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The Funky Little Chair Offers Upholstery Services and Classes in the CEZ

The Funky Little Chair started with Cynthia Bleskachek’s desire to build a community around the upholstery industry through education. Now open on University Avenue in the Creative Enterprise Zone of St. Paul, The Funky Little Chair offers upholstery services and classes to individuals from all skill levels.
 
Bleskachek’s mission is to make the craft of upholstery accessible to all who want to learn. “I want this business to be able to share this industry, this craft—and make it approachable no matter how you’re coming in at it,” says Bleskachek. “I am just so excited to share everything that I love about this industry with clients, with students, and with hobbyists because I do think there’s so much beautiful furniture and too often people just don’t know what their options are.”
 
Growing up with a mother who was an upholsterer, Bleskachek saw firsthand how to take furniture apart and refresh the pieces using new fabrics and materials. When Bleskachek started working in the upholstery industry herself, she discovered that many people were curious and inquiring about what went into a re-upholstery project. Seeing an opportunity to create more transparency in the industry through education, Bleskachek began teaching upholstery classes.
 
Bleskachek explains, “If you ever got a quote from a custom upholsterer, people wanted to know why it was so expensive. Wasn’t it easy? Which is easy to think if you haven’t done [upholstery]. But through education, you are able to show people what you love about it. What it is beyond slapping fabric on it. It’s a whole craft where everything you work on is different. Every fabric is different and every piece has its own problem solving.”
 
A few of the educational opportunities offered by The Funky Little Chair include weekend workshops for those who have small do-it-yourself (DIY) projects, weekly workshops offering students a chance to work on larger, more complex projects, workshops for current or aspiring professional upholsterers, as well as free community events where activities might include a DIY Halloween costume brainstorming session or an evening of knitting and crocheting. For those who want extra help with projects, Bleskachek offers modern residential re-upholstery services.
 
In an age where consumers are inclined to purchase cheap, disposable furniture, Bleskachek understands that education is key to transforming shopping habits and helping others see the value of refreshing existing pieces of furniture. “I think there’s a lot of consumers who are trying to understand and make choices they feel good about. They need to know how. They need to know why. They need to know where. We’re excited to help crack that open a little bit.”
 
 

Fair State Brewing Cooperative Expands Into St. Paul With New Production Facility

Earlier this month, Northeast Minneapolis-based Fair State Brewing Cooperative announced a major expansion into previously uncharted territory: St. Paul.
 
The cooperative’s 40,000-square-foot Creative Enterprise Zone production facility, just blocks from Urban Growler Brewing Company and Bang Brewing, is slated to supercharge its brewing capacity and substantially expand its distribution footprint.
 
According to CEO and co-founder Evan Sallee, the new space will start with an annual production capacity of 7,500 bbl—with room for growth, “[depending] on the eventual ale/lager mix.” Quoting Fair State management, CBS Minnesota reports that’s at least a five-fold capacity increase.

“The expansion will also give us a lot more flexibility to be creative in what we do. Our capacity to try new and interesting things is inherently limited by our commitment to keep certain core brands around all the time,” says Sallee. “Moving those brands off to a larger facility will allow us to spread our creative wings and play around a bit more while still providing the core beers that people have come to expect us to have available regularly.”
 
Those core brands include “traditional” craft beer styles like India pale ale, hefeweizen and pilsner. But after just two years of operation, Fair State has staked its claim to an underserved brewing niche: sour beers. Already on the national radar as Minnesota’s first cooperatively owned brewery, Fair State has earned national press (and awards) for its prolific sour program, which includes high(er)-volume kettle sours like Roselle and limited-release, barrel-aged beers like Paradisiac.
 
Fair State’s commitment to sour beer bled through to the design and execution of its new brewing system. “We have worked with our equipment manufacturer to design our brewing system with sour beers specifically in mind, so we will be able to turn out our kettle sours like Roselle with increased efficiency,” says Sallee.
 
