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Central High School transformed for its 150th anniversary year

Posted on 05 September 2016 by Calvin

Improved landscaping, stormwater management, outdoor classroom and paved pathway to Lexington part of project

When students arrived at Central High School for the start of the sesquicentennial school year, the “prison” looked a little more inviting.

IMG_3791SeatingAreaSmPhoto right: Members of the Transforming Central Committee and Principal Mary Mackbee survey the work being done to create the outdoor classroom in August 2016. “I’m super excited for the outdoor classroom and learning opportunities that the project is installing,” said senior Olive Murdoch Meyer, who is the co-president of Roots and Shoots. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

The transformation of the state’s oldest, continuously-operating, and only five-story high school campus began on June 13. It included improved landscaping and stormwater management, an outdoor classroom, and a paved pathway across campus to Lexington Pkwy.

Before these updates, longtime Principal Mary Mackbee described the front entryway as “bland.” As work progressed over the summer, she was looking forward to returning students passing through the project area and seeing all the new things in front. “It’s wonderful,” Mackbee stated.

“We always joked that Central resembled a prison—and maybe took some pride in that—but these updates will make it have a sense of place, make it feel like the great academic school it is,” stated St. Paul Council Member and Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Chris Tolbert, who graduated in 2001.

Tolbert praised the group of parents who have worked on this update for years. “This project would not have happened but for their persistence, dedication, and resourcefulness,” said Tolbert. “I hope that we can keep that level of dedication from parents for generations.”

IMG_3791SeatingAreaSmPhoto left: Members of the Transforming Central Committee are excited to see five years of work coming to fruition. The changes to the stormwater system and front plaza were sparked by students, staff, and parents. The project completion kicks off the sesquicentennial celebration of the school. Left to right: Ann Hobbie, Lisa Heyman, Maggie O’Reilly, Principal Mary Mackbee, Julie Marckel, Olive Murdoch Meyer and Nina Tuttle. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Committee members included Deb Ahlquist, Beth Black, Amber Buckner, Patricia Eaves, Craig Davies, Sally Gagne, Kris Hageman, Lisa Heyman, Ann Hobbie, Margaret Jones, Julie Marckel, Dana Murdoch, Maggie O’Reilly, Jeff Risberg, and Nina Tuttle.

“We thought that Central’s drab and uninviting exterior did not reflect the diverse, welcoming and vibrant community inside,” observed committee member Heyman. “With the addition of the outdoor classroom and seated planters there will be so many more places to sit. The paved pathway to Lexington will bring dignity to all students. No longer will they trudge through the mud to get to their buses.”

Someone cared enough
“Appearance plays a big role in the way people feel,” remarked Adrian Perryman, a 2003 Central High School graduate and current Concordia University employee. “Knowing that someone cared enough to invest their time into this project will make students feel special. I don’t recall any improvements when I was a student, but the appearance of the school and the grounds was definitely a topic of discussion.”

According to Maggie O’Reilly, the effort to upgrade and renovate the outdoor campus started five years ago when parents on the committee noted the compacted soil on the grounds, excessive water runoff, worn trees and landscaping, and unattractive entrance. They also noted a need for outdoor seating and a paved walking path from the plaza to Lexington Ave.

The Transforming Central project officially got underway by a dedicated group of parents, students and community members in the fall of 2011 when the committee partnered with the Root and Shoots environmental awareness team and the National Honor Society to plant over 500 bulbs on the school grounds.

Next, they surveyed students, faculty, administrators, parents and community members to gather input on desirable exterior improvements, which was put together into a document that guided planning for the next few years.

Things really got moving in the summer of 2012 when students and parent volunteers planted the three large tiers that frame the front exterior stairway with native perennials and grasses thanks to private donations and school support. Committee member Julie Marckel recalled how two environmental classes spread out wood chips in the tiers to mulch the plants. Those classes, along with the National Honor Society and the Roots and Shoots, have continued to care for the grounds. “It’s a nice way to get the kids involved,” said Marckel.

Cleaning up water runoff
In November 2012, Central received a grant from the Capitol Region Watershed District (CRWD) to analyze storm water run-off at the site, and in September 2013, they got another CRWD grant for the stormwater retrofit project. More money came in later to make changes at the site, which included the removal of the berm areas in front of the school along Marshall Ave. and extensive excavation for the underground storm water treatment system that will also manage water draining from the roof. A large rain garden at the corner of Marshall and Lexington will beautify while collecting and filtering water.

Dead and diseased trees were removed and new ones planted. Memorial trees and shrubs planted over the years are being grouped in a Memorial Garden area. All of the new plantings will be native and hardy perennials, trees and shrubs, and will include many pollinator-friendly plants.

Impermeable surfaces are replaced with well-planned permeable ones.

“When the project is finished, 1,434,000 gallons of runoff each year will filter through the ground instead of flowing untreated to the Mississippi River, and 1,367 pounds of sediment will no longer erode,” pointed out Heyman. “Additionally, 4.23 pounds of phosphorous will no longer enter the Mississippi River watershed.”

Environmental science teacher Lisa Houdek and biology teacher Stacey Skinner received an educator’s grant from Capitol Region Watershed District to pay for curriculum and measurement tools. The system has been built so that students can access it to track how much water is in the system, the water quality, and more.

Several grants and donations have been raised over the years to make this project happen, with money coming from state organizations, civic and community groups, as well as private individuals.

