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Welllington – Snelling & Shields Ave B

University-Snelling housing developments en route to City Hall

Posted on 11 March 2019 by Calvin


This simulated aerial view of the proposed Wellington housing development at 427 N. Snelling shows how it would fit into the surrounding neighborhood. The new Allianz Stadium is across Snelling, and directly in back of the building is Central Baptist Church. It does not show the proposed Scannell housing development at 441-453 N. Snelling Ave. (Photo provided)

Two six-story mixed-use buildings planned for the University-Snelling area won votes of support from Union Park District Council (UPDC) Mar. 6, and are now en route to City Hall. In February Wellington Management’s development at 427 N. Snelling and Scannell Properties’ development at 441-453 N. Snelling Ave. won recommendations of approvals from UPDC’s land use committee.

If both win needed city approvals, the University and Snelling area would likely have two large mixed-use projects under construction at the same time. That has impacts ranging from traffic and noise disruption for neighbors to concerns about how two adjacent churches and the many community services programs they run could be affected.

Both projects need the St. Paul Planning Commission to grant conditional use permits for additional heights and floor area ratio variances for increased density in the traditional neighborhoods 3 district. Developers hope to submit formal requests to the city this month.

With the developments under construction at the same time, committee members and neighbors said that good communication is essential. “It’s not every day you have two large developments going up next to each other,” said John Lassaux, Scannell’s development manager.

Representatives of Wellington and Scannell are working together on their plans and will work closely with church, commercial, and residential neighbors. Wellington’s project backs up to Central Baptist Church, and Scannell’s is adjacent to Bethlehem Lutheran Church-in-the-Midway.

Many church representatives were among the two dozen people attending the February land use committee meeting. “We’re so close, we wonder how we can not be affected,” said Tom Nichols, a member of Bethlehem Lutheran. That church recently replastered walls and repaired windows. Lassaux said the company would work with the church to try to mitigate possible damage and impacts including noise, dust, and traffic.

Open Hands Midway at the church feeds 150 to 300 people with a weekly meal and provides other services. Both churches host clothing closets, many support groups and programs, and Bethlehem Lutheran rents to a second congregation. “We don’t want to lose the great community work both churches do,” said Dean Nelson, co-chair of the land use committee.

“It’s a big change,” said Rev. Scott Simmons, Bethlehem Lutheran’s interim pastor. “We want to see where opportunities are and mitigate any challenges.”

But Simmons said his concerns go beyond the adjacent projects. He and others said they worry about gentrification and people being displaced from the area.

Image right: Architectural view of what the proposed building at 427 N. Snelling would look like. It would be be approximately 10 feet taller than the nearby Spruce Tree Center. (Image submited)

“We hear those concerns, and we’re not tone-deaf to that,” said Casey Dzieweczynski, Wellington project manager. Wellington is currently working on a mixed-use project with affordable housing and University Ave. and Dale St. He said the Wellington and Scannell projects would be among the first east of Fairview Ave. to be market-rate rather than affordable housing.

The buildings will also be among the tallest in the area. Spruce Tree Center, at the southwest corner of University and Snelling, is about 64 feet tall.

The Pitch, Wellington’s building, is six stories tall with 156 dwelling units and a proposed height of 74-75 feet. Dzieweczynski outlined project changes including enclosed drive-through lanes for tenant Bremer Bank and potential tenant Walgreens, and a proposal to vacate less of the north-south alley shared with Central Baptist. The alley will be truncated, which should reduce cut-through traffic for Roy St. residential neighbors southwest of the development site.

Pedestrian safety and the drive-through lanes were discussed by the land use committee. They asked Wellington to consider ways to mitigate any potential safety hazards.

Deliveries for future retail tenants will be off of Snelling, which raised concerns among audience members. They questioned how much traffic would back up along Snelling

Wellington needs a conditional use permit to allow for a height of 73 to 74 feet. The underlying zoning allows heights up to 55 feet. Site plan approval, a variance for floor area ratio for additional density, alley vacation, and a non-conforming use permit to continue drive-through lane use for commercial tenants are sought.

Wellington plans micro, studio, one and two-bedroom units in its U-shaped building. Two levels of underground parking are planned, with some first-level enclosed parking for retail customers. Wellington and Central Baptist are also working together on shared parking that would front Roy St.
Shields Ave. and a north-south alley will provide access for business drive-through and business and resident parking.