Ultimately, says Sallee, Fair State’s expansion is about putting more beer in front of more people, irrespective of geography. In the short term, the brewery’s beer is likely to be available in more stores and taprooms across a wider swath of MSP. And, soon enough, Greater Minnesota customers will get their first consistent taste of its brews.
 
“One of Fair State's core missions is to bring high quality beer to more people,” he explains. “When our members in St. Paul have trouble getting beer because we can't make enough to service our back yard, that's a problem. So I hope that this project will allow us to better meet the demand locally and throughout Minnesota.”
 

Broken Clock Brewing Co-op Ready for Northeast Move


The upstart craft beer cooperative, profiled in our recent roundup of new MSP breweries, just launched a $25,000 Indiegogo campaign ahead of a planned early 2017 launch. The goal is flexible, meaning Broken Clock will receive funds even if it doesn’t hit the $25,000 mark. As of September 10, the campaign had raised about $3,500 with two months left to go.
 
Broken Clock is actually MSP’s second cooperative brewery. The first, Fair State Brewing Cooperative, opened in a small Northeast Minneapolis storefront two years ago. Fair State’s cooperative model clearly struck a chord with the community: Fair State’s member-owner count is approaching 1,000, and Fair State just announced a massive expansion plan involving a 30-barrel production brewery in St. Paul’s Creative Enterprise Zone, per The Growler.
 
Fair State may have been the first mover, but Broken Clock has big plans to claim a slice of what’s proven to be a big (and growing) pie. That means paying attention to more than just the bottom line.
 
“Being a cooperative means that we put the needs of the community ahead of the bottom line,” according to Broken Clock’s Indiegogo page. “We aspire to make a difference by empowering people, inspiring passion, and fostering collaboration in our community.”
 
Broken Clock’s road to “mak[ing] a difference” could be a lot shorter than most upstart breweries’. The co-founders recently signed a purchase agreement to take over the Northeast Minneapolis space outgrown by 56 Brewing.That space is “turnkey,” meaning it won’t require the sort of messy, time-consuming, setback-prone build-out that’s normally part of a new brewery opening.
 
But Broken Clock does need some of its own stuff to get started: “all the equipment, building, and consulting we need to brew beer the day we move in,” according to its Indiegogo page. That’s where the $25,000 figure comes in.
 
 

Red Lake Band Plans Mixed-Use Affordable Housing Project

 
The American Indian Cultural Corridor in Minneapolis, home to the largest population of urban American Indian people in Minnesota, continues its ongoing redevelopment into an area of cultural pride and community cohesion with a new proposed mixed-used housing development. The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians recently purchased a 37,367-square-foot parcel on Cedar Avenue, formerly occupied by Amble Hardware. The project will be called Mino-bimaadiziwin, Ojibwe for “living the good life.”
 
The site is “in the heart of the American Indian community” and located adjacent to a Blue Line light-rail station, explains Sam Strong of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians. Plans include demolishing the existing, blighted structures, and developing the site into a mixed-use property with approximately 115 units of affordable rental housing. The project would also include a healthcare clinic and a variety of social service programs for tribal members, and the Red Lake Band’s Minneapolis Embassy.
  
The Minneapolis-based Cuningham Group is the designing the project. “While nothing has been finalized on the design side, we are interested in making this a sustainable green project and are looking into our options,” says Strong.
 
About 2,100 Red Lake Band members plus their descendants live in the Twin Cities area. “We are excited to build a strong, healthy affordable housing community for Native Americans in this culturally significant area that will not only benefit our own tribal members, but also the entire Minneapolis community and Seward neighborhood,” said Darrell G. Seki, Sr., Chair of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, in a prepared statement.
 
The Red Lake Band has long been a leader among Indian Tribes and has been at the forefront of numerous initiatives in Indian Country. Mino-bimaadiziwin, a new urban mixed-use project “is important as an investment in our community,” Strong says, “and will help meet the ongoing housing, health and other service needs of our people.”
 