The 2013 graduating class commissioned local artist Peter Morales to create a bench to be included in the new landscaping. Each graduating class since has donated money for the project, and Roots and Shoots raised money for the new red hanging bike racks that are located in the front alcoves.

Phase 2 will include art pieces that reflect the vibrancy/energy of Central students and the surrounding community, as well as additional lighting, benches and landscaping. “We are considering sculptures and banner-like art commissioned by local St. Paul artists,” said O’Reilly. Discussions about the art and fundraising for the $100,000 shortfall continue.
Outdoor classroom

A highlight for many is the new outdoor classroom, fashioned out of limestone blocks that form a Fibonacci spiral—a mathematical sequence.

“I’m super excited for the outdoor classroom and learning opportunities that the project is installing,” said senior Olive Murdoch Meyer, who is the co-president of Roots and Shoots. “The beautification of Central’s facade is wonderful, but I think the most important part is giving students a chance to appreciate and utilize the outdoors in a way that wouldn’t have been as accessible before.”

Murdoch Meyer added, “Central is such a strong, vibrant place that can and will get through anything, but this project will be a special refresher to remind us what we can do together as a community, and will bring extra energy to this upcoming school year, as well as years to come. I think that this transformation is a big milestone for Central.”

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Tool Library 15 slider

St. Paul Tool Library soon to open in Midway

Posted on 05 September 2016 by Calvin

Story and photo by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
A different kind of library is opening this fall in the former American Can building, 755 Prior Ave. N. The St. Paul Tool Library will be the first of its kind in the city. The North East Minneapolis Tool Library (NEMTL) opened 15 months ago, and the two will share a common board, tool inventory, and membership base.

The new home for the St. Paul Tool Library was announced at a launch party/fundraiser Aug. 16. The event was held to further the St. Paul Tool Library’s crowd funding campaign that runs until Sept. 17. The goal is to raise at least $12910 including a $5,000 community support match grant from the Knight Foundation.

What exactly is a tool library?
A tool library is a space filled with tools that can be checked out and taken home by members for a set period. Like a book library, a tool library gives members the freedom to use the tools they need without having to buy them. A tool library also offers skill-building classes to help members learn to use new tools, and the chance to meet other members working on projects in the shared workshop space.

Power tools, hand tools, automotive tools, and yard tools will all be available when the Tool Library opens. Skill-building classes will include basic electrical wiring, and introductory woodworking projects such as how to build a bee-box, a raised garden bed, or picture frames.

Tool Library 10Photo left: Zach Wefel, of the North East Minneapolis Tool Library, greeted a prospective St. Paul Tool Library member at the launch party at Monster Lake Brewing. The Minneapolis and St. Paul tool libraries will be two branches of the same organization, sharing a common board to advise their growth and development.

If the success of the NEMTL is any indication, a lot of people believe in access over ownership when it comes to tools.

Zach Wefel, founder and president of the NEMTL, said, “The response in our neighborhood has been fantastic. We exceeded our membership goal of 250 in the first year, and are on track to exceed our goal of 400 in the second year.”

Wefel is an enthusiastic promoter of tool libraries. “My wife and I bought a 115-year-old house when we moved to Minneapolis. There were so many repairs that needed doing, and I would have had to buy a bunch of tools that were only needed for one or two special projects. The idea for a tool library just made sense.”

John Bailey has been instrumental in getting the St. Paul Tool Library up and running. A independent consultant by day, he claims to be, “neither a ‘tool -head’ nor a maker/builder.” Bailey said, “Mostly I like to find ways to organize things better. I helped to start the City Car Share in San Francisco in the 1990’s.

When creating a shared economy, like car sharing or tool lending, it’s a question of using resources efficiently. I see it as a way to practice good environmental stewardship, and I’m also kind of cheap.”

The new location for the St. Paul Tool Library is in the heart of the city’s Creative Enterprise Zone. The zone stretches from Prior Ave. to Highway 280, and from University Ave. to Energy Park Dr. The Creative Enterprise Zone is successfully attracting and fostering small, artist-owned businesses, capitalizing on a long history of small manufacturing and hard work. The zone’s motto is, “We make it here.” That motto hits the nail right on the head for the St. Paul Tool Library.

For more information about membership, when the doors will open, or to contribute to the St. Paul Tool Library crowd funding campaign, email StPToolLib@gmail.com, or visit facebook.com/SaintPaulToolLibrary. The crowed funding page can be found at www.ioby.org/project/saint-paul-tool-library.

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Carnage the Executioner slider

Staying true to your past and culture; staying true to yourself

Posted on 05 September 2016 by Calvin

From his early years growing up in the Midway, to a student at Hamline U., to the rapper Carnage the Executioner

An imposing strength and a fierce look on the face of Carnage the Executioner reflect the image of his name as the rapper performs onstage. But when a smile breaks out, the gentle soul of Terrell Woods, the man, comes shining through.

Carnage the Executioner 2Photo left: Carnage the Executioner (Photo by Mike Madison)

Born in Chicago, Woods moved with his mom to St. Paul when he was around 5. “We lived in the Midway area, on Sherburne Ave. I first went to school at Maxfield,” he recalled.

But life was not easy, and as his mother struggled with alcoholism and addiction, Woods was placed in foster care at age 12. This was the beginning of moves throughout the Metro, from St. Paul to North Minneapolis to South Minneapolis and back and forth, as Woods lived in foster homes and group homes.