Scannell needs a conditional permit to allow a height of about 71 feet, as well as a floor area ratio variance to allow increased density.

Scannell’s building is to have 122 apartments in a mix of small and standard studios, one, two and three-bedroom units and 72 resident parking stalls. It will also have 5,700 square feet of commercial space.

Scannell plans 15 “public” parking stalls, which would be used by a tenant or the general public. The latter use raised questions from neighbors, who questioned whether soccer fans would vie to park there. How the spaces are used will likely be determined once a retail tenant is named.

Scannell’s parking would be accessed from Shields and Spruce Tree Dr., and a north-south alley. That is also where any retail deliveries would be made. Lassaux acknowledges that the alley is already a cut-through and that the developer and church need to work with city officials to see how that can be resolved.

Both developers are planning similar strategies to encourage transit use and reduce motor vehicle use, through ample bike racks and giving tenants a $50 transit card when they move in. There are some differences. Wellington wants to use parking along Snelling for its building. Scannell wishes to eliminate parking and widen its sidewalk.

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Cafe Biaggio 03

Café Biaggio to host annual St. Joseph’s Day Feast on Mar. 24

Posted on 11 March 2019 by Calvin

Café Biaggio co-owner John D’Agostino in the restaurant named for his maternal great-grandfather, Biaggio. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

St. Joseph’s Day is a traditional Italian holiday celebrated around the world. Thanks to Café Biaggio co-owners John D’Agostino and Shari Breed, it will be observed in the Midway neighborhood too. Joseph is the patron saint of Sicily and recognized as the husband of the Virgin Mary.

D’Agostino said, “On Sun., Mar. 24, starting at 1pm, we’ll be serving our annual St. Joseph’s Day Buffet. There’s no charge to come and eat, though you can leave a donation for local charities and families in need. We bring any leftover food to the Visitation Monastery of North Minneapolis, where the sisters serve the urban poor every day. This tradition was started locally by my mother 52 years ago at her restaurant ‘Sammy D’s’ in Dinkytown on the U of M Campus. ”

“Mama D,” as she was affectionately known, passed away in 2006 at the age of 95. “I told her I would keep this tradition going because it was important to her,” D’Agostino said. “In small towns in Italy, families still walk from door to door enjoying a dish at each home. Last year, we served about 700 people, and it’s not just for Italians. We get a lot of clergies; the sisters from the Visitation Monastery will bring a bus load of neighbors from North Minneapolis. People come who are poor, and who are not poor. In the old days, my mother’s friends and family would contribute dishes, but the Health Department doesn’t allow that anymore. Everything is prepared right here; we’ll make 100 pounds of meatloaf and about 40 pounds of mashed potatoes. We’ll have fish, vegetables, breads, and desserts—something for everybody.”

Sysco, Twin City Produce, and Greco and Sons are all generous donors to the event. D’Agostino and his business partner pay for the rest. D’Agostino said, “Last year, I watched a guy who came in for the St. Joseph’s Day Brunch. I could tell he was homeless. Afterward, he came over and said, ‘Thank you—this is the first good meal I’ve had in a long time.’ If we feed even one person out of the whole bunch who really needs it, then I think it’s worthwhile.”

Café Biaggio has been in its current location at 2536 University Ave. W. for 18 years. The menu is the owners’ interpretation of simple, rustic Italian foods found in small cafes in Chicago, on the East Coast, and throughout Italy. Many of the recipes have been handed down through D’Agostino’s family. Mama D’s classic antipasto salad, which first graced the menu at Sammy D’s Restaurant in the 1960s, remains unchanged.

Features of the “made-from-scratch” menu include homemade pasta, an all-Italian wine list, hand-turned gelatos, and an Italian specialty called semifreddo: a creamy, semi-frozen concoction made with amaretto, egg whites, and macaroon cookies.

Café Biaggio has a large parking lot behind the restaurant (enter from the Raymond Ave. side.) Regular hours are Mon.-Thur., 11am-9pn; Fri., 11am-10pm; Sat., 4:30-10pm; Sun. closed.



