Archive | January, 2018

Capitol rehearsal 131

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

Posted on 09 January 2018 by Calvin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Emerald Ash Borer

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

Posted on 09 January 2018 by Calvin

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

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

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

Image left: stock image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on 09 January 2018 by Calvin

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ways to connect with your Metropolitan Regional Arts Council

Posted on 09 January 2018 by Calvin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thomas Avenue Flats redevelopment would contain 51 apartments

Posted on 08 January 2018 by Calvin

After years of being vacant land, and after several doomed ideas, will this housing project finally be a winner?


The long-awaited redevelopment of a shuttered private park property at Thomas Ave. and Simpson St. is finally moving ahead. On Dec. 13 the St. Paul City Council, acting as the Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) approved final financing details for the Thomas Avenue Flats, a $13.6 million, four-story affordable multi-family building with 51 units. Work is expected to get underway in 2018.

Developer MWF Properties won preliminary approval in Aug. 2017 for financing to redevelop the site at 1500 Thomas Ave. MWF is a veteran developer, with 11 developments totaling 1,500 units to its credit in Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois. The company also has been a development consultant on a 529-unit Rochester project. Development company principals include Jay Weis and Erik Weis, owners of Minneapolis-based Weis Builders, a general contractor established in 1939.

MWF has owned the Hamline-Midway site since the summer of 2015. It was owned and maintained for many years prior to that by longtime Midway developers David and Teri Van Landschoot, owners of Justin Properties.

The project needs no zoning changes or variances at this time and had its city staff site plan review last summer. The property was zoned for traditional neighborhood use a few years ago when other mixed-use streets in Hamline-Midway had zoning changes to accommodate future traditional neighborhoods, with higher-density use.

The housing development will include underground parking, an outdoor patio, fitness center, laundry facilities on each floor, bike racks and secure entry. It is within a short walk of the Snelling Ave. Green Line light rail stop and A Line bus service on Snelling.

Outgoing St. Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development director Jonathan Sage-Martinson said the developers spent many months working on the project and are ready to move ahead. The HRA had given preliminary approvals in August 2017.

On Dec. 13 the HRA allocated up to $1.3 million in HOME loan funds, in the form of a 40-year deferred loan with 2 percent interest. The HRA also approved a conduit revenue bond not to exceed $7.2 million. With a conduit bond issue, the city isn’t liable if there are problems in the future in repaying the bonds. The developers are using a mix of private and public funding to pay for the project. Units in the project will remain affordable for 30 to 40 years.

Seventeen units will have three bedrooms. The rest are a mix of one and two-bedroom units. Rents will range from $848 for a one-bedroom unit to $1,356 for three bedrooms.

Redevelopment by MWF Properties would cap decades of debate over the site, which was once part of the Great Northern, later Samaritan Hospital, complex. The original hospital was built in 1919. The hospital closed in 1987. It was demolished and replaced with townhouses. An office building, Hamline Park Plaza, and a parking ramp remain.

The property at the southwest corner of Thomas and Simpson St. has been open space for many years, developed as the Garden of Poetry sculpture park. But after-dark parties, loitering, trash, and neighborhood complaints prompted the owners to remove most of the sculptures and close the park. David Van Landschoot said at a 2005 city meeting that the family lost money on the park for a decade as they battled problems there.

Different developers worked with Justin Properties on proposals for the property. A 2004 senior condo project was shelved due to lower-than-anticipated presales. A 2005 four-story apartment development, brought forward by the Hamline Park Plaza Partnership, ran up against neighborhood opposition and complaints that a four-story building on the site would be too tall. That project won needed variances but was never built.

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Midway National Bank circa 1960

Development Roundup by Jane McClure

Posted on 08 January 2018 by Calvin

Demolition permit issued for iconic Midway National Bank building
It’s the end of an era in the Midway commercial community. The former Midway National Bank building is slated for demolition. A demolition permit was issued Dec. 26 for the building at 1578 University Ave. The owner is listed as RD Parent Investors Inc. of New York City. Carl Bolander and Sons will do the demolition. The building value is listed at $160,000.