“I learned how to survive in the system,” Woods said. “I did some things to fit in, but never robbed or killed anybody or went to prison. Most of the kids were quite a bit more unruly than me, and I was good at staying afloat and making friends.”

One of the survival tactics Woods relied on was his love of music. “As early as I can remember I would hear certain songs. My mom wasn’t a musician, but she played a lot of the music that was popular and that I liked.”

“The first thing I wanted to do was play drums. I was 5 or 6, and I would set up pillows on the couch when my mom wasn’t home, and I would turn on the TV and get wooden spoons and hit the pillows, playing fake drums to every song on TV.”

He listened to Herbie Hancock and Run-D.M.C., one of the most well-known hip-hop acts of the 1980s. “I was at a friend’s house, and his dad was playing that group. I remember the beat. That was my first introduction to hip-hop, and I asked his dad to play it again and again and again.”

When Woods was as young as 8, he started working on the art he has perfected today, beatboxing, making drum sounds with his mouth. “I started teaching myself,” he said.

Carnage the Executioner 3Photo right: Photo by Sarah Dope

As well as wanting to be a drummer, he wanted to be a DJ, one of the other elements of hip-hop culture. “I was also getting into breakdancing, and the DJs were the ones spinning the records for the break-dancers,” Woods noted. “But drums and turntables were expensive, and I couldn’t afford them. So beat box came around right when it was supposed to because I could do that without buying an instrument.”

He was not yet in his teens, but as he entered high school in Bloomington, he became more involved with hip-hop, and he started writing his own songs. He was a senior when he recorded his first song.

And, although music was such a big part of his life, Woods was still thinking of it as a hobby. He started Hamline University, studying psychology.

“I didn’t see how studying music in college would really help me,” he reflected. “I needed a backup if something happened with the music, and having education as a foundation was important to me. I thought I would get a good job, and music would just be fun. But I never gave it up.”

He completed his first album while attending Hamline, and when he graduated in 1997, he began a career in social services. He returned to the foster care and group home system in which he had grown up, but this time as a social worker. “I thought it would be cool to work at all the places I had lived as a kid,” Woods said.

However, performing as a rapper was in his blood, and he could not let it go. He said he thought of how the hip-hop culture had helped him survive his childhood, and he wanted to give back to that culture. Finally, in February 2007, he took the step to make his living as a musician.

He has performed with Desdamona, providing backup sound to her spoken word. And he was close to Micheal “Eyedea” Larsen, the multi-talented Minneapolis rapper who died tragically in 2010. As he gained experience from working with other performers, he was honing his skills for his own songs, albums, and solo work.

Carnage the Executioner 5Photo left: Photo by Patrick Pegg

Woods is a strong believer in the basis of respect that is so much a part of hip-hop, and his music has drawn the respect of fellow artists. “I’m your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper,” he claims. “I don’t know any of my peers who don’t respect what I do.”

For many of his songs, Woods has drawn on his own past to create his volume of work. And he has drawn on his past in choosing his performing name, Carnage the Executioner.

“When I first came up with the name, I wanted something flashy and abrasive and memorable,” he said. “It didn’t take me too long to start figuring out how to justify the name, and it turned from just sounding cool to having some meaning.”

Woods describes it as being about a journey from where he came from and to where he is going. “Where I came from, there has been a lot of carnage in my life,” he explained. “As I have gotten older, I realize that if you don’t grow from your past, you are just a puppet to it. You become a victim of your circumstance.”

“I made it through every possible peril that was presented to me. So the name started having the symbolic message of a journey. I have learned to deal with carnage. Carnage is the artist; Terrell Woods is the person,” he said.

In listening to Woods perform as Carnage, the sounds he creates with his mouth can provide a full musical background for his words. He could be called the Bobby McFerrin of hip-hop. In forming his sound, he likes loop, allowing him to make a sound and play if over and over like a backdrop. He has added an effects pedal that he hits with his foot. “It’s kind of like a keyboard but has a pedal that I operate with my feet.

With it, if I wanted something to sound like a crazy spaceship, I can do it,” Woods said. “It adds texture to the performance.”

“I think I can stay true to the culture by staying true to myself and do music for a wider base of people,” he commented. “I’m about trying to connect with people. It’s important. If someone spends four minutes listening to a song, that’s four minutes they can’t get back. If they’re going to put their money on you, you have to make it worth their while.”

Besides writing songs and performing, Woods teaches youth how to beat box and still draws on his social work skills and experience. He has worked with McPhail and the Stepping Stone Theater Company, and he has a record deal in France, where he is a staple in French hip-hop. He said he loves to perform, enjoys being in the studio and writing. The hardest part is marketing himself, trying to be seen and be known.
“I can only speak for how hard I work to be this good and how many years I have put in,” he noted. “I do this for other people’s enjoyment.”

Having done much of his performing in Minneapolis, Woods is now living in a St. Paul suburb and focusing many of his concerts on this side of the river. “St. Paul should be ready to give me a chance—they’re going to see a lot more of me,” he quipped with a smile.

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Approvals and votes start falling into place for soccer stadium

Posted on 05 September 2016 by Calvin

Approvals are falling into place for a Major League Soccer stadium near Snelling and University avenues and redevelopment of Midway Center, with an eye toward stadium completion and soccer games here in mid-2018.

Soccer fans cheered the Aug. 19 announcement that Minnesota United FC will start play in the league in March 2017. The team will play at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium until the St. Paul facility is complete.