 

CHDC breaks ground in new affordable-housing project for homeless veterans

In 2006, Community Housing Development Corporation (CHDC), a Minneapolis nonprofit developer and owner of 44 affordable-housing properties, opened a project for homeless veterans. Next to the Minneapolis VA Medical Center in South Minneapolis, CHDC and partners renovated four former officers’ quarters and constructed two new buildings to create 140 affordable units for homeless vets.
 
“That project was incredibly successful,” says Elizabeth Flannery, CEO, CHDC. “Since it opened, we’ve regularly had a waiting list of more than 300 people.”
 
Six years ago, CHDC staff began talking about expanding the 2006 building. “In addition to the waiting list, which needed to be addressed with more affordable housing, we learned that the veterans community is huge and has a range of needs,” Flannery says. “We also learned we need more support services than we originally projected.”
 
“Moreover, when vets finally have housing they can afford, they have the opportunity to think about what’s next, whether that’s counseling, employment, getting their VA entitlements in order or getting treatment,” she adds. In other words, “Housing is critical. Housing is a foundation to everything.”
 
Last week, CHDC and partners broke ground on Veterans East. Located adjacent to the 2006 project, near the Blue Line light-rail station, Veterans East will include 100 affordable units, and will provide on-site support services for health care, case management, life skills, financial management, VA benefits, and education and employment resources.
 
UnitedHealth Group, based in Minnetonka, is the project’s largest private investor; the organization is providing $5.2 million in equity using low-income housing tax credits approved by the State of Minnesota. The Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, which finances affordable housing, is providing $7.7 million in deferred loan funds. Additional funding comes from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines, Hennepin County, affiliates of CHDC, and $290,000 in energy and sales tax rebates.
 
Eligible veterans—those who have experienced chronic homelessness—will pay 30 percent of their income toward rent. When completed in Summer 2017, Veterans East will provide permanent supportive housing for veterans struggling with homelessness.
 
The five-story, energy-efficient building, designed by LHB Architects, will also have a community room with a fireplace, a kitchenette and laundry facilities. In addition to its transit-friendly location near the VA Hospital, Veterans East will be adjacent to Minnehaha Park, and near Lake Nokomis and other area amenities.
 
Since January 2015, Minnesota has kept a registry of homeless veterans to help identify opportunities for housing and other services. So far, 600 vets have been housed, but many more remain homeless. “Once vets get housing they can get work,” Flannery says.
 

Studio on Fire Celebrates Grand Opening with Steamroller Print Fair

 
On Friday, the letterpress printing company founded by Ben Levitz, Studio on Fire, holds its grand opening at its new location in the Creative Enterprise Zone (CEZ) in St. Paul. Now housed in a 1940s industrial building replete with enormous steel structural beams, large windows, high ceilings and operable garage doors (the building formerly housed a semi-tractor service garage, a garage door company and an adult arts program), Studio on Fire has room for its 15 employees and dozens of heavy-duty machines (many of them vintage printing presses).
 
When the building came on the market, “We put into motion something we’d wanted to do for a long time: Own our space,” he says. Previously, Studio on Fire was located in Northeast Minneapolis: before that, in Levitz’s basement. He also cites the neighborhood, which is part of St. Anthony Park, as an impetus for the move. Local mainstays Bang Brewing and Foxy Falafel will be selling libations and food, respectively, during the event. The neighborhood, which is experiencing a micro-brew boom, also includes Lake Monster, Urban Growler and Burning Brothers.
 
Studio on Fire, Levitz explains, specializes in “pressure-based printing. Letterpress, foil stamping, engraving—they all use pressure. That means our equipment is very heavy and most of it is antique, including 1950s and 60s Heidelbergs for letterpress printing.” As a result, Studio on Fire’s work—which includes business cards, packaging and invitations for individuals and large corporations—is visually striking and tactile.
 
You can watch the press operators at work through the windows in the Dogwood Coffee shop next door. Levitz likens the set up to “a tap room,” where visitors and coffee aficionados can get a first-hand look at the physical aspects of pressure-based printing. During Studio on Fire’s grand opening, the gang will take the printing outside, as well: a large steamroller will be used to create a giant print. They’ve done it before: go here for the video.  
 
