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612 Sauna Society first sauna cooperative in the U.S.

In 2013, John Pederson built the Firehouse Sauna, a mobile trailer-sized sauna that quickly moved from a personal project to something he shared with friends. It grew into the 612 Sauna Society, which will soon become the first sauna cooperative in the country.

Now registered as a 308B cooperative business, the group just completed a crowdfunding campaign to build a new sauna that will officially launch the new format. A team of 40 volunteers will build the facility and then launch the coop with a February residency in the courtyard at Surly Brewing Company.

The Society’s mission is to improve dialogue and community, bringing sauna to the people in the spirit of traditional Finnish culture, where saunas are a gathering spot for relaxation and rumination. Sometimes 612 will park at a brewery, other times at a public or commercial setting like Como Park or IKEA.

“The thing we do is put [the sauna] on wheels and take it to different locations,” explains Teke O’Reilly, 612’s campaign manager. Mobility brings sauna culture to all walks of life, and it presents an element of intrigue that further attracts people, he explains.

Last year 612 Society teamed with the mobile Little Box Sauna, hitting locations in St. Paul, Minneapolis and Bloomington. “[Little Box Sauna] kind of melded with 612 Sauna Society,” O’Reilly explains. “That brought people out of the woodwork so we knew we have a powerful community,” he says. Little Box Sauna is a separate entity from the Society, which is why 612 is building a new unit this winter.

“The objective is to make as much sauna as possible available for as many people as we can,” O’Reilly says. Though he’s been involved with the project since its early days with Pederson and other volunteers, the group is excited to turn 612 over to the member-owners.

612 Sauna Society has big plans for the future, rooted in the Scandinavian deep thought tradition. The group has spoken with the Minneapolis Parks Foundation about using the parks as a setting where disparate organizations can come together and relax, uniting in the cozy confines of a 150- to 180-degree sauna and talking about life and, perhaps, politics while relaxing together in a distinctly north country way. It’s only in the idea phase at present, but O’Reilly teems with excitement at the thought.

“The reality of that happening is almost profound,” he exclaims. “If we can truly find solutions to these difficult times that we live in through sauna, to me that gives me goosebumps.”

The new trailer will be roughly the size of a medium RV trailer and is open to the public by reservation. Coop members will pay a discount price, comparable to a grocery coop, but anyone can use the unit by making an advance reservation online due to limited space.
 
 
 
 

Small Park, Huge Impact: Rondo's Commemorative Plaza Under Construction

Since the construction of Interstate 94 in the 1960s tore apart St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood and destroyed his childhood home, Marvin Anderson has worked to make sure the heart and spirit of Rondo lives on. As one of the co-founders of St. Paul’s annual Rondo Days, and a board director of Rondo Avenue, Inc., Anderson has made it his mission to help others remember and revive the spirit of Rondo. “Happiness is the ability to give back to your community and make your community better than when you found it. That’s the key to me. That’s the key to Rondo,” Anderson says.
 
Anderson is currently spearheading a project to bring the Rondo Commemorative Plaza to life. Located at 820 Concordia Avenue, the plaza is intended to facilitate reflection, connection, conversation and community. “It’s a living reminder of living in a village of Rondo, and it’s bursting to find creative expressions of old Rondo and new Rondo in a space that’s ours,” he explains.
 
The plaza, which celebrated its groundbreaking in October, will be a pocket park located in a lot where old Rondo’s last two-story building was constructed in 1917. After that building burned down in 2013, Anderson organized an uplifting community funeral where residents came together and celebrated their memories of the place. During the celebration, the idea came to Anderson to create a gathering space in the vacant lot of the old building, which would commemorate the old Rondo neighborhood.
 
“I said, ‘We’re going to build something on this site,’” Anderson recalls. “‘We’re going to create something here in memory of the building, but also in memory of Rondo.’”
 