St. Paul City Council approvals Aug. 17 of several measures helped the stadium project along and also set the stage for longer-term Midway Center redevelopment. The stadium site plan, Midway Center master plan, a technical zoning amendment and property plan changes all passed 5-1. The council unanimously approved a community benefits agreement tied to redevelopment.

But Gov. Mark Dayton’s Aug. 18 announcement that there won’t be a 2016 legislative special session does hold up the stadium’s sought-after tax exemptions. Minnesota United sought a property tax exemption for the site and a sales tax exemption on construction materials for the $150 million facility. Dayton and legislative leaders were unable to agree on details of a special session, including funding for Southwest light rail.

At the Aug. 19 announcement of the start of MLS play, Dayton said he’d do everything he can to get the exemption passed during the 2017 legislative session. Bill McGuire, a primary owner of the soccer team, has repeatedly said that the team is confident that the exemptions will be approved. The property tax exemption was in the tax bill passed by the House and Senate, but Dayton wouldn’t sign it because of a technical error related to another part of the legislation.

The City Council’s actions cap a planning process that began late last year. The stadium and Midway Center plans went through review by a community task force and were recommended for approval by the St. Paul Planning Commission. Work will continue with further studies on transportation, traffic and transit use, issues which emerged as red flags during studies of the project’s transportation impacts.

Ward Seven Council Member Jane Prince cast the lone votes against the project pieces; her main objection is that the actions “are both rushed and premature.” She cited similar concerns raised by members of the Snelling Midway Community Advisory Committee, who had to make recommendations before environmental impact studies were even completed.

Prince also quoted a project staff report on the Midway Center site plan which cited a “critical lack of detail” on the project. “Uncertainty abounds,” said Prince. She raised questions about potential developer and business interest in a redeveloped Midway Center, as well as the uncertainty about the requested tax exemptions, as other reasons to not support the actions.

Other council members said that while they may also have questions, they are confident that the stadium and shopping center redevelopment will be a success. Council President Russ Stark described the community review process as “extensive.”

Stark said that while some issues are unresolved, he is excited about the master plan for the redevelopment of the 34.4-acre Midway Center site and the soccer stadium site plan. He lives just two blocks from the shopping center and the superblock bounded by Pascal St. and St. Anthony, Snelling and University avenues. “It’s exciting to see the opportunity to redevelop this site and to see investment.”

Midway Center owner Rick Birdoff has said that the stadium project is the catalyst for shopping center redevelopment.

“This is really a game change for that neighborhood and the whole city,” said Ward Three Council Member Chris Tolbert.

Other council members said they are torn by the uncertainties about the projects, but voted for it despite that. Ward One Council Member Dai Thao said the benefits outweigh the uncertainties, adding that visitors to the city will no longer drive up Snelling Ave. past a “graveyard for buses.”

Thao got unanimous support for a community benefits agreement tied to the projects, drawing on input from the community advisory committee and other public meetings. The resolution spells out some community benefits any developers must commit to. One idea Thao included is that the developers have a community liaison to work with neighbors during and after development. One oft-heard complaint during the community advisory committee process was Midway Center management’s lack of attention to issues ranging from trash to shopping carts abandoned throughout the community.

The resolution suggests, but doesn’t require, that a fund be created to pay for neighborhood issues related to redevelopment. It also urges that developers avoid displacing businesses, provide affordable housing at the site and bring in a diverse workforce. Thao said his intent is to bring forward something that works for everybody. He also has an eye toward tying some community benefits to tax increment financing, if that is used in the future to redevelop the shopping center.

Ward Six Council Member Dan Bostrom was absent for the votes.

After the council votes, Mayor Chris Coleman issued a statement saying that the day had marked “a huge milestone for St. Paul and the entire region.” The mayor also said the votes bring St. Paul “one step closer to seeing incredible redevelopment in the heart of the Twin Cities—made possible by the catalyst of this proposed stadium—and one step closer to bringing Major League Soccer to Minnesota.”

The stadium site plan covers the 16-acre stadium site, indicating where streets, parking, rain garden, sidewalks, bicycle accommodations, a transit drop-off plaza and green space will be. It also lays out some details on the development of the 20,000-seat stadium. The Midway Center master plan is more visionary, with an ambitious scenario of mixed-use redevelopment.

The council approvals also set plat boundary lines and made a technical zoning change to allow a stadium in a traditional neighborhood-zoned property. Those and recent Planning Commission approval of two technical amendments to the stadium site plan complete city approvals, for now.

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Hamline Station Open-House 70 slider

Hamline Station open house celebrates project completion

Posted on 05 September 2016 by Calvin

Story and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
While Hamline Station is currently full, interested persons can call property managers Ifrah or Brian at 651-846-9810 to add their names to the waiting list.

Hamline Station Open-House 70Photo right: The Hamline Station housing and retail complex at the corner of Hamline and University avenues is up and running. Funders, supporters, and residents celebrated with an open house in August. All 108 apartments have been filled, and the ground level retail spaces are ready to lease. Hamline Station is a mixed-income housing complex, with rents aimed at 50-60% of the area median income. Fourteen units are set aside for families and individuals earning 30% of the area median income. Section 8 vouchers are accepted. Hamline Station sits on the former site of Midway Chevrolet, a property which had been abandoned for years.