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Create, connect, craft at camps over the summer months

Posted on 11 March 2019 by Calvin

Friends School, Hamline Young Writers, St. Paul Urban Tennis, St. Paul Ballet, Camp Como, and others make summer memories they’ll never forget

Create a cardboard castle, a cigar box guitar, or a Lego robot. Connect with long-time friends and make new ones while learning how to kayak, juggle or sew. Make a puppet, animated cartoon, stationary, or your own song. There are so many summer camp options in the Twin Cities area your kids will have trouble picking just one!
Browse below for more information on some of the camps offered locally.


Experience outdoor activities including swimming in an outdoor pool, horseback riding, use of a ropes course and climbing tower, group games, or hiking. Enjoy sensory crafts, gross motor activities led by a registered occupational therapist, music groups led by a board-certified music therapist, boating, and sports during a Wahode Day Camp in Eagen where campers arrive each morning and leave each afternoon. Two residential camps where campers stay several days and nights are also offered in northern Minnesota at several locations. AuSM camps are tailored for youth and adults with autism. AuSM camps are available for individuals ages 6 and up who are AuSM members.

Blackhawks offer several exciting half- and full-day soccer camps for players ages 5-18 that encompass a wide variety of activities and skills. Specialty camps focus on specific skills such as ball control, shooting, and goalkeeping.

Spend some time “Monkeying Around” with your primate pals, go for the gold in “Animal Olympics,” take an “African Adventure” without leaving Como, or try on the hat of a zookeeper or gardener in “Behind-the-Scenes!”. Como’s camps focus on developing children’s appreciation for the natural world through play and exploration, behind-the-scenes experiences, interactions with zookeepers and gardeners, and up-close encounters with plant and animal ambassadors. Five-day, half-day or full-day sessions for preschool to grade eight. Extended care is available.

Free Forest School of the Twin Cities is a free group, open to young children and their parents or caregivers. This is a welcoming and non-judgmental group where parents and caregivers can practice giving children space and autonomy to explore and create in nature. Free Forest School meets every day of the week throughout the year at wilderness areas around the metro. Share a snack, take a hike, play in the woods, and have circle time. Parents get a chance to unplug and step back… Kids and their imaginations take the lead.
Cost: Free

Want to make a film just like the professionals? Feel like biking 10 (or 20!) miles a day? Have a secret stash of poems to share? Feel a need to express yourself through paint and paper-folding? Maybe you’d rather argue for the defense in a real courtroom? Friends School will be the place to do that—and more—from June to August for ages 4-14. There are weekdays, half- and full-day options available. Extended daycare in the mornings and afternoons and need-based financial aid available.

Travel back in time and learn about life in the 1800s. Explore seasonal Dakota activities including the maple sugar camp, wild rice village, and learn about life in the tipi, hunting games, methods of travel, language and song. Three-day, half-day camps. One-day Pioneer PeeWees camps offered for ages 4-5.

High school students ages 15-18 can explore the craft, prepare for college, and connect with other young writers in the Twin Cities while working closely with Hamline Creative Writing faculty and published authors.

Join the Minnesota Waldorf School for good, old-fashioned summer fun with outdoor games, natural crafts, water play, gardening, fairy camp, and much more. For children ages 3.5 to (rising) 6th grade.
651-487-6700 x202

Summer sessions for ages 6-14 are run by the University of Minnesota’s Rec & Wellness Camps. Camps also offered in partnership with MIA and Richardson Nature Center.

Fun, exciting camps that combine physical fitness and education are offered throughout the summer for school-age kids. Register early for discounts.

Make your own games and design circuits. Paint with pizzazz. Search out connections between visual art and creative writing, and explore the life of a story in journalism. Options at SPA cover a wide range of academic, arts, and enrichment activities for grades 2-12.

Summer is a great time to try dance. Programs include workshops and camps for ages 3 and up, weekly drop-in classes for teens and adults, and a “mommy and me” baby class.

Located at 30+ sites, with several locations in the Midway Como neighborhoods, St. Paul Urban Tennis offers a summer program for all age groups and skill levels. Tennis lessons combine high-quality instruction with life skills learning. Sampler Camps offer a condensed, 4-day version of the lesson program. Scholarships are available.

Explore the variety of Y Summer Programs at over 60 metro-area locations. Programs include flexible three-, four-, and five-day options for preschool and up, as well as day camps, overnight camps, Teen Wilderness, family camps, and more.