Studio on Fire’s grand opening and Steamroller Print Fair is Friday, July 29, 1-7 p.m., 825 Carleton Street, St. Paul. Take the Green Line to the Raymond Avenue station and walk north. You won’t miss it. And it’s free.
 

Little Mekong Night Market Expands to Include Artwalk and Kids Activities

 
Little Mekong Night Market, a project of the Asian Economic Development Association (AEDA) in St. Paul, just keeps gaining momentum. This year, the summer festival (Saturday and Sunday, July 23 and 24) takes place at the proposed Little Mekong Plaza on Western Avenue to bring in more vendors and artists. The market also includes an artwalk showcasing the exhibition “MANIFEST: Refugee Roots” inside the recently opened Western U Plaza—a community-driven, transit-oriented development. Get your Green Line light-rail pass here.
 
The exhibition will feature local artists and cultural groups, including Koua Mai Yang, Ifrah Mansour, the Somali Museum, the Immigrant History Research Center and an art mandala by monks of the Gyuto Wheel of Dharma Monastery. This year’s market includes another new feature: a kid-zone with interactive exhibits from the Minnesota Children’s Museum, Mobile Comedy Suitcase and sParkit Lantern Making. Three stages throughout the market will showcase performances by Hmong artists, such as LOTT, Jayanthi Kyle, Mu Daiko and Mayda.
 
For those new to the area, “Little Mekong is the Asian business and cultural district in Saint Paul, Minnesota,” according to Little Mekong’s website. “Located between Mackubin and Galtier streets along University Avenue, the district boasts a diversity of cultures, top rated restaurants and unique shopping experiences. Visitors come to Little Mekong to experience the unique culture and flavors of Southeast Asia.”
 
 

RoehrSchmitt renovates factory to address need for office and retail space in Northeast

 
The old Miller Bag Building, plonked on the outskirts of Northeast Minneapolis’ commercial core, is pretty big. Actually, the hulking four-story structure and its three outbuildings are legitimately out of scale with their surroundings.
 
But scale isn’t necessarily influential. Since 2013, when the anchor tenant (the former Sam Miller Bag Company, now Airtex Design Group) moved to a modern facility in the Northeast Broadway industrial zone, the building has been about 80 percent empty. According to the Star Tribune, the rapidly changing manufacturing landscape forced building owner (and Airtex shareholder) Mike Miller “to reassess our manufacturing needs” and find a more suitable space.
 
Not one to leave an historically significant building hanging, Miller brought in the Ackerberg Group to help re-imagine Miller Bag as a proper 21st century mixed-use space. They renamed the complex the Miller Textile Building and retained RoehrSchmitt Architecture in NE Minneapolis to craft a suitably ambitious plan for adaptive reuse.
 
Three years on, the $8 million redevelopment is paying off. Ackerberg recently finalized a lease with St. Louis Park-based Stahl Construction, which agreed to take the entire second floor — a major get that brings dozens of jobs from the suburbs to the urban core, and brings the 48,000-square-foot Miller Textile to 35 percent occupancy. (Other leases are in the works, so it’s likely that building’s actual occupancy ratio is higher.)
 
“We renovated the building to create class B office and warehouse space with new infrastructure to serve the burgeoning need for office and retail space in Northeast Minneapolis, [and] house the explosive entrepreneurial energy attracted to this established arts district.,” says architect Michael Roehr, principal and co-founder of RoehrSchmitt.
 
The building was sorely in need of an overhaul. “We basically gutted the building to replace all the basic systems: plumbing, HVAC, electrical and lighting, and sprinklers,” Roehr says. “The main entry, core and circulation system was relocated to the center of the building, with new restrooms and a lobby featuring images and artifacts that celebrate the building's manufacturing history.”
 
The remodel also added and expanded windows to create “bright, welcoming and efficient spaces for professional and creative businesses to take advantage of the building’s unique environment,” he adds. A problematic part of the third floor was removed entirely “to create a dramatic double-height space,” and an “old-growth subfloor” was salvaged and reincorporated into design elements throughout the complex.
 