Hamline Station Open-House 35Photo left: Hamline Station, 1333 University Ave., is a project of Project for Pride in Living (PPL). Speaking from the podium, executive director Paul Williams noted, “With its $25,000,000 budget and multiple funders, this is one of the most complicated projects PPL has ever done. We are thrilled to be part of the over-all development of ‘life beyond the rail.’”

Hamline Station Open-House 18Photo right: PPL’s vice president of development and external affairs, Joanne Kosciolek, said, “We received more than 600 inquiries for the available units. That really speaks to the need for affordable housing in this location, where we have great access to jobs all along the Green Line. We’ve had zero turn over since residents started moving in last December when Phase 1 was completed.”

Hamline Station Open-House 42Photo left: St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman referred to Hamline Station as, “the ultimate in transit-oriented development.” The main floor of the West Building, pictured behind Mayor Coleman, has 14,000 square feet of commercial space now ready for build-out.

Hamline Station Open-House 54Photo right: Featured speakers (left to right), Mayor Chris Coleman, Mary Tingerthal, commissioner of the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, Hamline Station resident Rejeanna Hill, and PPL executive director Paul Williams.

Hamline Station Open-House 68Photo left: Hamline Station resident Rejeanna Hill, said, “When we moved in, the Green Line was our limo. My husband Matt lost his vision four years ago, and living here has given him back a sense of freedom. The staff is wonderful; we feel respected here, and we feel safe.”

Hamline Station Open-House 09



Photo right: Amenities for residents include the use of the community room (pictured here), a community plaza between the East and West Buildings, 96 underground and 42 surface parking spaces, a playground for children, and a soon-to-be-completed fitness room. The buildings’ state-of-the-art security system provides 24-hour surveillance.


Hamline Station Open-House 62Photo left: US Bank was the project investment banker. Elness Swenson Graham Architects created the design. Anderson Companies built Hamline Station. PPL will continue to provide on-site property management. As PPL executive director Paul Williams said, “It takes a village to raise a building!” Williams pointed out that Hamline Station is a great place to live–and more. As one example, he thanked the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative for a recent $190, 000 grant to finance an employment and training module for residents of Hamline Station. This and many other supportive services are being put in place for those who wish to use them.


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Met Council and MnDOT raise questions about Soccer Stadium traffic

Met Council and MnDOT raise questions about Soccer Stadium traffic

Posted on 08 August 2016 by Calvin

Concerns about transit and transportation system capacities when Minnesota United FC starts playing at its planned Midway Soccer Stadium are among the issues raised in a study of potential project impacts, which was to be ratified Aug. 9 as the Monitor went to press. Metropolitan Council and Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) are among those asking whether city officials and consultants are being realistic about potential transit use and street and highway capacity on game days.

The comments were among those made in response to an Areawide Urban Alternatives Review (AUAR) for the Major League Soccer stadium and Midway Center redevelopment.

The AUAR is a study process used to determine all types of environmental issues that could be created by new development, and to suggest measures needed to mitigate those impacts.

On June 20 St. Paul city officials released the final AUAR, supporting documentation, public comments, and comment response. The AUAR itself is 105 pages long. The supporting documents, comments, and responses filled 469 pages.
“As the responsible governmental unit overseeing this review, the city values the input received from community members and agencies, and we have incorporated changes where appropriate,” said Planning and Economic Development (PED) Director Jonathan Sage-Martinson. “We are confident that this final document provides the thorough framework to identify and address any potential impacts of proposed development on this site, providing a clear path forward for redevelopment.”

City officials were set to ratify the document Aug. 9, if there are no state or federal agency objections. It is to be updated every five years, as the soccer stadium and adjacent Midway Center are redeveloped.

During a 30-day comment period that ended July 6, city officials heard from five state and regional agencies, six organizations and 23 individuals. Many commenters weighed in on multiple topics including traffic, transit use, spillover parking, noise, air pollution, and site cleanup due to past contamination. City staff and consultants working on the AUAR considered almost 60 comments to be substantive. Those comments were then used to add to or expand upon information in the AUAR.

The documents state that responses are generally confined to “substantive issues that address the accuracy and completeness of the information provided in the draft analysis, potential impacts that may warrant further analysis, further information that may be required in order to secure permits for specific projects in the future, and mitigation measures or procedures necessary to prevent significant environmental impacts within the area when actual development occurs.”

Questions centered on transit and transportation system impacts on soccer game days. Metropolitan Council questioned the assumption used to determine “mode split” for travel to the site, or how it was determined the number of people who would drive, take transit or shuttle buses, walk or bike. “

soccer illus 1Photo left: The most recent site plan shows how little parking is actually planned in the first phase of the superblock project. Although the city and the league are making contingency plans for shuttle buses and the use of mass transit, those plans have been called into question. (Illustration provided)

Those assumptions appear to be tilted heavily to make the case that few if any roadway improvements are needed from this massive traffic generator,” the council letter stated. The regional government also said transportation analysis should look at the overlap of transportation modes of auto access, pedestrian access, and transit access, instead of studying the issues separately.

Red flags were raised about the high percentage of shuttle bus and transit service usage estimated, as Metropolitan Council stated, “Additional potential capacity on the Green Line does not automatically translate to usage.”

City officials responded that they made conservative assumptions, given the lack of off-street parking on and near the site, and indicated they believe traffic, transit use, and parking can be “effectively managed.” The AUAR does recommend a more detailed transportation management plan be developed.