Photo right: The old Midway National Bank Building is scheduled for demolition. This image from the 1960s of the bank as it originally was built. The building was designed by the St. Paul architectural firm of Bergstedt, Hirsch, Wahlberg & Wold. (Photo from LakesnWoods.com Postcard and Postcard Image Collection)

Scaffolding went up around the property this month. The upcoming demolition has prompted some protests. But past historic surveys of properties in St. Paul, and for Green Line light rail and A line bus rapid transit, have yielded mixed recommendations as to the building’s historic value. It has no local or national historic designation.

According to the bank’s building permit, it cost $525,000 to build, a high sum for its day. The two-story bank building, which opened in 1960, had its main entrance on University Ave. The bank has been described as an example of Classic Mid-Century Modern architecture.

Its north and south sides were designed as glass and aluminum curtain walls. Its east and west exterior walls were clad in granite. The building was designed by the St. Paul architectural firm of Bergstedt, Hirsch, Wahlberg & Wold. Midway-based contractor J.S. Sweitzer and Sons built the building. That firm erected many area buildings including Hamline Church United Methodist.

The Ritt family, longtime owners of Midway National bank, erected the building to replace its 1930-era bank at 1583-87 University Ave. The Ritts were a longtime St. Paul banking family and civic leaders. A.L. Ritt was a leader for many years in what is now the Midway Chamber of Commerce.

The Midway National Bank operated here until 2002, when it was purchased by Dakota Bancshares. It became American Bank a few years later. The bank closed to the public in late 2012. Some internal operations and storage remained there until July 2013.

In 2014 the St. Paul Planning commission approved a proposal to relocate the Midway Center Walgreens store from its now-demolished strip mall location to the former bank. Plans at that time called for creating a new pharmacy drive-through and adding about 2,800 square feet of new one-story retail space along University. The property owners presented the idea as an interim plan while the shopping center was redeveloped. But that proposal was set aside. Just two years later the Snelling-Midway master plan for the redevelopment of the entire Midway center superblock was proposed. That plan called for the bank to be torn down and replaced, likely with a taller building.
But, it’s not known yet what will replace the bank.

Developments win financing
The longtime Weyerhaeuser Lumber site near St. Paul’s western border will be transformed soon. Dominium Development had financing for two projects approved Dec. 13 by the St. Paul City Council, acting as the Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) Board.

Millberry Apartments will be a 121-unit workforce housing development at 700 Emerald St. The HRA approved conduit revenue bonds of up to $19 million for the project. The project, led by Dominium Development, has a total cost of more than $38 million

Millberry will have units of one, two and three-bedroom workforce housing. All units will be affordable at 60 percent of area median income for 22 years.

The HRA also approved a conduit revenue bond for a second Dominium project, the Legends at Berry Senior Apartments project. This bond issue is for up to $38 million in conduit tax-exempt housing revenue bonds.

Dominium is proposing to construct a 242-unit senior four-story rental building, also at 700 Emerald St. The project will include one, two and three-bedroom units, with all of the units affordable at 60 percent of area median income for 22 years. Total development costs for this project will be more than $76 million.

For both projects, the city waived its developer fees. The projects will rely on a mix of public and private funding.

Conduit bond issues are a form of pass-through funding and don’t affect the city’s credit rating or finances.

Church site could be developed
A Dale St. vacant lot could become home to a Neighborhood Development Center (NDC) project. The lot at 489 N. Dale St. was recently advertised by the city’s Department of Planning and Economic Development, as the NDC has sought the rights to buy the property from the city.

When a request to buy city property is made, the city announces the potential sale. That allows time for the community to respond. If all goes as planned the property would be sold to the center, which works with small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Proposed, under the name of Neighborhood Commercial Spaces, LLC, is a six-story mixed-use building. The building won’t just take the former church site but will encompass adjoining private property. The private properties were not specified, but the center owns and operates from a building next door.

The property owned by the city was a church site for more than a century. Various congregations occupied the church, which originally housed Lutherans. Several years ago, the church fell into disrepair. The congregation and city officials debated its fate for months before it was finally torn down.

One of its former congregations was Church of the Nazarene, which erected a cross at the property a few years ago.

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Will progress on Como-Dale-Front intersection finally happen in 2018?

Will progress on Como-Dale-Front intersection finally happen in 2018?

