latimer 07 slider

Former Mayor George Latimer makes Midway his new home

Posted on 07 June 2016 by Calvin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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soccer illus 1 SLIDER

Major league soccer stadium closer to reality in the Midway

Posted on 07 June 2016 by Calvin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

soccer illus 1

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