Archive | February, 2019

Uproar over planning commission vote on TCGIS building project

Posted on 11 February 2019 by Calvin

City attorney rules vote invalid after complaints from SHSA; but commission says it will not revisit the issue

A questionable vote by St. Paul’s Planning Commission Chair Elizabeth Reveal on Jan. 25, has some Warrendale neighbors in an uproar.
When the planning commission voted on the variances and site plan requested by the Twin Cities German Immersion School (TCGIS) for the teardown of the former St. Andrew’s Church and construction of a new 25,000-square-foot addition, the votes were both ties at 6-6.

Typically a chair does not cast a vote unless it will break a tie. In this case, Reveal cast a vote that created the tie. According to Robert’s Rules of Order, a motion fails on a tie vote, pointed out members of Save Historic St. Andrew’s (SHSA) in a letter to St. Paul Director of Planning Luis M. Pereira expressing the group’s frustration.

“If this meeting had been conducted properly—and in accordance with both past and best practices—the recommendation from the Zoning Committee to deny the variances would have been carried forward on a 6-5 vote, and we would have no reason to appeal,” wrote SHSA officers.

According to an email written by Pereira on Jan. 29, “The city attorney’s office has advised staff that the variances and site plan were not properly approved because the commission reached a tie vote.” Because of this, the planning commission was expected to re-open the vote on the same items at its meeting on Feb. 8.

Instead, they voted to not review the issue. The full impact of a non-decision was unclear as of press time. However, an appeal by either SHSA or TCGIS is expected.

Under state law, the school’s variance requests will be considered approved if the city does not act otherwise within the statute’s 60-day timeline, explained Dist. 10 Community Council Executive Director Michael Kuchta. “In the case of the variances, that timeline runs out Mar. 26. Among things that are not clear is the status of school’s site plan (deadline Mar. 6), which version of variances would take effect, and whether the planning commission’s denial, approval, or non-decision on the school’s variance requests can—at this point—be appealed to the city council.”

“We urge the city council to correct this action by placing a moratorium on any expansion request by TCGIS and to deny the variances requested,” stated SHSA members.

TCGIS did not comment on this latest action.

Approval not valid
Early reports following the Jan. 25 meeting stated that the planning commission approved the site plan on a 7-5 vote. However, as Kuchta explained, the vote is not valid.

“Before the final vote on the site plan, commissioners voted twice on the three zoning variances the school would need to move forward,” explained Kuchta. “First, the planning commission rejected the recommendation of its zoning committee to deny the variances. That vote was 6-6. (Under normal procedure, a tie vote means a motion fails, because it does not have a majority.) Immediately after that, commissioners voted 6-6 on a motion to approve the variances. The tie vote meant that motion also failed.

“The commission charged forward, however, and rejected its zoning committee’s recommendation to reject the site plan; this vote was 5-7. Finally, the full commission voted 7-5 to approve the site plan. The site plan includes dozens of conditions the school must meet to receive building permits.

Among these conditions: the three zoning variances—a 3.1-foot variance on height, a 1 percent variance on lot coverage, and a 34-space parking variance. The problem? The site plan relies on variances that have been rejected.”

Reveal’s experience
Reveal also serves on the zoning committee, although she was not present at the Jan. 17 meeting during which the committee recommended denial of the variances and site plan on a 5-1 vote.

Reveal, a resident of Ward 2, was appointed to the Planning Commission in 2011. Her term expires in 2020. She served as an ex-officio member of a planning commission in Philadelphia and worked closely with planning departments and commissions in Seattle and Washington, D.C. before returning to St. Paul in 2009.

There are currently 17 members on the planning commission, which has space for 21 members. Only 12 members were present at the Jan. 25 meeting.

Zoning committee’s opinion
The recent planning commission votes come after a series of meeting over several months as the teardown and new construction proposal by TCGIS moves through the approval process.

On Dec. 18, 2018, the District 10 Board voted to approve the three variance requests and a site approval plan while expressing that this was not a vote against or for historic designation of the former church. The District 10 votes are considered advisory to the city council.

This was followed by the Jan. 17 zoning committee meeting that recommended the planning commission deny the variances and site plan. The five commissioners who voted to deny expressed concerns about TCGIS being a “commuter school,” heavy traffic during pick-up and drop-off times, lack of off-street parking, and a school that is too much for the site. In his opinion, Commissioner Kris Fredson said that he thought city staff gave too much weight to the land use policy versus the historic preservation policy.

In support of the school, Commissioner Cedrick Baker pointed out TCGIS owns the building.

The city council has final say on the TCGIS building project, as well as the historic designation of St. Andrew’s Church. It is planning a public hearing on Mar. 20.

Traffic and congestion relief
As reported in the Jan. 17 zoning committee minutes, TCGIS has agreed to use crossing guards at Como and Oxford, and direct staff and parents to avoid parking on Como to facilitate better traffic flow. A crosswalk will also be added to designate a single point of crossing at Como and Oxford, and the signal light at Lexington and Como will be tweaked.

TCGIS is also exploring offering discounted Metro Transit passes, encouraging the use of the Zipcar car-sharing app, increasing school bus use, and investigating staggered release times.