Posted on 08 January 2018 by Calvin

How to improve the six-legged intersection that is Como-Dale-Front is a topic that has engaged the South Como, North End and Frogtown neighborhoods for decades. 2018 starts with a renewed effort by the St. Paul Departments of Public Works and Planning and Economic Development (PED), design consultants, and City Council Member Amy Brendmoen to make improvements.

Ideas gathered at a December 2017 meeting will be incorporated into the plans, along with feedback from an online survey that ends Jan. 14.

The intersection is expected to see new infrastructure projects in the short-term, with a push toward redevelopment in the long-term.
Some ideas on the drawing board focus on placemaking, to make what are now parking lots more attractive. That effort could include landscaping at spots that are now paved or open. Better markings are also being considered, such as high-visibility pedestrian crosswalks at all crossings, more prominent green-painted bike lane markings for Como cyclists, and white painted stop bars for motorists so that vehicles don’t block crosswalks.

Relocating the northbound Dale St. bus stop near the Speedy market to a spot beside John’s Pizza Café is also being considered. Another idea is to eliminate the dedicated right-turn lane from southbound Como onto westbound Front. The pedestrian space could be enlarged, and the Como crosswalk shortened. Other suggestions include restricting right turn lanes for trucks, filling area sidewalk gaps, adding pedestrian refuges and even tearing down a building at the northwest corner.

How to improve the intersection and transform the area has been discussed since the 1990s. Those studies led to successes such as the transformation of an old foundry and industrial area into the St. Paul Port Authority’s Great Northern Business Park. But other parts of that ambitious project, including the extension of Pierce Butler Rte. to the east, stalled due to lack of funds.

The latest scrutiny began in 2010 with the completion of a University of Minnesota Design Center study. That “Rethinking the Intersection” study became part of the District 6 neighborhood plan, as North End and South Como were both still in that citizen participation district. The city awarded $350,000 from its Commercial Vitality Fund Program to the intersection in 2015. That launched two years of neighborhood meetings, design work and a market study of Dale St. paid for by the North End Neighborhood Association (District 6) and Como Community Council (District 10).

Why is it important to do something at Como-Dale-Front now? “When the city created the Commercial Vitality Zone program, it was meant to set-aside funds for neighborhood economic development—local commercial corridors and business nodes that make neighborhoods special and support local jobs. Because of the work completed in years’ past, specifically the 2010 study on the intersection by the Metropolitan Design Center and District 6, we were able to secure funding for this work at Como, Front, and Dale,” said Brendmoen.

“Our goal is to help improve the pedestrian conditions in the area and make it a more attractive place for shoppers, residents, and businesses,” Brendmoen said. “We also want to emphasize safety at this very busy, very confusing intersection. There are redevelopment opportunities at this node, and we hope to signal to commercial developers and small business owners that the neighborhood is ready for investment.”

But the biggest challenge to redoing the intersection is Dale St., said Brendmoen. Dale is four lanes in the area and is heavily traveled as a route to and from I-94. That is a plus for efforts to bring in new businesses large and small. But the traffic volume creates the challenge. “Crossing Dale St. feels dangerous which is a condition we must address. We need to balance the need to move vehicles along Dale St. with the needs of the residential community that surrounds it,” she said.

As for opportunities, Brendmoen singled out the Galls/Uniforms Unlimited and the former Schroeder’s Bar sites as the greatest potential redevelopment opportunities. Schroeder’s was destroyed in a November 2014 fire, and the owners chose not to rebuild. Galls is for sale. Longtime residents may remember it as Joe’s Sporting Goods. Redevelopment could complement one of the area’s strengths, of long-term business owners who have kept up their properties. An anchor-destination business for the area is sought, along with smaller infill businesses.

The market study tracked some interesting trends. District 10 residents, who have higher incomes than the residents of District 6, have been vocal about the desire for businesses in their neighborhood. At a meeting in November 2017 about the future of the shuttered Como Dockside restaurant space, many people brought up the need for more restaurants and coffee shops. A grocery store has also been cited as something residents want. But the study indicated that while a drug store or smaller grocery store of about 20,000 to 30,000 square feet could be added along Dale between Maryland Ave. and Topping St., Maryland would likely be a better spot for a grocery.

Read more about the project and the business surveys, and take a survey on Como-Dale-Front at www.district10comopark.org.