Roehr is proud of Miller Textile’s economical, resource-light, even low-key redo. “The project was accomplished on a tight budget, and represents a case study in efficiently wringing value and relevance from a building that would typically remain abandoned or be threatened with demolition to make way for something new,” he enthuses.
 
It’s convenient, too. According to Roehr, Miller Textile has upwards of 80 free, off-street parking spaces and, when complete, will boast plenty of on-site bike parking.
 
 

Affordable Housing Goals Ahead of Schedule Along the Green Line

The Big Picture Project (BPP), a public-private partnership established to ensure and strengthen affordable housing along the Green Line, has just released a progress report showing it's already exceeded the halfway mark for its 10-year goals.
Since 2011, when the collaboration began:

·         3,573 units of affordable housing have been built or preserved—80% of Big Picture Project's 10-year goal.
·         968 lower income families have benefited from resources that help them stay in their homes—61% of the 10-year goal.
·         Of the 6,388 new housing units built along the Green Line, 1,269 (20%) are designated affordable.
·         More than $4.2 billion has been invested in residential and commercial development (not including the new stadiums) along the existing Green Line—more than half-way to the projected goal of $7 billion worth of development over 30 years.

“Five years ago, we were uncertain that our collective resources could meet the Big Picture's 'stretch' goal of creating and preserving 4,500 affordable housing units along the Green Line by 2020," says Russ Stark, St. Paul City Council and BPP member. "But we were able to meet that goal—years ahead of schedule—by focusing attention and resources on the need for affordable housing as part of new development along the Central Corridor."

To ensure people with low incomes benefit from access to light rail transportation by finding affordable housing nearby, the Big Picture Project originally set out three objectives along the Central Corridor:

·         Invest in the production and preservation of long-term affordable housing;
·         Stabilize the neighborhood and invest in activities that help low-income people stay in their homes and benefit from the new transit opportunity;
·         Strengthen families’ stability and quality of life through coordinated investments in housing, transportation, and access to jobs and education.
 
“The Big Picture Project has benefited stakeholders along the Corridor precisely because it looked at the big picture," says James Lehnhoff, vice president of housing development at Aeon and a BPP member. "The project recognized the vital interconnections between people, transit, employment, housing and amenities. As an affordable housing developer and owner, we appreciate this incredible interconnectivity because it has the ability to provide new or expanded opportunities for our residents.”

While the Big Picture's first five years have produced impressive results, the group's work will continue with a focus on highlighting successful examples of mixed-income housing—such as 2700 University, a project by Indiana-based private developer Flaherty and Collins—and addressing challenges faced by low income renters who are having a harder time maintaining and finding quality affordable housing. Residents with no financial buffers to absorb housing cost increases are often the first to feel the pressures of displacement. As the market potential of the Central Corridor increases, the collaboration wants to ensure that the most vulnerable members of the community don't get pushed aside.  If they want to stay in their community, they have good options.

"This is the next phase of the Big Picture's work," says Gretchen Nicholls, program officer at Twin Cities LISC and the project's coordinator. "We'll keep up the pace of affordable housing solutions, and share what we've learned with other emerging transit corridors as the region-wide system is built out. We're encouraged by the amazing progress we've made, and we'll continue striving toward an equitable economy—one in which everyone can participate and prosper."

Starting this July, the Big Picture Project will host a series of convenings focusing on promising solutions and innovative strategies to cultivate communities of opportunity along our regional transit corridors.
 

 
 

Take a Break! Literally, with The Break Room's "recreational destruction"

Admit it: you’ve been tempted to take a baseball bat (or sledgehammer or crowbar) to that fancy lamp, horrid vase or even that old television in your living room. Just to see what would happen, you know? But you hold back, because that thing is expensive, and responsible adults don’t take out their frustrations that way.
 
But what if they did?
 