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Ain Dah Yung Center 01

Ain Dah Yung Center helps Native American youth thrive

Posted on 11 February 2019 by Calvin

The Ain Dah Yung Center (ADYC), which means “our home” in the Ojibwe language, has provided a healing place for American Indian youth and families since 1983. Native Americans make up only 2% of Minnesota’s population, but 22% of Minnesota homeless youth are Native American.

ADYC was one of the first agencies in the state to deliver culturally relevant services for Native American youth through their emergency shelter, youth lodge, and cultural programs. They’ve been delivering those services in St. Paul so quietly and steadily that even neighbors may not know they are there.

The ADYC Emergency Shelter is located at 1089 Portland Ave. It provides culturally specific shelter to Native American youth who are homeless, runaway, in a family crisis, or involved with juvenile corrections. Services include short-term shelter, crisis intervention, information and referral, access to medical/dental care, counseling, and case management.

Photo right: Aid Dah Yung Center staff (left to right) Jasmine Grika, Angela Gauthier, and Desiree Clater. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Residential and clinical director Angela Gauthier said, “Historically, our emergency shelter filled a temporary need, based on the model of a 30-day stay. But we have seen a drastic increase in our length of stay over the last few years. We had one sibling group with four kids stay for nearly a year in 2018. There just wasn’t a foster home that could take them for a long time. We have ten beds for youth aged 5-17 and are usually full. We’re staffed 24-7.”

The Beverly A. Benjamin Youth Lodge is located at 1212 Raymond Ave. It’s a transitional living program available to Native American youth aged 16-21 who have no parental substitute, foster, or institutional home to which they can safely go. The Youth Lodge provides a stable, culturally supportive, and safe environment in which youth can address critical barriers to self-sufficiency—while strengthening their community and cultural connections. Youth must attend school or be looking for employment to be eligible. They work with staff to set educational, vocational and personal goals during their stay at the Youth Lodge. There are six beds available, and residents can stay rent-free for up to 18 months.

ADYC has broken ground on a third facility: a 42 bed permanent, supportive housing complex on University Ave. between Avon and Grotto streets.

Completion is expected in September of 2019. Gauthier explained, “As far as we know, there isn’t another model like this in the country for Native American youth ages 18-24. What we’ll offer to them as a place to call home, says a lot about what we’re telling them they’re worth. Residents here will have a lease on their efficiency apartments; they’ll pay rent (30% of their income); their unit will be their own. Residents can enter into a lease between the ages of 18-24, but they can stay as long as they like. We’ll incrementally accept residents over three months, until we’re at full capacity.

The Native American inspired design is beautiful, and there will be a cultural activities center and community gathering space on-site, as well as supportive services for residents.” Contact angela.gauthier@adycenter.org for more information.

The permanent, supportive housing complex is named Mino Oski Ain Dah Yung, meaning “Good New Home” in the Ojibwe language. Gauthier explained, “It will be easier for us to utilize volunteers in this new space. We’ll have a food and clothing shelf, plus a small store where residents can shop for clothing and personal care items using vouchers. Volunteers will be needed to keep the shelves stocked. We’ll also have a workforce center there, where community members can volunteer professional development skills such as resume writing and practicing for job interviews. There will be cooking spaces on each floor, where community members could teach cooking classes and basic meal preparation.”

ADYC is holding their 21st annual Cherish the Children Traditional Pow Wow at Central High School (275 Lexington Ave.) on Feb. 23-24. Cost is $5: free for children under seven, elders, and military veterans. Doors open at 11am, with grand entries of participants at 1pm both days. A community feast will be served on Saturday from 5-6pm, at no additional charge. Food concessions and crafts from American Indian vendors/artists will be available for purchase, and entry is good for both days.

Gauthier said, “There are so many positive things happening in the Native American community. To celebrate that, ADYC has the Ninijanisag Program—which means “Our Children” in Ojibwe. Through this program, youth ages 8-21 are grounded in Native culture through traditional drumming, dancing, and the youth leadership council. I hope that people are aware of the richness of life in Native American culture. One way to witness this is to come to an event like the upcoming pow wow.” Learn more about the work of ADYC in the community by visiting www.adycenter.org.


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Heritage Tea House 31

Heritage Tea House & Cafe leads as community gathering place

Posted on 11 February 2019 by Calvin

The Heritage Tea House & Cafe, 360 University Ave. W., is one of the very few African American-owned businesses in the old Rondo Neighborhood these days.

Co-owner Rosemary Nevils-Williams said, “Since we opened in December 2017, we’ve been a gathering place for the community. It’s important to run a successful business, but it’s just as important to make a difference in people’s lives. Our staff greets every person who walks through the door with the same greeting, ‘Welcome to the Tea House!’ because we want to extend a warm welcome to everyone. Given the climate of the US right now, with people so divided by race, age, and class—it’s rare to find a place where all kinds of people can gather to eat, drink, and socialize. This is that place.”

St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood ran roughly between University Ave. on the north, Selby Ave. on the south, Rice St. on the east, and Lexington Ave. on the west. African American churches, businesses, and schools set down roots there in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, creating a strong community that the construction of I-94 destroyed.