Be initiated into an ancient and esteemed House of The Realm, jump into live-action adventure gaming, build your own arms and armor, and more during these five-day, full-day sessions for ages 8-17.

Solve mysteries of the past in this three-day History Detective Camp for ages 10-13. Or, young ladies ages 9-12 can step back in time in a unique Finishing School for Young Ladies day camp.

Unleashed summer campers entering grades 3-10 spend a full week immersed in animal learning and fun at one of four AHS locations,

A variety of art disciplines and mediums with themes like puppetry, world cultures, If I had a Hammer, animation, art car, public art and activism, printmaking and more offered for ages 4-18. Five-day, half- and full-day sessions available.

Write your own songs, start your own band, build cigar guitars from the ground up, and learn electric guitar.

Camp and canoe while learning leadership and teamwork skills in a free, seven-day resident camp for youths age 13-18 who live within the city limits of Minneapolis or St. Paul. Held on the St. Croix River in Rush City and organized by YouthCARE.

Explore international circus arts at Circus Juventas. Five-day, full-day sessions and one-day sampler camps offered for ages 6-15. New this year is Teen High-Flying Adventure Camp for ages 13-18.

Experience cultural and language immersion; 15 languages to choose from. Resident camp for ages 6-18 and family camps.

Campers have fun while gaining an appreciation for nature by meeting live animals, building forts, and getting their hands dirty during full- and half-day, four-day camps offered for students entering 1-8 grades. Shorter sessions are available for ages 3-6.

Day camps exploring science, technology, and engineering are offered in partnership with local community education programs. Sessions, length and price are varied per location and type of camp for ages 4-14.

Make butter, ice cream and bread while learning about science, agriculture and history at the Bruentrup Heritage Farm in Maplewood. Plus, students will play old-time games like townball and do arts and crafts during three four-day sessions.

Fiddle Pal Camp Minnesota is four days to discover, learn and play for children, adults and families at three locations.

From fusing to casting to glass blowing, ages 9-18 are introduced to the mesmerizing medium of glass through immersive half-day, five-day experiences.

Experience the outdoors, or the lives of the engineers and grenadiers who called Fort Snelling home. Go back to the past and explore the stories of children who lived in Fort Snelling at Bdote area. Camps range from one to four days.

Speak, hear, sing, and create in German while exploring subjects ranging from history and art to science and music during five-day, half-, full- and extended-day sessions for grades K-13 at the Germanic American Institute.

Summer camps allow time for more in-depth projects, such as Wild & Wooly, Fairies, Critters, and Sea Creatures, for kindergarten and up.

Enjoy Summer Tennis in Minneapolis parks for ages 6-17. Free and reduced programs available.

Professional Irish Dance training by director Cormac O’Se, an original member of Riverdance.

Half-day, five-day sessions and single day sessions for beginners through experts ages 8-18 enhance hand-eye coordination, boost concentration and build self-confidence.

Yoga infused throughout the day via story, dance and games for campers age 5-12. Located on the Greenway with daily field adventures.

Girls and boys ages 6 to 17 can design and build their creative ideas, mixing art, science and technology during partial-day, weekday camps. There are more than 120 classes available over ten weeks, including a Harry Potter Theme Week with giant Hogwarts Castle build.

There’s something for everyone—from the youngster just learning to put pen to paper to the seasoned high school senior with a novel already under her belt. Sessions run in week-long blocks July and August, full and half-day options available for ages 6-17.

Roller ski, mountain bike, canoe and more during adventure camps for ages 9-13 at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis. Equipment provided during the full-day, five-day sessions.

A variety of athletic, academic and enrichment programs are offered, including baking basics, woodcarving, viola and cello, Ev3 robots, Hispanic Culture Camp, fencing, stop motion, sewing, painting, rocket science, drumming, and more. Half- and full-day, one- to three-week weekday sessions. Camp Minnehaha, a full day camp for pre-k to grade 8, includes daily devotions, games, indoor and outdoor activities, daily swimming lessons, and weekly off-campus activity.
612-728-7745, ext. 1

Play music, get creative, bake bread and construct books while exploring the rich culture along the Minneapolis riverfront district. Campers aged 9-11 will explore a new experience each day at four arts centers.

Work with sculpture, tiles, or wheel-thrown pottery in half or full-day sessions for ages 6 and up.