Metropolitan Council also noted that weekend evening game transit riders would be competing with regular transit users. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) also raised concerns about scheduling of games, which could affect air pollution levels. City staff replied that weekday game times are expected to be either 7 or 7:30pm, with most vehicles arriving after afternoon rush hour. The response also stated that the other weekday events held at the stadium wouldn’t attract as much traffic. Concerts are not expected to held at the stadium.

MnDOT commented on I-94, Snelling and Concordia avenues’ capacity and indicated it would ask for further reviews as the stadium and shopping center redevelopment moves forward. One issue MnDOT raised is that of having as many as 150 shuttle buses per hour descending on the proposed stadium drop-off on Concordia Ave.

Yet another concern raised repeatedly was that of space for light rail and bus patrons to queue as they enter and exit transit vehicles. That is among issues being studied by Metro Transit, according to the AUAR.

Many of the area residents who commented are worried about spillover parking in adjacent neighborhoods. One answer the city had to those comments was that residents can seek residential permit parking districts. However, the St. Paul Department of Public Works is studying changes to the permit district regulations.

It’s not clear yet how those regulations could change. At least one permit request has been put on hold until the new regulations are adopted.

Lexington-Hamline Community Council was among the groups raising questions about spillover parking in adjacent neighborhoods. The council pointed out that using Concordia University as an example of available off-street parking may not be realistic, as much of the university’s parking is in use much of the time.

Noise was also a concern, with some neighbors raising concerns about fireworks after soccer games. The AUAR states that use of fireworks is being considered by Minnesota United. Noise impacts were studied in a one-mile radius of the stadium site.

Other comments centered on historic issues, from Minnesota Historical Society and the state archaeological office. A search of the Minnesota Historic Society Historic Resources Inventory revealed that no structures or ruins in the AUAR area or its proximity are listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). However, some properties in and around the AUAR area are eligible for review for the NRHP due to their age and contribution to the commercial corridor along University Ave. These structures were identified in an earlier environmental review for the Green Line LRT. Within the AUAR area, three structures are the former Midway National Bank (American Bank) at 1578 University Ave. W. and Midway Shopping Center West Building (Big Top Liquor) at 1460 University Ave. W. But the AUAR and state officials note that while the building is older and predates the rest of the shopping center, its extensive alterations have removed historic features.

No archaeological sites in or around the AUAR area were identified as part of the inventory search, but state officials are interested in seeing if there are archaeological features on the former bus barn site or beneath the shopping center.
The revised AUAR and all other documents are available at stpaul.gov/SnellingMidwayAUAR.

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CLS slider

Central Lutheran School is building up STEAM

Posted on 08 August 2016 by Calvin

Story and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN

Central Lutheran School (CLS) has been around for a long time. While they’ve been in their current location at 775 Lexington Ave. since 1951, the school had its origins 120 years ago—started by German immigrants who sought to build a school before they built a church.

These days, the school is serving children from many different cultures. According to head administrator Elizabeth Wegner, “Our student body is more diverse than the Hamline Midway neighborhood it sits in. We have students from Ethiopia, Eritrea,  as well as from families who have been anchored in St. Paul for generations.”

“CLS doesn’t follow the usual parochial school model of one church – one school,” Wegner explained. “We’re the product of an association between four neighborhood churches: St. Stephanus, Jehovah Lutheran, Emmaus Lutheran and Bethel Lutheran.”

CLS 04Photo left: Elizabeth Wegner in the café-gymna-chapel-atorium. She said, “While CLS offers a Christ-centered learning environment, we have students from many denominations and plenty of kids whose parents don’t go to church at all.”

The school is switching to a new curriculum this year grounded in science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM). Wegner, along with board member Kerri Miesen, expressed their commitment to the curriculum change and said they have the staff to make it succeed. “Our staff is experienced, energetic and unified as a team,” Miesen reflected. “We believe we have a real service to offer to the community.”

CLS serves a wider than usual age range: T-8, with “T” standing for toddler. As of Aug. 1, their newly licensed Toddler Room will be available for children ages 16-36 months. The Toddler Room will be staffed with two teachers, taking up to 14 children at a time.

There are two levels of preschool at CLS: one for three-year-olds and one for four-year-olds. Kindergarten is a stand-alone grade; grades 1-2, 3-4, 5-6 and 7-8 are combined classes. Wegner said, “If enrollment in any of the combined classes exceeds 25, the grades will be split.”

CLS 18Photo left: The newly-licensed Toddler Room will open its doors on Aug. 1. The idea for having a Toddler Room came out of conversations with parents of older students.

Wegner, who also serves as the school music director, has been with CLS for 18 years. In that time, she has seen a lot of changes in education. “We’re a small school with big opportunities in academics, as well as extra-curricular activities,” she said. “We’re proud of our new STEAM curriculum, a variety of sports, visual arts, and instrumental and vocal music offerings .”

She continued, “More than 85% of our students are involved in music ensemble of some sort. Opportunities beyond general music start in 2nd grade with Orff Ensemble, a method of music instruction that combines singing, dancing, acting and use of percussion instruments. Junior chorus and orchestra are available in 3rd grade, with band being added in 4th grade. The upper grades can participate in orchestra, band, concert choir, hand bells, and/or hand chimes.”

Wegner estimated that K-8 registration will hover around 95 students this year.