Most of the original Rondo Ave. and much of the historic Rondo neighborhood were destroyed when Interstate 94 was built in 1956-68. More than 600 African American families lost their homes, and many businesses also went under when their customer base was shattered. Nevils-Williams and her daughter/business partner Raeisha Williams come from a long line of female African American entrepreneurs, with several businesses to their credit. Still, Nevil-Williams said, it wasn’t easy to get the Heritage Tea House & Cafe up and running.

“It’s no secret that because of systemic racism, African American entrepreneurs have difficulty getting bank loans,” Nevil-Williams said. “When you don’t have the capital to start a business, or you can’t get the capital to maintain one, that’s when businesses fail early on. We were lucky to receive assistance from the Aurora St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation (which bolsters redevelopment in the Rondo neighborhood) and the Neighborhood Development Corporation. When we started working on our building, it was just a shell. The re-construction was challenging because some of the contractors were disrespectful toward us as African American women, but we got it done.”

Photo right: Mother-daughter co-owners Rosemary Nevils-Williams (left) and Raeisha Williams (right). (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

The business they created was just what the community needed. The Heritage Tea House & Café won a St. Paul Business Award last year: the People’s Choice Award, which honors a business recognized for its excellence by St. Paul residents. The space is available for use for book clubs, community meetings, book signings, parties, or fundraisers. Contact the co-owners at 651—330-0171 or info@heritageteahouse.com for more information.

There are an impressive number of events happening monthly at the shop (check the Facebook page to stay current.) Just a few include the first Sunday of the month from 1-3pm with homeopath and healer Kinshasha Kambui; every third Saturday from 7-10pm features Black Cinema; Thursday night speakeasies have an open mic; Friday nights offer rhythm and blues and Chili Happy Hour; and, frequently there are Saturday night comedy performances.

Choose from more than two dozen teas available in the warm, Afro-centric space, a variety of coffee drinks, and a menu which, according to the mother-daughter team, is drawing raves. Stand-out comfort food menu items include chicken and waffles, toasted panini sandwiches, fresh mac and cheese, shrimp and grits, collard greens, chocolate cake, and coconut cake, all of which can be chased down with a tall glass of hibiscus punch.

Photo left: Jayda Pounds helped a customer at the counter of the Heritage Tea House and Cafe. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

“We can see that the community is happy to have us here,” Nevils-Williams said. “The neighbors have been our main customer base. We’re proud to be an African American establishment doing business in the Rondo neighborhood, and we look forward to things getting better and better.”

Plans include producing a bottled tea line, starting with Hibiscus Punch. The business owners also have their eye on being a future presence at the Minnesota State Fair. The Heritage Tea House & Café is located on University between Western and Virginia avenues. Open Tues.-Fri. 11am-6pm; Sat. 11am–4pm; Sun. 12-4pm, and open many evenings for special entertainment.





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Neng Thao

What’s it like growing up a Hmong immigrant in America?

Posted on 11 February 2019 by Calvin

Neng Thao, of Neng Now online fame, visits Hamline to talk about the Hmong-American mindset

What is it like to grow up a Hmong immigrant in America?

A celebrity refugee and Hmong American answered that question at Hamline University on Jan. 10, and his visit was so popular that the presentation was moved to the college’s largest auditorium, the Klas Center.

Neng Thao is an immigrant success story and is now sharing his life with thousands of online followers through his Neng Now channels.

Born in a refugee camp, Thao grew up in Wisconsin and earned a degree in regenerative biology from Harvard University. Two years out of college, he followed a calling to get out among the people and share his experience and knowledge. He began traveling around the world in December 2017. He shares his hopes and dreams with others through videos and Facebook posts. As of January, he had 38,000 Facebook followers.

“He comes with an important message that all of us can learn from,” stated Hamline President Fayneese Miller.

Photo left: Neng Thao of Neng Now, wearing his trademark smiley face shirt, speaks to a crowd at Hamline University on Jan. 10, 2019. Thao was born in a Thailand refugee camp, grew up in Wisconsin, and now travels around the world sharing his life with Facebook followers. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Thao’s talk, “Hybrid Cultural Identity: The Hmong-American mindset in mainstream America across first, second, and third generation Hmong Americans,” is part of a free series organized by the English Learners in the Mainstreet (ELM) Project at Hamline.

“These projects help everyone understand a culture and the importance of culture,” observed Miller, who is the university’s second female and the first African American president. “Difference makes us great. Difference allows us to do things we might not have imagined before.”

She added, “We still have a long ways to go, but this project is a step forward.”

Miller pointed out that one of the only top Hmong college leaders in the country, Mai Nhia Xiong-Chen, is employed at Hamline University. She grew up in Wisconsin and now works as Hamline’s Vice President of Enrollment.

“There are leaders among you,” Miller stated, acknowledging that Hmong immigrants have been in the United States for a relatively short period. “I hope you’re proud of all that you have accomplished. You have added so much to the fabric of this nation.”

Connections are key
Forty years ago, Hmong were sustenance farmers in Laos. Today they are world leaders and activists, pointed out Thao. “There’s not a time in history when we’ve seen any demographic do that.”