With camps happening at the new Discovery Center in Minneapolis Uptown every week of the summer, as well as at various schools and educational partners around the Twin Cities, Snapology has got you covered for kiddos as young as 3 and as old as 14—Robotics, Coding, Science, Technology, Drones, Pre-K, Engineering, Architecture and more.

Learn about devised theater, music and other performance art forms during these one- to two-week, half- and full-day sessions for those preK to grade 12. Two theater classes offered in collaboration with the Science Museum and Minnesota Zoo.

Learn about track, motors, and controls and how the crew does their jobs at the Minnesota Streetcar Museum in Minneapolis. Each child ages 6-11 will have the chance to climb into the Motorman’s seat and run the car down the line.

Sew, knit, felt, dye and more. Take home completed fiber items from three- and five-day, half-, full- and extended-day sessions for ages 6-16.

Students ages 8-17 enrolled in the week-long, half-day camps will experience a variety of circus disciplines—including Trampoline, Static Trapeze, Acrobatics, Circus Bike, and of course Flying Trapeze.

Animal encounters, canoeing, hiking, swimming, pond-dipping, mud-mucking, and gardening adventures await for ages 3-13.

Painting, drawing, clay, theatre, writing, glass and much more for ages 6-14.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is not a comprehensive list of every camp in the Twin Cities. If you would like to be included in next year’s guide, please send us detailed information on the camp.

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Como author publishes a life-long collection of short vignettes

Como author publishes a life-long collection of short vignettes

Posted on 11 March 2019 by Calvin

Como resident Paul Kotz (photo right by Jan Willms) wanted to write a book for his daughters. “I was trying to write something that they might know their dad in a different way,” he said. A number of years passed and in 2018 Kotz published “Something Happened Today.”

It is still a book for his daughters, now young adults, but it is also a challenge to other readers to find something positive and unexpected in the simple experiences of everyday living.

His publication is some short excerpts that can be read in one or two sittings or can be read as a message a day to search for the positive elements of life.

Kotz, who initially came from a corporate background, has been an educator for the past 27 years. He currently teaches a doctoral program in leadership at St. Mary’s College in Minneapolis.

“I love to observe what is going on in the world,” Kotz reflected. “So I started writing stories, looking for good and hope in the world. I think a lot of it springs from seeing what people experience each day.”

Kotz said that, especially with his students, over the last 20 years he has seen a myriad of things happen, from the horrific to simple acts of kindness. And it is these acts of kindness that he has showcased in his book.

“There is a sense of humor throughout the book,” he continued, “but you also see ‘Oh, Wow! That happened?’ in its pages, also.”

One example he writes about is a young man named John, who has come from Kenya and needed a host family for a couple of weeks. Kotz and his family took him in, and a neighborhood celebration was being planned to welcome him. The evening before that took place; John learned his father had died.

Kotz writes about the feelings of joy in being welcomed to a new place while at the same time the feelings of sadness at losing a parent thousands of miles away.

“We had to make this into a celebration for John,” he noted. “We tried not to reflect on the loss, but at the same time we recognized it.”

On a different note, Kotz describes coming across a young man in LA Fitness who was screaming and yelling expletives. Kotz said he had his fears and was not sure whether to engage him. “I just told him I hoped it would get better. He swore at me again, but after a little time with this man, he let me know he was struggling; he had lost his job and broken up with his girlfriend, his car was not working, and he was in economic straits. Sometimes you just have to listen, and I wonder, are we doing that enough?” Kotz said. “Are we taking the time to listen and to care about others?

He said that in gathering the information for his book, he kept his ears open and his eyes receptive to people’s experiences.

“In my line of work when I hear a story or observe something, it is a gift just to take it in,” Kotz said. “As an advisor in St. Mary’s leadership program, people will ask me what they should do. They want advice on what their next step should be. In the grand scheme of things, I can’t give them advice, because all our stories are different. I have to stay open and listen.”

He said he listens and stays present and hears what is going on in the world. And this has been his experience in writing “Something Happened Today.”

“I love to write,” Kotz said, “and I will write about the things I see and the people I meet.” He said he might meet someone during the day and write it down that night, or think about an experience he had in the past couple days, and write it down.