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Como Community Council Corner

Posted on 08 January 2018 by Calvin

By MICHAEL KUCHTA, Executive Director

Changes coming to Como, Front, and Dale
Saint Paul city staff are recommending five infrastructure projects for the intersection of Como, Front, and Dale in 2018. The projects would be paid for with $350,000 in Commercial Vitality Zone money authorized by the City Council in 2015.

District 10 is surveying community members to get a sense of whether they support these projects or not. Take the survey before Jan. 14 at www.surveymonkey.com/r/comofrontdale

A summary of the possible projects:
• Eliminate the dedicated right turn lane from southeast-bound Como Ave. to westbound Front St. In its place, expand the pedestrian island toward the furniture store, and shorten the crosswalk on Como.
• Paint higher-visibility crosswalks in all current locations. Paint stop bars on the pavement in front of the crosswalks; stop bars are designed to encourage motorists to stop before, not in, a crosswalk.
• Paint green lane extensions across the intersection to visibly designate the location of the Como Ave. bike lanes.
• Install landscaping and other aesthetic features, including between the sidewalk and parking lot of the strip mall on the northeast corner of the intersection.
• Relocate the bus stop on northbound Dale from in front of the strip mall to the south side of the intersection (in front of John’s Pizza Café). This is designed to eliminate vehicles backing up into the intersection if they are stopped behind a bus.

Three join honor roll
Congratulations to Mike Ireland, Frank P. Liu, and Quentin “Q” Nguyen. They are District 10’s additions to the 2017 St. Paul Neighborhood Honor Roll. The board of the Como Community Council selected them from a group of 13 Como residents nominated by their neighbors. They will be formally recognized with a banquet Jan. 26, and immortalized on a plaque in City Hall.

More ash trees become history
St. Paul Forestry will cut down nearly 60 more boulevard ash trees in District 10 beginning this month. The trees are what’s left of the ash still standing on:
• Alameda from Wheelock south to Maryland
• Alameda from Hoyt south to Arlington
• Arlington from Victoria east to St. Albans
• Maywood from Cottage south to Wheelock
• Nebraska near Alameda

The trees are among 995 ash citywide that Forestry has identified as infested with emerald ash borer. It will remove those trees, and perhaps hundreds more, in 2018.

The golf course is next: Also in January, Parks and Recreation expects to close ski trails in Como Park beginning Jan. 22 so it can take down about 165 trees on the golf course, including about 150 ash.

Make Sundays more exciting
District 10 has scheduled its first two Sunday Series presentations for 2018.• State Fair History, Part 2. Minnesota State Fair director Jerry Hammer picks up where he left off last year. He’ll share forgotten photos, facts, and stories about the Fair from the last 100 years— from 1920 until today. The free presentation is Sun., Feb. 25 from 1-2:30pm in the Newman-Benson Chapel at Lyngblomsten, 1415 Almond Ave.• The Next Step: Pedestrian Safety in St. Paul. Drivers continue to run into pedestrians in higher and higher numbers. What will it take to stop that? Fay Simer, the city’s new pedestrian safety advocate, and Sgt. Jeremy Ellison, who leads enforcement efforts in the citywide Stop for Me campaign, lead the discussion. The free presentation is Sun., Mar. 18 from 1-2:30pm, probably at the Como Park Streetcar Station, 1224 Lexington Pkwy. N.

Upcoming District 10 meetings
• Como Community Council Monthly Meeting: Tues., Jan. 16
• Environment Committee: Wed., Jan. 31
• Neighborhood Relations and Safety Committee: Tues., Feb. 6
• Land Use Committee: Wed., Feb. 7

All meetings begin at 7pm at the Como Park Streetcar Station, which is at the northeast corner of Lexington and Horton. Community members are always welcome to attend and participate. Whenever possible, agendas are posted in advance in the “Board News” section of District 10’s website.

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Is Victoria Theater on the way to the $3.2 million funding needed?

Posted on 08 January 2018 by Calvin

Rehabilitation of the historic Victoria Theater has again stepped into the spotlight. The St. Paul City Council, acting as the Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) Board, approved two key pieces of project funding Dec. 13.