With that has come challenges—even between generations of Hmong families.

Thao’s grandfather was pulled into the Army at age 14 to fight against the communists. When they fled to a Thailand refugee camp, he somehow got a herd of pigs and made a living off them. Thao was born in that refugee camp, while some of his siblings were born in America.

Thao breaks down Hmong immigrants into three generations. The first, which include his grandparents, was born in Laos. The second includes his parents and himself, those who experienced refugee camps. The third was born in the United States.

“There are three very different demographics,” Thao observed, and understanding that is key to figuring out how to fit into American culture.

The problem is that each generation experienced a disconnect from the other. As he grew, Thao didn’t want to bother his parents, who were so busy trying to survive day to day that they didn’t necessarily have the time to share their language, stories, and culture with their children. During his travels, Thao has seen this pattern repeated in immigrant communities over and over.

“I think that intergenerational connections are the key to success,” Thao stated.

When they were in Laos, families worked together in the fields, and there was time to connect. “That’s when you just talked to your parents,” Thao said. “You felt safe and could talk to anybody about any problem.”

In the refugee camps of Thailand, families connected over their shared struggle to survive. The entire community connected through struggle, sharing when they had extra, and asking for help when they had nothing. “It’s that struggle that has made the Hmong community from Laos and Thailand so strong,” Thao remarked.

In America, the immigrants lost that common ground. Kids spent their days in schools instead of working alongside their parents. Many parents worked multiple jobs and left childcare of the younger kids in the hands of the older kids. Kids stopped talking to their parents and lost the mentorship former generations had experienced.

Thao realized on his first day of college that he had only one person he could go to and talk to. It wasn’t either one of his parents.

“I never believed there were people who genuinely wanted me to succeed and help me,” observed Thao.

Part of that he attributes to a contradiction inherent in the immigrant community. “As new immigrants we want our kids to succeed, but if their kid succeeds and ours don’t, it’s bad on us,” Thao said. He believes that part of this attitude sprang from the experience of genocide the Hmong experienced.

Thao has worked to establish a connection with his parents so that he can go to them, and it’s something that’s developing every day.

A place to belong
Where do I belong? It’s a question immigrants ask as they navigate between cultures, pointed out Thao.

“I just wanted a place where I could be myself and feel like I belonged,” stated Thao. As he travels around the world, he explores these topics in his Neng Now videos.

It was hard to consider asking for help within the Hmong community. “My grandparents got through the war and the refugee camps. How can I ask for help on my math test?” said Thao.

Thao believes the Hmong community is at a pivotal point. The first generation worked hard to survive. The second began picking up on cultural cues. It is the third generation with the skills and resources to succeed culturally and professionally.

“You don’t ask for help in the Hmong community,” Thao observed. “It wasn’t until I started to ask for help that I began to grow.”


Upcoming ELM Talks

• Feb. 20, 4:30-6:30pm, Advocating for Multilingual Students through the LEAPS Act, featuring Rep. Carlos Mariani
• Apr. 18, 4:30-6pm, Working with Refugee Students who Have Experienced Trauma
• May 22, 4:30-6 p.m., Immigration Law and the Classroom
All events take place in the Hamline University Center for Justice and Law, are free and open to the public
More at tinyurl.com/elmproject.

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Snelling Avenue existing Snelling buildings

Two apartment complexes proposed across from the stadium

Posted on 11 February 2019 by Calvin

The proposed development at 441/453 Snelling Ave. would include 120 apartments, 87 parking stalls, and full storefront along Snelling at street level, with wraps around to Shields Ave. It would contain approximately 5,700 square feet of commercial space. (Photo taken from PowerPoint presentation by Scannell Properties)

Two mixed-use retail-apartment projects will go up on Snelling Ave. across from the Allianz Field Major League Soccer stadium. Wellington Management’s six-story, 156-unit building, will be on the Bremer Bank site at the southwest corner of Snelling and Shields avenues.

Indiana-based Scannell Development’s six-story building will replace two commercial properties at the northwest corner of Snelling and Shields. Both buildings housed Furniture Barn. One building is currently construction headquarters for Mortenson, the firm building the stadium.

Union Park District Council’s land use committee reviewed the projects Jan. 28. The two projects have the potential to add mixed-use development to the areas, as well as market-rate housing. But they also will bring great changes to adjacent churches—Central Baptist and Bethlehem Lutheran-in-the-Midway—and to neighbors on the west.

Photo right: The proposed development would replace two existing buildings along Snelling Ave. Both buildings housed Furniture Barn. One building is currently construction headquarters for Mortenson, the firm building the stadium. (Photo taken from PowerPoint presentation by Scannell Properties)

More than four dozen people attended the meeting to hear about the projects. It was the first community appearance for Scannell, which has a regional headquarters in the Twin Cities.

Both developers will be back before the district council in the future for support for requests to the city. The properties are zoned for traditional neighborhoods mixed use, but each project will require a conditional use permit to build to the desired heights. The Wellington project will also require city approval to have drive-lanes for future tenants Bremer bank and possibly Walgreens. Scannell is likely to ask for a variance of floor area ratio as well, to allow for more density.