“The crash of 2008 really took a hit on our enrollment numbers,” she said. “We’d like to see those numbers rise to 140-150 students again. All students are welcome here, and we try hard to make tuition affordable for every student whose family wants them to attend.”

CLS is currently offering a $500 reduction in tuition for newly enrolled students. Additional scholarships are available through the school’s Jayson Fund for grades K-8, and through www.thinksmall.org for preschool students. For more information or to schedule a tour of the school, contact Elizabeth Wegner at ewegner@clssp.org.

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$33,000 awarded for historic survey of Hamline Midway

$33,000 awarded for historic survey of Hamline Midway

Posted on 08 August 2016 by Calvin

A long-awaited historic survey of the Hamline Midway neighborhood has obtained needed funding from the Minnesota Historical Society. The St. Paul City Council in July accepted the funding of $33,000 through two grants. The money will be used to complete a cultural resources study.

The study was sought for many months by neighborhood residents, preservation advocates, and members of the group Historic Hamline Village. Advocates in recent years have butted heads with Hamline University over the demolition of university-owned houses, off and on-campus, including the White House.

The White House, which was located on the Hamline campus, was the longtime home of the university president.

Neighbors have also criticized the university for tearing down other homes, including older homes that have long ties to the community and university’s growth and development. One sticking point has been the lack of a current master plan for Hamline University redevelopment and growth. The fight over the demolitions led to the formation of a joint university-community group.

1549 Minnehaha 2Photo left: The house at 1549 Minnehaha Ave. dates from 1888 and was home to Prof. W.D. Walcott. He chaired the Hamline University philosophy and psychology department. Demolition was halted in 2014 after the neighborhood raised red flags about its possible destruction. (File photo)

Council President Russ Stark, whose Fourth Ward includes the area to be studied, said he is pleased that the study dollars are available. “This should give us current information on the historic resources in the neighborhood and help us discuss next steps,” he said.

A timeline for the study isn’t known. One wrinkle is that the neighborhood district council, Hamline Midway Coalition, is operating at limited capacity this summer due to a lack of staff. Stark said he expects that the district council will have involvement in the study.

The funding for the study is tied to the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, which established a strong federal policy favoring the preservation of properties and sites which have been significant in American history for the public’s benefit.

The state and its historical society have long taken the position of helping local units of government to engage in a comprehensive program of historic preservation.

1538 Englewood 2Photo right: 1538 Englewood Ave. was built in 1887. This property has been identified as eligible for historic designation. It is a brick Queen Anne style, which is considered unusual. In the past, Hamline University officials have considered moving the house. (File photo)

A state goal is to promote the use and conservation of historical, architectural, archaeological, engineering, and cultural heritage sites in the state for the education, inspiration, pleasure, and enrichment of the citizens of the state through the creation of local heritage preservation commissions.

The city also has policies which promote heritage preservation, including a chapter in its comprehensive plan.

Both the St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission and Department of Planning and Economic Development will be involved in this study.

Stark noted that the last study of the Hamline-Midway neighborhood dates to 1983, as part of a larger Ramsey County historic sites survey. That information needs to be updated, to determine which buildings have historic significance and are eligible for designation.

The last property in the neighborhood to obtain National Register of Historic Places status is Hamline Church United Methodist, 1514 Englewood Ave., which received designation in 2011.

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Snelling trees slider

Putting down roots on Midway’s Snelling Ave.

Posted on 08 August 2016 by Calvin

Story and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN

The beginning of a new urban canopy is starting to grow along Snelling Ave.
According to City of St. Paul urban forester Zach Jorgensen, “83 trees were planted between Selby and Hewitt avenues in July.”

Snelling trees 06“We had to remove 57 mature trees for the reconstruction project last summer, mostly ash, and maple,” Jorgensen said. “Those trees were mature for their urban site, with trunks as large as 10” in diameter in some cases.”

Photo left: Zach Jorgensen, City of St. Paul urban forester said, “We’re working with some pretty tough elements here on Snelling Ave. We had to choose ‘work-horse’ trees like Honey Locust, that can take the engine exhaust, road salt, and inconsistent watering.”

“The new plantings are much more varied,” he continued, “and will likely be a better investment for the future. Species include Patriot and Discovery Elm, Swamp White Oak, Honey Locust, Kentucky Coffee Tree, and Century Linden. There will be a concentration of Prairie Sentinel Hackberry in the median near the I-94 intersection.”

Snelling trees 04Photo right: Brian Woyda, owner of Woyda & Mortel, Inc., will be responsible for keeping new trees watered and maintained this year.

Brian Woyda, owner of the landscape construction company Woyda & Mortel, Inc., did the installation with a crew of three workers. The planting took about a week, interrupted occasionally by the summer’s highest heat indexes. The crew averaged more than ten trees per day, removing brick pavers, digging deep holes for the installations and tamping the soil back into place with an industrial compacter. Woyda & Mortel, Inc. will be responsible for watering the trees for the rest of this growing season.

According to Jorgenson, “90% of the cost of tree installations for the city involves what goes on below ground. “ He explained, “We can’t use just ordinary soil because the trees take so much abuse in this heavily urbanized environment. We’ve chosen to go with what is called a structural soil mix. The one we use comes out of Cornell University. It’s made up of crushed granite, clay loam, and hydro-gel, a binder that holds everything together. We buy it by the ton.”

Snelling trees 05Photo left: Kyle Hunter compacted the structural soil to hold a new tree in place —while still allowing for good water flow.