A $200,000 grant was awarded to Land Bank Twin Cities for immediate building rehabilitation work. And, a $412,000 forgivable HRA loan was given to the nonprofit Victoria Theater Arts Center for acquisition and rehabilitation of the old building for use as a community arts center. About $250,000 is earmarked for the purchase price, and the rest would cover some building rehabilitation and holding costs.

HRA approval was greeted with cheers by a group of theater supporters at the meeting. The city funds are seen as opening the curtain to additional grant dollars. The group last week got a $150,000 grant from the Hardenbergh Foundation, which supports projects in the east metro.

Director of Planning and Economic Development Jonathan Sage-Martinson said the $200,000 grant would pay for building stabilization needs, including a new roof. That work needs to be done quickly to preserve the structure.

The funding was welcomed by theater backers including Historic St. Paul and the Frogtown Neighborhood Association. Theater supporters have worked for more than a decade to save and reuse it. The building, which has been vacant since 2006, has been threatened with demolition more than once.

“It’s taken a long time to get to this point, but the city funding is a big help,” said Aaron Rubenstein of Historic St. Paul. “This will help us gain momentum with other funding requests. City support has been critical throughout this entire process.”

The theater was built as a silent movie house in 1915. It later became a nightclub and cabaret and was a speakeasy—known as the Victoria Café—during Prohibition. Featuring dancing, cabaret-style floor shows, and Chinese food, the Victoria Café was raided more than once by police.

But it was also where the historically important “Moonshiners Dance” was recorded by the café’s orchestra. The song is included in the Anthology of American Folk Music, a six-album compilation issued in 1952. The anthology was a key part of the American folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s.

In recent years the building had different uses, including a lamp shop. When a previous owner wanted to demolish the theater to make way for a parking lot, historians and community members rallied to save it. In April 2011, the City Council approved the designation of the Victoria Theater as a heritage preservation site. The city’s Heritage Preservation Commission suggested resubmission for further consideration for National Register of Historic Places designation, which would make the building eligible for state and federal historic tax credits.

The Land Bank purchased the property in 2014 and has been holding it so that the Victoria Arts Theater Initiative can raise about $2 million to acquire and renovate the building. The long-term goal is to create a community space for activities including theater production and event and space rentals.

One huge challenge is the property’s poor condition, according to a city staff report. Roof replacement and building shell repairs are needed soon. The Land Bank will make the repairs to preserve the property on an interim basis until the ownership transfer and the larger rehabilitation project can proceed.

A few years ago, the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative awarded $63,000 to the theater initiative group to create market feasibility, financial, and fundraising plans. The nonprofit Victoria Theater Arts Center formed in late 2016. The organization recently hired veteran community theater operator Julie Adams Gerth as executive director. Fundraising consultants Peter Pearson and Patrick DeWane were hired to bring in the funding needed for the project.

The city dollars are from the HRA Loan Enterprise Fund. Earlier this year the theater backers had sought funds through the city’s Long-Range Capital Improvement Budget process. But the project wasn’t considered eligible for federal Community Development Block Grant funds.

Rubenstein said that although not being eligible for capital budget dollars was disappointing, “the HRA grant and loan look like a better option for us.”

The Land Bank and theater group must meet several conditions before the grant and loan are disbursed. The $200,000 grant cannot be disbursed until there is a purchase agreement with the theater group. If that doesn’t happen within three years, the money must be paid back to the HRA. The construction loan, however, could be forgiven over time.

City staff noted that the complete acquisition and financing structure isn’t known. 2015 estimates from Miller Dunwiddie Architecture and Flannery Construction put the cost at $3.2 mil­lion, with $450,000 for acqui­si­tion, and $1.34 million for construction. Other costs include con­struction contingency, fixtures and furniture, and professional services.

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Como High School – Football Signing Ceremony

News from Como Park High School

Posted on 08 January 2018 by Calvin

Compiled by ERIC ERICKSON, Social Studies Teacher

• The Como Choirs presented a peppy Pops Concert on Dec. 18 to an appreciative and large audience in the Como Auditorium. They followed up the well-received show by going out in the community and performing at Chelsea Heights, Hamline, and Como elementary schools on Dec. 21.

Enthusiastic young students were entertained, and many of the high school choir kids enjoyed the experience of singing at their former schools. Some were even able to connect with their elementary school teachers. It was a special and festive day of community building in the neighborhood schools.