Both developers would like to start work on their projects this construction season and be open in 2020.

Many at the meeting were from Bethlehem Lutheran, including Scott Simmons, the interim pastor. He noted that both churches do a lot to serve the area’s low-income and homeless population. The Lutheran church houses Open Hands Midway, with a weekly meal, food shelf and clothing closet. He and others said that community still needs to be served, despite a changing landscape.

Simmons and others from the two churches questioned the construction of market-rate housing, saying the area needs more housing for people who have very low incomes. They want developers to include at least a few units in each building for very low-income residents.

Another issue is parking. Longtime church member Steve Hendricks said, “I just don’t know where people are going to park.”

The Scannell project plans 120 studio, one, two and three bedroom apartments, with 72 resident and 25 public parking stalls, one level of underground parking and main floor space for a restaurant and building amenity spaces.

Wellington Management has touted its project as the first market-rate housing on the Green Line area, between downtown and the western end of University in St. Paul. Much housing has been built along and near University, but many of those units are classified as affordable.

Wellington has had its plans out to the community before. The latest iteration only uses the bank property. The developers had hoped to purchase an adjacent Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) site, but the price is too high, said Casey Dzieweczynski, development associate at Wellington.

The developers haven’t ruled out adding the parcel in the future, “but we don’t wish to wait,” he said. “That could be a phase two down the road.”

The bank and possibly a Walgreens will be two of the first-floor tenants, with a small space for a smaller third tenant. The apartments will be a mix of studio, one and two-bedroom units.

Wellington is working with the adjacent Central Baptist Church on plans including vacating the alley that separates the bank and church properties, and on a new parking structure that would be shared by the church and the new development. Two levels of underground parking are planned beneath the new building.



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GUEST OPINION: German Immersion School expansion absent collaboration with community

Posted on 11 February 2019 by Calvin

An expansion of choice would burden the surrounding neighborhood with consequences

By Kevin Anderson, Teri Alberico, Anna Mosser, Bonnie Youngquist
—for Friends of Warrendale, Save Historic St. Andrew’s LLC.

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”
Jane Jacobs, from her classic The Death and Life of the Great American Cities

The Warrendale neighborhood, nestled amongst the leafy trees on the southern edge of Como Park, represents many things to many people. For hundreds of us, it is home; it is family. It is an investment in property, a place to raise kids, and garner relationships with friends and neighbors. It has been a place for schoolchildren to learn and forge the bonds that can last a lifetime. It is all of these things and more because the neighborhood has successfully woven its many diverse uses into a cohesive whole.

In 2013, we welcomed new neighbors. The Twin Cities German Immersion School, a public charter school, moved into the former church and school building. The families have brought great energy, but unlike previous schools, nearly three-quarters of the current 585 students travel by car.

Unprecedented numbers of automobiles streamed into this residential neighborhood. Neighborhood parents struggled with the safety of their children at our bus stops. On formerly calm corners, cars repeatedly violated school bus flashing lights and stop arms. In the five years since the school moved in, it has more than doubled its enrollment, even as it reduced its on-site parking. Nearby streets filled with parked cars, and twice a day, clogged with lines of cars that routinely extend several blocks in either direction.

But the tipping point came in the spring of 2018 when the school announced not only a further expansion but their intention to tear down the crown jewel that for nearly a century kept watch at the heart of the neighborhood. The beloved and extraordinary former Church of Saint Andrew’s, which had been social and physical center of the neighborhood—would be leveled.

More students would mean more cars, more congestion, less safety, and less livability. Moreover, we would lose our neighborhood’s most visible historic structure and neighborhood landmark.

A group of neighbors quickly assembled and started a petition to delay the demolition. Father John Forliti, a widely-respected retired Catholic leader who has lived most of his life on the same street corner as Saint Andrew’s, invited German School board members and neighbors to his house for a series of dinners. Relationships were forged at these meetings. Everyone, school parents and neighbors alike, pressed board members to work collaboratively to explore alternative solutions that could include preservation of the unusual and ornate former Church of Saint Andrew’s.

In response, the school’s current board Chair said flatly, no.

The goodwill between school and community quickly unraveled.

In the following months, we’ve tried twice more to explore collaborative solutions. We identified skilled architects willing to contribute their expertise in architectural design and collaboration. When the district council asked the school to explore collaborative solutions last August, the school board rejected them. When we asked again last fall, we were rejected a third time.

The expansion that the German Immersion School proposes would make the school much denser than any other school in the city’s residential zoning districts. Their student population would be over four times denser than the median school in any of the city’s R1 to R4 zoning districts. The school looks to receive city zoning variances, city site plan approval, and city financing for a project that tears down a historic building and creates untenable transportation gridlock and safety concerns. These public asks are huge.

Unlike traditional public schools, which adjust to demographic and market swings, charter schools have control over their enrollment. The schools themselves set their enrollment cap each year. This expansion is the board’s choice. In actuality, it is an effort to push the true costs of operating the school onto the neighborhood. Instead of paying to bus most of their students, as other schools do, they expect the neighborhood to carry this burden in the form of reduced safety and livability. Instead of restoring the former church, as Cesar Chavez Academy Charter School did in Saint Paul, they want to build a facility that suits their immediate needs, pushing the loss of an indelible landmark on as a cost to their neighbors.