The plan for the space includes a promenade of steps, a built-in sound system, green spaces with benches, a 30-foot tall marker that can be seen from Interstate 94, and panels and exhibits showcasing the history of Rondo. Future neighborhood events are also planned for the space, including concerts, spoken word performances and events for children.
 
“We want to show people you can do something with something small and have a huge impact on your community,” Anderson says. “I got so much from Rondo. Rondo gave me the foundation to do what I accomplished in life and when I came back home after traveling for school, I felt that it was important that I become a part of this community—and what could I do? It was to bring this joy of Rondo to others.”
 
The space will hopefully be completed in Fall 2017. Follow along on the progress of the Rondo Commemorative Plaza on the organization’s Facebook and Twitter pages.
 
 
 

J. Selby's Brings Vegan Cuisine to St. Paul

Vegans and vegetarians rejoice! A plant-based restaurant is coming soon to St. Paul, ready to serve brunch, lunch and dinner to herbivores and omnivores alike.
 
J. Selby’s plans to open on the corner of Selby and Victoria avenues this winter. Located in a building built in 1910, the restaurant’s renovation has been challenging. “Going from a convenience store, to a hair salon, to a restaurant is a huge jump,” says J.Selby owner, Matt Clayton. “The original 1910 construction is fascinating. We’ll keep the brick exposed since it’s a design element.”
 
Clayton, a practicing general surgeon for 18 years, decided to leave his job to pursue something different. With no direct plan in mind, Clayton left and kept his eye open for interesting opportunities.
 
It wasn’t until Clayton took a trip to Phoenix to run a marathon that he had the idea to open a plant-based restaurant. Having been on a vegan diet for three years, he was happy to discover a plethora of vegan dining options during his visit. He loved the menu so much at one restaurant, Green New American Vegetarian, that it became his inspiration behind bringing the vegan fare to the Twin Cities.
 
Clayton hired chef Rick Berdahl to develop J. Selby’s menu, which will include appetizers such as chili cheese fries, tots, quesadillas, nachos and buffalo cauliflower. The fast casual-style restaurant will also carry a variety of sandwiches including a club sandwich, buffalo soy curls, BBQ Beaf and a Philly. “A lot of the sandwiches will look and taste like meat, but they’re not,” says Clayton. J. Selby’s will also use some fake meat products from local company, The Herbivorous Butcher.
 
By opening up J. Selby’s, Clayton hopes he can use the restaurant to help change perceptions on what people eat. “The question is how can you affect change? There are a lot of people who are doing information—books, websites, speakers—but information sways a small percentage of people...but everyone has to eat,” says Clayton. “When you go to Seattle, Chicago or Phoenix, there are about 10-15 vegan places you can pick from. If we’re successful, I hope we’ll see more vegan options in the Twin Cities.”
 
 
 
 
 

Capital City Bikeway Underway in St. Paul

The Capital City Bikeway is fast fulfilling the City of St. Paul’s Comprehensive Plan’s vision to become a world-class bicycling city. Made up of a system of off-street bicycle trails in downtown St. Paul, the bikeway network will connect to existing trails, making downtown more accessible to both bikers and pedestrians. The first segment of the Capital City Bikeway was inaugurated in October and will be completed along Jackson Street by the end of 2017.
 
Adopted in 2008, the St. Paul Comprehensive Plan promotes the development and maintenance of a complete and connected bikeway system, encouraging and supporting bicycling as transportation. “Through funding from the 8 80 Vitality Fund we were able to bring the first segment of the Capital City Bikeway to life in coordination of reconstructing Jackson Street—a downtown artery that hadn’t been reconstructed in 50 years,” says Kathy Lantry, director, St. Paul Public Works.
 
The Capital City Bikeway is a raised, two-way bike path that is elevated to be level with the sidewalk. Lantry explains that the project’s goals include “modernizing streets in downtown St. Paul that haven’t been updated in several decades; adding a two-way bike lane that is safe for people of all ages; and creating a separate sidewalk for pedestrians.”
 
Not only does St. Paul see the benefit of the Capital City Bikeway to the city’s transportation infrastructure; the City also foresees the positive economic impact the bikeway will have downtown.