The Break Room, scheduled to open in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood this summer, wants everyone to have the chance to go crazy in a room full of delicate objects — wearing proper skin and eye protection, of course. Call it “recreational destruction”: violent stress release without injury or lasting ill effect, save for an industrial-sized mess when it’s all said and done.
 
According to The Pioneer Press, The Break Room will operate on the “you break it, you buy it” model. The plan is to charge customers a few dollars per item, though larger, more intricate breakables — like TVs and printers — could fetch upwards of $15. Certain high-stress groups, like new parents and newly minted nonsmokers, might qualify for discounts.
 
“I’ve kind of always liked smashing things, even when I was a kid,” The Break Room founder Theresa Purcell told the Pioneer Pres. “I figured other people would like to do the same thing.”
 
Purcell plans to source breakables from thrift stores in Midway, St. Anthony Park and surrounding neighborhoods. Old computers, TVs and printers will come from Tech Dump, an eco-friendly electronics recycling nonprofit also located in Midway.
 
The Break Room’s windowless “smashing room” will be outfitted with a state-of-the-art speaker system and high-def cameras: a multisensory stress relief experience. According to Purcell, patrons will be able to purchase stills and video footage of their sessions, and will have full control over what plays over the speakers.
 
Longer-term, Purcell wants to take her concept on the road with a miniature version of The Break Room inside a specially outfitted truck, though it’s not yet clear into which (if any) local licensing scheme such a mobile unit would fit. Purcell has already experimented with larger-scale destruction events: during a fundraiser at the Soap Factory last month, one lucky group got to go to town on an old sedan.
 
According to Purcell and the Pioneer Press, The Break Room tentatively plans to move into a space near Can Can Wonderland, an artist-designed mini-golf course at the sprawling Orton Midway Complex on Prior Ave N. Purcell continues to hold fundraisers to keep The Break Room on track for a projected early August opening.
 

Transit-oriented development in Standish-Ericsson would build density

The Lander Group and Forteva have announced plans for a multi-unit retail and apartment complex on 38th Street in Minneapolis’ Standish-Ericsson neighborhood. The multi-phase project will reshape 38th Avenue west from the Blue Line light-rail station, and feature a series of connected new structures built around A Cupcake Social, located at the corner of 38th Street and 28th Avenue S and also owned by Forteva.

Andy Root, president of Forteva Development and Forteva Solar, also owns the Northbound Smokehouse building across the street from the proposed development, and additional properties near Chatterbox Pub and Matt’s Bar. “It all started when I bought the Northbound building in 2011,” Root says, which he successfully converted from a furniture store into a busy brewpub.

As Root looked at the surroundings, he saw underutilized space located within walking distance of the 38th Street Blue Line station. With public transportation and a growing business zone that also includes Keen Eye, Studio Emme, Buster’s on 28th and Angry Catfish, Root saw a fit for the City of Minneapolis’ movement toward denser, more walkable developments. Teaming Forteva’s neighborhood familiarity with the experience of The Lander Group, the two developers are collaborating on the proposal.

Renderings feature 51 market-rate apartments, mostly one bedrooms, with four retail units on the ground level. The project includes 34 shared parking spaces to emphasize the project’s proximity to public transit. Retail units would be occupied by neighborhood and small businesses.

Forteva would like to install solar power, as the company did at the neighboring Northbound Smokehouse property, along with EV charging stations for electric cars, and offer residents carsharing programs such as car2go or HourCar. The project’s “main driver is definitely the transportation,” Root says.

A public hearing on the development is scheduled for May 23. If approved, Root estimates a fall groundbreaking on the property with full construction completed by early fall 2017. “We’re looking at what [the city] wants,” Root says, emphasizing the project’s small footprint and ability to increase density. The site is the first of at least three proposals for the neighborhood from the collaborating developers.
 

From weeHouse to lightHouse: Alchemy Architects debuts high-style, small-footprint prototype

Since Geoffrey Warner and his firm, Alchemy Architects in St. Paul, debuted the weeHouse in 2003, the modular prefabricated housing system, which optimizes many elements of the traditional design-build process, has become a Dwell darling and a hit on the tiny-house circuit. The components of the weeHouse have also been combined and stacked in myriad combinations for clients from Pennsylvania to Marfa, Texas.
 