Rather than agree to neighborly collaboration, this school has mounted an unprecedented, cynical and antagonistic offensive on those neighbors who disagree. This is a sophisticated campaign designed to turn political support in their favor, identifying and cultivating allies, turning neighbor against neighbor.

At the center of the school’s strategy is TenSquare, a national for-profit consulting firm that currently operates in seven states and the District of Columbia. One of the city’s most connected, lucrative, and controversial charter consulting companies, Ten Square prefers to operate out of public sight, but their local Director of Real Estate Development quietly attends public meetings and coordinates public strategy. They communicate with paid media strategists, legal consultants, and architects. Their fees are paid by the school with taxpayer dollars.

Throughout all this, we neighbors aren’t willing to give up on the hope of finding a future together. We hold fast to our core belief in collaboration.

In Saint Paul, there are examples of former churches reused for performance spaces, homes, and yes, a charter school facility. Tom Fischer, the former Dean of the School of Architecture and Design at the University of Minnesota, met with the school and community leaders last summer. He walked away believing win-win solutions were eminently possible, even within a tight budget. In the AIA Guide to Twin Cities Architecture, retired Pioneer

Press writer Larry Millet called out the building as one of the best local examples of period revival. While rain gardens and pollinator gardens have their benefits, the environmental rewards of adaptive reuse are far more significant. The greenest building is the one already standing. This building deserves to be valued, not leveled.

Renowned writer and urban observer Jane Jacobs believed that a diversity of uses is what gives life to urban neighborhoods: schools, homes, churches, offices, and parks. She encouraged density for its critical role in the health of urban neighborhoods. But along with those beliefs, Jacobs realized, as we all should today, that a neighborhood’s core historic fabric and identity matters. Perhaps above all, she recognized that the delicate balance of uses and density that can make urban neighborhoods great can only come about when the people of that neighborhood have a central role in shaping its future. Together.

Learn more at https://savehistoricsaintandrews.org. Follow us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/historicstandrews1.

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Hamline Midway Coalition plans upcoming strategy meetings

Posted on 11 February 2019 by Calvin

The city’s 17 district councils have found it challenging over the years to rely on consistent city support. St. Paul started its district council program in 1975 as an innovative means of citizen participation. A 2018 report that looked at the district council system and compared it to citizen participation programs in other cities found the councils struggled with issues such as equitable outreach funding and staff turnover. Most district council staff lack employee benefits. With this uncertainty of city funding, Hamline Midway Coalition (HMC) has tried to prepare for any contingencies.

At its annual meeting in December 2018, HMC reported net assets of $260,000. “Before my arrival at HMC as executive director, Michael Jon Olson served as executive director for 14 years,” said Kate Mudge. “During his tenure, HMC and 16 other district councils in St. Paul were continuously unsure whether the City would continue to fund the District Council system. So each year the financially prudent decision was made to secure foundation/grant support, and HMC raised funds so that we would have alternative funds of roughly two years’ worth in case the City decided to discontinue its funding or disband the District Council system.”

“As all healthy nonprofits operate, reserves were built to provide funding in times of uncertainty,” she continued.

Based on the most recent Guidestar Profile, reportable assets for St. Paul’s district councils range from $24,159 up to $419, 246. They vary greatly because district council assets may include building, property, office equipment, or funds set aside for specific purposes, such as loan funds which are distributed and then paid back over time.

Mudge added that district council staff do not receive health benefits, so there were additional reserves to potentially pay out of pocket to support the health and welfare of staff. “Our reserves also include monies HMC holds for ‘fiscal agencies’ such as community gardens, the Public Art group and various other organizations, which are not to be used for any purpose other than that of the fiscal agency’s discretion,” she said.

Mudge said that HMC would be discussing what to do with its reserves at two strategic planning meetings, as well as board meetings, which are open to the public.

For the first time in decades, the 17 district councils will be splitting an additional $250,000 in 2019 after years of static fund levels. It has been reported that the City Council members agree that district councils are overdue for additional support, discussing the needs last year before and during the 2019 city budget process.

How much each district council will receive from the $250,000 has not been finalized. The money will be allocated based on a formula developed more than ten years ago. The formula uses metrics of the planning district’s population, poverty levels, employment and number of non-English speakers in each district.

District councils seek community input on local and citywide plans, zoning and variances requests and business license. Each prepares a district plan every decade to guide neighborhood growth and development. Council staff and volunteers field citizen questions and are involved in neighborhood-level crime prevention activities. Many have their own unique programs.

“As an organization, we’re in transition between executive directors,” Mudge said, regarding HMC. “Our focus areas may be changing, and we are working to identify the numerous opportunities available to advance projects in the Midway.”

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Dale Street bridge reconstruction plans unveiled

Posted on 11 February 2019 by Calvin

Area travelers who use the Dale St. bridge over I-94 to get around will look forward to its replacement. Plans unveiled in January to a packed room show a new bridge with 16 feet of pedestrian, bike and plaza space on either side, as well as public art elements commemorating the Rondo neighborhood.