He said his goal in teaching is to make his students better decision-makers and help them make better ethical decisions. He said some readers have asked him if his ideas are not too Pollyannaish. “They say you can’t trust people, because they will burn you.”

“My answer is yes, we have all been burned, but every person has some good in them. You don’t always see it, and sometimes you have to dig really deep.”

Looking back on his own life, Kotz said that there were always other people who would look out for him and steer him onto the right path. He was born in New York and came to Minnesota when he was 11. “I am now 55, and I have seen a lot in my life. But when I was young, if I would drift off the path I would have people who would tell me that if I wanted to be in this community, I needed to act a certain way. “

Kotz said there were always people who could see the goodness in him and see his potential. “A lot of kids don’t get that opportunity today,” he explained. “A lot of adults don’t get that opportunity.”

Kotz also mentioned the mentoring of strong women in his life, including his mother. She had a bumper sticker on her car that read “Women are natural-born leaders. You are following one.”

The students Kotz works with now are primarily adults, and he said they go through a lot. “How do you integrate work life with the rest of how you want to live your remaining days?” he asks them. And he tells them there is not a lot of time until they retire to savor the goodness, so why not start now?

“I go to bed, tired, with a lot of responsibilities like everyone else,” Kotz said. “But I wake up and ask God to help me be a better man. I am present to people. I sometimes don’t do the best job, but I try. And I start the day out that way and capture the good moments.”

Kotz said this book is a collection of surprises about what life has to offer. “I think the world is an amazing place, and I look for the good to see hope in society and that everybody has something good to give back. As a nation and as a world, it is imperative to keep this world going in a good way. We can really learn from others, and you can alter your perspective on how you deal with the daily grind of life.”

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Resurrection City Church 06crop slider

Resurrection City Church meets at Hamline Elementary School

Posted on 11 March 2019 by Calvin

Julie (center left) and Joel Stegman (center right) are co-pastors of the newly planted Resurrection City Church, which meets weekly at Hamline Elementary School. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Resurrection City Church (RCC) is a newly planted church that meets in the cafeteria of Hamline Elementary School on Sundays at 9:30am. Their vision is to glorify God by seeing people, the city, and the world made new in Christ.

Julie Stegman and her co-pastor husband Joel live near the State Fairgrounds. “We’d been working at a church in downtown Minneapolis,” Julie said, “but felt like we really wanted to be more a part of the community where we lived. It seemed like the right time to plant our own church. Hamline Elementary School was welcoming, and willing to let us rent.”

To hear Stegman describe it, starting a church from scratch is a lot like starting a business. “A team of about 35 people helped us turn our vision into a reality,” she said. “Most of them live in the Hamline- Midway or Como neighborhoods, and some are people we’d met at our previous church. The team helps us set up in the cafeteria every week, among a hundred other things. We’re all at the school by 7am on Sundays, unfolding chairs and making coffee.”

RCC appears to be a young congregation, with an average age of less than 30. There are a lot of young families moving into the neighborhood, and the congregation reflects that. Stegman said, “We have a strong emphasis on community here. There are small, community groups that meet in people’s homes throughout the week to pray and to be a supportive part of each other’s lives. We’re also involved in the broader community; several of our members volunteer at Hamline Elementary School through their Reading Partners Program.”

On the first Monday of each month, RCC sponsors a conversation at Groundswell Coffee called “Views and Brews” from 7-9pm. According to Stegman, “This is a time to talk about life and faith, and anyone can come. We’re very polarized in our country right now. It’s hard to have respectful conversations with people we disagree with—we’re hoping this will be a place to have respectful conversations about many different things. The next meeting is scheduled for Mon., Apr. 1. The March discussion topic was: is Christianity still relevant?”

Stegman said, “Obviously, we believe it still is. We chose the name of our new church carefully because we see the resurrection as the sign that Jesus was exactly who he said who he was. We believe that he’s making people new every day; and that these people are being called to make their city new, and the broader world they live in.”

Hamline Elementary School is located at 1599 Englewood Ave. The parking lot on Hubbard St. offers the easiest access, near the Rec Center. Dress is casual, and the fellowship time wraps up around 11am. There is childcare for children under five, with a secure check-in process. Brake Bread donates muffins and pastries, and the RCC provides coffee. Email co-pastor Julie Stegman at julie@rescitychurch.org with any questions.



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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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