Now, Alchemy is premiering another prototype sure to transform modern living. On May 19, at Mia’s Third Thursday: Art of Sustainability, the lightHouse debuts. In an article on the Mia website, lightHouse is described as “a new kind of urban hotel and the next evolution of sustainable living.” Warner goes on to explain that lightHouse fulfills the firm’s desire to “do something between a tent and a house that wasn’t a travel trailer.”
 
It’s basically a shipping container with a door and windows, insulation, and solar panels, in-floor heating and filtered wastewater systems installed so the lightHouse could exist off the grid. That means it could be mobile, as well—and comfortable. “This will expand the idea of what you can do with limited space—sustainable doesn’t mean it can’t be comfortable,” Warner told Mia. “By inserting a room like this into the urban fabric, places both celebrated and ignored, you can start to talk about living in the city as an interaction with the urban environment.”
 
The 300-square-foot unit could also be used as an accessory dwelling unit or ADU, but with caveats: In the Twin Cities, regulations stipulate that any sleeping quarters must have a foundation and sewer/water connections. Warner is currently discussing with officials how lightHouse could fulfill pressing needs for ADUs  to increase density, sustainability and the shortage in affordable housing throughout the Twin Cities.
 

Minneapolis' C-TAP: Free Assistance for Co-Op Founders

The City of Minneapolis is launching a free technical assistance program for budding co-op founders, starting with a two-hour presentation on April 20th.
 
Dubbed C-TAP (Cooperative Technical Assistance Program), the initiative is an outgrowth of the city’s successful B-TAP (Business Technical Assistance Program) for aspiring small and midsize business owners. Like B-TAP, C-TAP is an immersive program designed to support co-op founders and supporters from ideation through opening—and, in some cases, beyond.
 
According to the City of Minneapolis, C-TAP will unfold over three years, in three steps.
 
Step one, happening this year, focuses on “co-op readiness planning” for “groups that are thinking of forming a Co-op…to get a clear picture of the legal, operational and organizational requirements.” It’s basically a crash course in what it means to start a co-op.
 
Step two, set for next year, will focus on “board member and organizational design.” That means training prospective board members in the basics (and nuances) of co-op governance, as well as “one-on-one technical assistance” for select co-ops that require guidance designing their organizational structures. Step two is available to not-yet-open co-ops and existing co-ops that want or need outside assistance.
 
Step three, set for 2018, will revolve around “sustainability [and] profitability.” In other words, setting and keeping newly opened co-ops on the path to stable, long-term profitability and prosperity.
 
C-TAP’s kickoff event, a two-hour presentation dubbed “The State of Co-ops in Minneapolis,” is scheduled for April 20, 5:30-7:30 p.m., at Open Book in Downtown East. The presentation will discuss the city’s current “co-op inventory” and the industries supported by Minneapolis co-ops, introduce and explain C-TAP, and discuss next steps for co-op founders and principals interested in participating.
 
On May 11, Step one officially gets underway with an eight-week “co-op feasibility” course. Held at the City of Minneapolis Innovation Center in the Crown Roller Mill Building near City Hall, the course’s eight sessions will cover the basics of the co-op development process, co-op business plans, finances, cooperative governance, legalities and other topics. Registration is free and open to the public, but prospective co-op groups need to have at least two participants and have selected a product or service to offer prior to signing up.
 
The City of Minneapolis is no stranger to co-op support. According to city government, Minneapolis has plowed some $3.5 million into local co-ops through existing development and support initiatives, and has an additional $850,000 outstanding in loans to three in-development co-ops—including Wirth Cooperative Grocery, a first-of-its-kind grocery co-op in the city’s underserved Northside, slated to open later this year.
 