The Ramsey County Department of Public Works hosted the meeting, which was the last before design work is completed. County officials received $6 million in federal funds and provided a $5 million local match for the project. The bridge as well as Dale St. between University and Iglehart avenues will be rebuilt in 2020. That’s a delay from the original start date of 2017, but gave more time for public engagement, work on pedestrian and traffic safety issue and adding public art.

Bridge design is about 30 percent complete, with plans to be finished late this summer. Bridge demolition is to start in January 2020, with the project done by fall 2020. Half of the bridge will come down at a time so that one lane of traffic can be maintained in either direction. Travelers should plan on detours. Western Ave. and Victoria St. are the closest multi-use bridges over the freeway. There is a pedestrian/bike bridge at Grotto St.

People generally liked what they saw, especially the public art and pedestrian safety improvements. “Me being a Rondo kid, that means a lot to me,” one woman said of the art.

One man who walks Dale St. regularly said he appreciates improvements, saying he keeps his bag at hand to be able to throw it at errant vehicles.

Several questions were raised about hiring, especially the hiring of people of color and women. Ramsey County is starting a six-month workforce equity plan, which will be used in bridge project hiring, said John O’Phelan, county workforce specialist.

The county is working to get more people into building trades apprenticeship and training programs and will work with local agencies include Ujamaa Place and the YWCA to get people into the trade and hired, not just for the Dale St. Bridge, but for other future projects, O’Phelan said. A similar process was used during Green Line light rail work. Hiring goals will be announced this summer but should be around 30 percent for people of color and 20 percent for women.

Wind, solar changes eyed
A delayed update of wind turbine and solar garden regulations for St. Paul is en route to the St. Paul City Council for a public hearing at 5:30pm on Wed., Mar. 6. The council will be looking at one of the first major updates to the city’s renewable energy regulations in almost a decade.

The most recent studies began a few years ago and went through a Planning Commission review and approval process. But changes in city staff and other issues meant the proposed changes were set aside. A new city planner has been assigned to shepherd the project through.

The six pages of changes deal primarily with where devices can be located, heights of poles, and other technical details. The update was sought for several years, as more people considered renewable energy options for their homes and businesses.

St. Paul’s regulations have been criticized for being very dated. For example, the current rules don’t allow solar gardens or community solar installations.

The changes are meant to bring city regulations into compliance with updated technologies and with a sweeping package of solar energy laws passed by the Minnesota Legislature in 2013. The state laws govern community solar installations or “gardens.” These solar device arrays, with multiple subscribers, are connected to the power grid. Subscribers receive a credit on their electric bills for the power the panels produce. The 2013 change allows Xcel Energy to provide energy to clients from solar gardens. Xcel customers can purchase energy from the sustainable resources. None of those resources are in St. Paul—yet. The city last updated its solar regulations in 2011.

Wind energy devices sought since 2002 have operated under different regulations, typically under “determination of similar use” requests. That meant governing wind turbines in the same way cell phone towers are regulated. Not long after a wind turbine requested for Metropolitan State University was voted down by the City Council in 2012, the Planning Commission asked that technologies be studied, and new regulations written.

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Office building to be renovated

Development Roundup Feb. 2019

Posted on 11 February 2019 by Calvin


Large Midway building complex to be renovated
A longtime Midway industrial/commercial property has a new owner. Minneapolis developer Hillcrest Development has purchased 641-655 Fairview Ave. The large complex has Prior and Fairview avenues as its west and east boundaries, and is two blocks north of the University-Prior intersection.

Work has already gotten underway inside the building, which is now the Hillcrest Business Center. It has had several different users over the years. Built in 1952, it was a printing facility for the Banta company many years ago. More recently it served as a warehouse.

“We’re very excited to own this property and excited about its potential,” said Scott Tankenoff, managing partner at Hillcrest. Work is already underway inside the building, to abate asbestos and renovate the interior. The intent is for the building to be renovated for shorter-term commercial uses, possibly with an eye on destination retail or hospitality. Parts of the building could also be used for medical or light industrial uses. Its underlying zoning allows for a variety of commercial, industrial tenants.

The building at 641-651 Fairview Ave. is a sprawling complex (in center of photo) that has Prior and Fairview avenues as its west and east boundaries, and is located two blocks north of the University-Prior intersection. (Photo courtesy of Google Satellite imagery)

“The Midway area is an up-and-coming area,” Tankenoff said. “It’s a solid neighborhood with a lot of good housing, good transit, and amenities.” Hillcrest, which has been working with St. Paul city officials on its plans, has already state and Metropolitan Council environmental cleanup grants for the property.

The property was owned for the past several years by Living Word Church and World Outreach Center, which is moving to a Hillcrest property, Mid-City, in the St. Anthony industrial/commercial area. Living Word bought the Midway building several years ago and used part of it as worship and child care space. Some space was rented out, but other space remained vacant.

Element Gym and St. Paul Ballet are among the tenants who will remain, but in different spaces. Murphy Warehouse has moved out.

The property is being advertised as ready for occupancy in the first quarter of 2019. It has drive-through space and as many as 25 locking dock spaces. It has most of its parking along Prior and along the southern edge of the building.