• Como counselor Molly McCurdy-Yates organized a college panel in the Como Auditorium on Dec. 20 for Como juniors and seniors. The panel consisted of five recent Como graduates who shared insight and advice from their college experiences.

Photo right: Como alumni participated in a college panel in the Como Auditorium on Dec. 20. Como juniors and seniors were able to obtain advice and insight from the panel and ask questions about college life and studies. (Photo by Eric Erickson)

Como students listened to the alumni as they discussed the college landscape and themes of time management, academic rigor, social dynamics, and proper preparation through Como’s college prep course offerings. The panel then fielded questions from the audience.

The event has become a tradition during the final week of school in December, as many college students return to St. Paul and their Como neighborhood homes for their winter break after semester finals.

• State and local elected officials, school board members, and leadership from St. Paul Public Schools gathered at Como Park High School on Dec. 14 to celebrate the Grand Opening of the Hiway Federal Credit Union and its student-run Cougars Branch.

The student branch of the credit union will provide an excellent opportunity for students to learn about financial services and credit responsibility through hands-on experience. Hiway Federal Credit Union has hired Como Park students to run the branch during their lunch hours. The creation of the branch in the school dovetails with goals of financial literacy for all students and supports many of the learning objectives within Como’s Academy of Finance (AOF) program.

“We are very excited to build a life-long partnership with Hiway,” said Como Principal Theresa Neal. “Working together produces results and brings added value to our students, our school, and the community.”

• The National Honor Society (NHS) students at Como are organizing a book drive to support students at Como Park Elementary School. Como’s NHS is coordinating with the Children’s Book Express, which is an organization that collects picture and chapter books and donates them to young, beginning readers.

Students and staff have begun bringing in books. The community is invited to support as well, so if you have any old children’s books that you are no longer using, please consider donating them to the cause! There is a big box in the main office where donations are being collected. NHS students will organize all deposits, and deliver what they hope will be their stated goal of 1,000 books.

• Construction of the new academic wing continues to move at an impressive pace. The structure’s exterior is in place and sealed to allow indoor work through the cold winter months. The schedule for completion of the addition is the fall of 2018, which would allow Como students and staff to start using the new learning spaces next school year while remodeling work and infrastructure improvements begin on other parts of the building. For more information on the project, readers can visit the Facilities Master Plan website at www.spps.org/Page/22920.

• On Dec. 16 the Cougar boys’ basketball program had a unique opportunity to play a game in the Target Center, home of Minnesota’s NBA and WNBA teams. The Cougars’ faced Abraham Lincoln High School from Council Bluffs, Iowa in the special interstate game.

Lincoln is a quality team that was looking for a competitive opponent in the Twin Cities. The assistant coach at Lincoln is Como alum Andre Smith who starred on the 2003 Como team that took third place in the state tournament. Smith played in college at North Dakota St. and had a 10-year professional career overseas. Smith contacted current Como head coach John Robinson about playing Lincoln at the Target Center, and they were able to create an event that every player from both schools will remember for the rest of their lives.

• Como senior Donny Ventrelli signed his letter of intent to play football at the University of North Dakota. At a ceremony in the school library after school on Dec. 20, Ventrelli officially accepted the offer to play Division I football and study at UND. He was surrounded by family, coaches, and teammates and enjoyed sharing the big moment with the people that helped him achieve his goal. (Photo left by Eric Erickson)

Ventrelli is a good student who had an exceptional senior season for the Cougars as he earned all-state honors and won the district Defensive Player of the Year award. On Dec. 17, Ventrelli was honored on the field at U.S. Bank Stadium at halftime of the Vikings game as a member of the all-state team.

• Prospective students and families for the 2018-2019 school year are invited to Como’s Showcase Night. Showcase is an open house format where students and families have a chance to learn more about academic and extra-curricular activities at Como. Showcase will take place on Thur., Jan. 18 from 5:30-7:30pm.

Shadowing opportunities are also still available for prospective students. Interested students can spend a day in school with a current Como student. Opportunities for shadowing include Jan. 17 and 18, as well as Feb. 7 and 8. Parents of interested prospective students who would like to shadow may register on the Como Park High School website under “Families” and click the “shadowing and tours” link. Any questions can be directed to Dede at patricia.hammond@spps.org or 651-774-6825.

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