WOODCHUCK USA settles into new burrow in fabrication hub

If WOODCHUCK USA’s widely shared Instagram post is to be believed, it took the ascendant woodworking company all night to move its headquarters in late March. But they didn’t go too far: WOODCHUCK moved just 500 feet — give or take — down 9th St SE in Minneapolis’ Marcy-Holmes neighborhood. The company’s destination? The old RyKrisp factory, which WOODCHUCK founder Ben VandenWylemenberg purchased with three other partners a few months back.
 
The sprawling, low-slung building is becoming a 21st-century fabrication hub with a decidedly local maker flavor. WOODCHUCK USA is the main tenant, but other small-scale makers have already moved (burrowed?) in and set up shop, including a video production company (HECCO). WOODCHUCK has designs on about 30 percent of the space, leaving the balance for smaller tenants.
 
“We had been looking for the right building for our business and other businesses committed to building the economy with American-made products,” VandenWylemenberg told Kevyn Burger of Minnesota Business back in January, shortly after closing on the property. According to VandenWylemenberg, the property’s convenient location between the dense St. Anthony Main area and the I-35W/University Ave/4th St SE interchange is a perfect fit with WOODCHUCK’s hip vibe and distribution needs.
 
The location is also probably an asset as WOODCHUCK ramps up hiring. The company had about 30 employees as of earlier this year, but as orders accelerate, the headcount is likely to rise sharply.
 
WOODCHUCK first made its name in wooden phone cases. Its rapidly expanding wooden accessory lineup now includes flasks, bottle openers, coasters, money clips, electronics sleeves and even maps. WOODCHUCK sells direct through its website, and to a growing lineup of retail partners: boutique stores, high-end chains, and big box stores (including MSP-area Targets) as far away as California, South Florida and New England.
 
According to the Pioneer Press, the RyKrisp factory closed in early 2015, after parent company ConAgra decided that the market for RyKrisp’s distinctive — some would say woody-tasting— crackers wasn’t salvageable.
 
Ironically, just as VandenWylemenberg and his partners were doing their due diligence on the old RyKrisp plant, word came (via the Star Tribune) that three former Pillsbury executives had purchased the cracker brand. The beloved (to some) crackers are likely to find a second life, with a relaunch coming as early as this year — though the new manufacturing facility won’t be located in MSP.
 

LISC awards creative placemaking grants for arts-related economic development

Three Twin Cities nonprofits have received Creative Placemaking grants from the Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). Part of a national LISC grantmaking program funded by The Kresge Foundation, the grants went to Juxtaposition Arts in North Minneapolis, and the Asian Economic Development Association and African Economic Development Solutions in St. Paul.

LISC's Creative Placemaking program focuses on five metro areas across the country, including the Twin Cities. It aims to drive dollars into arts-related businesses and cultural activities that will help transform some of America’s most distressed neighborhoods into safe, vibrant places of economic opportunity.

"We’re happy to be part of this national program that supports arts and culture in community and economic development," says Kathy Mouacheupao, creative placemaking program officer at Twin Cities LISC. "Over the past couple of years, we’ve learned a lot about the impact of the arts in addressing the physical and cultural displacement of communities and are excited to expand this work to support partners along the Green Line and North Minneapolis."

The grants will support strategies that create jobs, reduce blight, attract patrons and visitors, and build a strong sense of community among residents. In the Twin Cities, African Economic Development Solutions will use its $25,000 grant to hire an artist organizer and to fund an expanded Little Africa Festival in August 2016. The Asian Economic Development Association will use its $40,000 grant to develop retail space for local artisans to sell their products in Little Mekong and to train local fashion-based Asian artists in business development. Juxtaposition Arts will use its $40,000 grant to fund the predevelopment stage of its textile lab renovation and to further its Tactical Urbanism program, which uses arts and cultural events as interventions to address community challenges in North Minneapolis.

"This LISC support will help the Little Mekong District inspire, invigorate and celebrate the authenticity, diversity, and creativity of our Asian communities and local neighborhoods," says Oskar Ly, artist organizer at the Asian Economic Development Association. "We'll not only be elevating our unique art and cultural assets, but fostering long-term prosperity for our communities."
 
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