Tankenoff said the renovated building will be a good fit with other new or repurposed structures in the area. Hillcrest will host an open house at the building in the spring when work is further along.

Bars under new ownership
Big V’s Saloon (1567 University Ave. W.) and Hot Rods Bar and Grill (1553 University Ave. W.) have new owners. Changes are expected before the Minnesota United FC makes its debut at Allianz Field to the south.

Tolch Properties, which already owns the nearby Ashton Building, is the new owner of the two longtime University Ave. establishments and their adjacent parking lots. Tolch also owns a vacant lot between the two bars. The ownership is under a new entity, Midway Entertainment Group, which is going through the city licensing process.

Hot Rod’s had been closed for several months. Vic and Jeanne Masanz, longtime owners of Big V’s, decided to retire. They had owned the business for more than 40 years.

Gibson’s was granted liquor and entertainment licenses Feb. 6 by the St. Paul City Council. Hamline Midway Coalition recommended approval. Big V’s is to become the Midway Saloon. Its liquor and entertainment licenses are up for approval Feb. 13.

The Allianz Field stadium received its liquor and entertainment licenses Feb. 6 from the City Council.



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Baby Thunder 95

Chain of serendipity leads to publication of co-author’s first book

Posted on 11 February 2019 by Calvin

Como Park residents, and sisters, Jennifer Victor-Larsen (left) and Katy Korby (right) participated in a panel discussion at the St. Anthony Park Library. The event was called “Stories: the Door to Compassion, and also featured local author William Kent Krueger. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Writers sometimes have a flash of inspiration—but last summer, Como Park resident Jennifer Victor-Larsen experienced both a flash and a boom.

“We had such stormy weather in June,” Victor-Larsen said. “Every time it stormed, I was reminded of the story my grandmother used to tell us when we were children. Though the story changed slightly with every telling, the message was always the same: Baby Thunder was lost and was looking for Mama and Papa Thunder. The crashing sounds of summer storms became less frightening to my sister and me when we were little because our grandmother said it was just the family calling out to each other until Baby Thunder was found.”

Victor-Larsen continued, “In the middle of one particularly bad thunderstorm, I sat up in bed and texted my sister, Katy Korby. It was early last summer when family separations at the US/Mexico border were on the rise. Most people that Katy and I knew were appalled by this practice; we believe that, for kids, being lost for even a little while is traumatic. The message I sent my sister was this, ‘Should we finally write down the Baby Thunder story, and send the profits to an organization that helps children and families separated at the border?’ Also awake in the middle of the night, she texted back one word, ‘Yes!’”

The storm was the first in a series of fortunate events that lead to the publication of Victor-Larsen and Korby’s illustrated children’s book. Victor-Larsen recalled, “Katy and I decided to write down our own remembered versions of our grandmother’s story. We were sitting at my kitchen table and my brother-in-law, Shawn Korby, was there too. He and his wife own a real estate company, and he is also a talented artist. While Katy and I were talking and writing, Shawn started to sketch. The ideas he came up with became the watercolor illustrations for our book.”

The sisters were able to put their grandmother’s story down on paper, to take what she’d created for them—and use it to help other kids. They found an organization in Florence, AZ, called The Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project that works with families in detention. Their grandmother’s first name, coincidentally, had been Florence. The Florence Project is the only organization in Arizona that provides free legal services to detained children caught in deportation proceedings.

“Baby Thunder” is a book for and about families, and its creation was a family affair as well. Victor-Larsen’s mother-in-law, Ava Larsen, a retired children’s librarian, was an invaluable part of the work team. Victor-Larsen said, “She brought us books she thought were effective for the early readers our book is geared toward.”

On a sister’s weekend in Grand Marais, Victor-Larsen and Korby met notable Minnesota children’s book author Betsy Bowen at a craft fair. When they described their book, Bowen suggested they contact her designer to pull all the pieces together. Victor-Larsen said, “That’s just the way this project has gone for us. Doors kept opening, and people kept helping.”

Victor-Larsen and Korby are doing a number of “Baby Thunder” events in the metro area. They are partnering with friend, neighbor, and New York Times best-selling novelist William Kent Krueger for library events. They’re scheduled to be at the Anoka Public Library on Feb. 16, and the Hamline Midway Library in the spring. Their joint presentations are underscored by deep mutual concern over the current immigration crisis.

The sisters are also available for elementary school presentations and readings of “Baby Thunder” free of charge. Email Jennifer@herosearch.org for more information or to schedule. Victor-Larsen and Korby believe that “Baby Thunder” is both timely and timeless. It is about being lost and about being found. It is about the basic need for children to feel safe and loved.

“Baby Thunder” can be purchased locally at Micawber’s books (2230 Carter Ave. in Milton Square).

NOTE: On any given day, there are approximately 1,700 immigrant children detained in Arizona. They are denied the right to a public defender. Many of the children were abused, abandoned or neglected before coming to the U.S. They are unaccompanied minors (children under 18) who have crossed the border, or been apprehended by immigration authorities, without a parent or guardian. They are held in children’s detention facilities under the control of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

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2019 Midway Chamber Directory