Barb Spears is a long-time Hamline Midway resident, born at Midway Hospital. She trained as an urban forester, and serves on St. Paul’s Tree Advisory Panel. “The panel’s mission is to serve as a link between the citizens of St. Paul and its forestry department to preserve, provide and enhance St. Paul’s urban canopy,” she noted.

“There will be opportunities for people,” Spears said, “especially Snelling Ave. business owners, to adopt nearby trees beginning in 2017.” Because the trees are surrounded by permeable pavers, they can be watered directly onto the soil or even through the pavers. To inquire about adopting a tree next year, or to report a tree looking stressed at any time, call the City Forestry Department at 651-632-5129.

Snelling trees 09Photo right: Workers installed 83 new trees along Snelling Ave. in high heat and humid conditions.

Spears also serves on the Hamline Midway Environment Committee. Her colleague there, Lucy Hunt, said, “We’re very happy to be getting these trees. A canopy of trees isn’t only beautiful; it’s good for the whole community. In the inner-city, we have high ozone levels and way too much air pollution. Getting 83 new trees is a nod to our neighbors that City Hall cares about our air quality.”

In addition to improved air quality, an urban tree canopy contributes to improved human health, better storm water retention, reduced energy costs and a mitigated “heat island effect” by cutting down on the amount of pavement exposed to the sun.

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Smaller than expected crowd turns out for public hearing on stadium

Posted on 08 August 2016 by Calvin

City Council poised to vote on stadium site plan Aug. 17; everyone still waiting for state legislature/governor to act


The St. Paul City Council is poised to vote Aug. 17 on the Major League Soccer stadium site plan, Midway Center redevelopment master plan, a technical zoning amendment allowing the stadium to move ahead, and plat changes tied to redevelopment.

A smaller-than-anticipated crowd turned out for the Aug. 3 public hearing.
Familiar objections centered on spillover parking, traffic, noise and lighting. But most attention focused on Midway Center owner Rick Birdoff, who addressed earlier reservations he’d raised about the ambitious master plan. Birdoff assured the council that center redevelopment will go ahead in conjunction with the stadium, but that it could take different forms than the master plan indicates—and will take time.

The council held three public hearings, one on each plan and a third hearing on a technical zoning amendment that will allow a sports stadium of 20,000 or more seats to be built in a traditional neighborhoods zoning district.

The Planning Commission recommended City Council approval of the stadium site plan and shopping center master plan July 10, following the June 8 public hearing.
The stadium plans are moving ahead without a needed property tax exemption from the Minnesota Legislature. As of July, Gov. Mark Dayton and House and Senate leaders were still discussing a special session, which would include action on the requested tax break. But as of Monitor deadline no session date had been set.

The St. Paul Planning Commission voted Aug. 5 for two technical variances to the property’s traditional neighborhoods zoning. The commission’s Zoning Committee had recommended on July 28 that they be approved.

A Planning Commission decision on the variances is final unless it is appealed to the City Council. City officials wantrf the variances adopted before the stadium site plan and shopping center master plan get voted on by the City Council Aug. 10.

Planning Commissioners said they understand the need for variances, but they are frustrated with the rushed process and piecemeal approach to stadium and Midway Center reviews. “These are very complex plans, and we haven’t had a lot of time to go through them,” said Commissioner Gaius Nelson.

The need for variances came up during the review of the stadium site plan and Midway Center master plan, said St. Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development (PED) Planning Director Donna Drummond. The variances were then laid over for separate action, rather than postpone the stadium site plan and center master plan process.

The fast pace of the variances’ review and approval process frustrated some members of the Union Park District Council (UPDC). On July 18, the district council’s Economic Development and Land Use Committee discussed the variances. But with no city staff report to review, committee members said they didn’t have anything to act on.

“We really can’t do anything without a staff report,” said UPDC Executive Director Julie Reiter.

City planning staff had recommended approval of both variances, which are technical in nature. Both variances are for the 17-acre site eyed for the soccer stadium and adjacent amenities, on the southern part of the property. About 9.8 acres are the former Snelling bus garage property, owned by Metropolitan Council.

The remainder of the area is owned by Midway Center owner RK Midway. The soccer stadium site plan is considered to be the first phase of overall Midway Center redevelopment.

One variance is a floor area ratio (FAR) variance for the soccer stadium itself. FAR is the ratio of a building’s total or gross floor area to the size of the piece of land upon which it is built. St. Paul’s traditional neighborhoods zoning classifications have FAR requirements to encourage density. The ratio required for the stadium’s TN4 zoning and in an area near a light rail station is a minimum 1.0. The stadium is proposed to have a .19 FAR.

The second variance is for a parking lot at Pascal and St. Anthony avenues. The 164-space lot is to be used by the stadium and by retail space associated with team merchandising. One intent of TN zoning is to discourage the creation of stand-alone surface parking lots. A parking lot isn’t allowed as the primary use on a property unless the parking spaces shared amount multiple businesses or uses.

Tegra Group of Minneapolis, a real estate broker and advisory firm, filed the variance requests on behalf of Minneapolis United FC. Nate Pearson of Tegra Group said the FAR requirement isn’t a useful measurement for the 20,000-seat stadium. When calculated FAR for the stadium, only the enclosed part is used. Pearson also said that shared use of the parking lot is logical and that sharing of the spaces could be discussed as shopping center redevelopment continues.

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