“The installation of bikeways and trails across the country has proven to bring economic benefits to cities, including job growth, increased retail sales and property values, and fewer office vacancies,” says Lantry. The bikeway “will also help attract more young professionals to downtown St. Paul. Young professionals are key to the long-term economic prosperity of all cities, and often choose where they live and work based on a city’s rich cultural offerings and vibrant street life. When people come to downtown St. Paul, we want them to feel an aura of excitement and rejuvenation. The Capital City Bikeway is helping to contribute to that atmosphere.”

The Jackson Street segment is nearing completion between Shepard Road and 7th Place. The second segment, between 7th Place and University Ave off Jackson Street, will be completed in Fall 2017. The full route will eventually run on Jackson, St. Peter, 9th Street, 10th Street and Kellogg Boulevard.
 

St. Paul Tool Library Will Contribute to Sharing Economy

St. Paul is soon getting a new type of library—one that includes power drills, wrenches and lawn mowers. The St. Paul Tool Library will be the newest branch of the Northeast Minneapolis Tool Library, a nonprofit where members can check out tools for home repairs and projects. The new St. Paul location at 755 Prior Avenue N., in the Midway neighborhood, is slated to open late 2016 or early 2017.
 
The idea for a new library branch location came about earlier this year when St. Paul resident John Bailey contacted the Northeast Minneapolis Tool Library to express his interest in bringing the nonprofit to his city. Bailey, who is now the chair of the St. Paul Tool Library Local Advisory Board, says the library is a good fit for the area. “I have known about tool libraries for a long time and they make so much sense,” Bailey says. “It seemed crazy that St. Paul didn't have one.”
 
Zachary Wefel, president of the Northeast Minneapolis Tool Library agrees: “In our strategic plan, we did say we eventually wanted to open multiple branches. So when a few people from St. Paul contacted us and said, ‘We’re interested in doing this,’ we met with them and determined it would be a really great fit.”
 
With the support of the Northeast Minneapolis Tool Library and a successful crowdfunding campaign, Bailey and his supporters raised the funds needed to make the St. Paul Tool Library a reality. Once the new lease on the space is finalized, the tool library will host a tool drive to fill the new space with inventory.
 
With the growth of the sharing economy, the tool library is a natural fit for those who want to work on home projects, but don’t necessarily want or need to buy power tools to keep around the house. “I think for many people in St. Paul, [the tool library] can help them save money by buying less tools,” Bailey says, “and as importantly, teach new skills.”
 
Tool library membership are $55 per year, which gives members unlimited tool checkouts as well as discounts on studio classes. The Northeast Minneapolis Tool Library is currently accepting membership applications in person at their location inside the Thorp Building. Members will be able to use the libraries at both locations.
 
 
 

Transforming Central Project Updates High School's Landscaping and Exterior

When classes started at St. Paul’s Central High School this fall, students were greeted by new improvements to the building’s exterior, including an outdoor classroom, vertical bike racks and landscaping. The improvements were part of a community effort led by a group of parents and volunteers behind the Transforming Central Project.
 
The Transforming Central Project grew out of discussions in 2011 at the Central PAC (Parent Advisory Council) meetings about simple ways parents could spruce up the campus. Initially, the group of volunteers dubbed themselves the “beautification committee,” and made small changes around the grounds such as planting bulbs and perennials.
 
The same year, the group decided to survey the Central community about what further changes they would like to see to the landscape. The committee then took those results to the Metropolitan Design Center at the University of Minnesota, which created a document of potential design concepts for Central. This document later helped the committee discuss the vision with the wider Central community, community councils and city council members; it also helped them acquire grants for funding the project.
 
The updates coincide with Central High School’s sesquicentennial. Established in 1866, Central is Minnesota’s oldest operating high school. “The first conversations in 2011 centered around ways we could soften Central's exterior to help it appear more welcoming,” says Lisa Heyman, one of the co-project managers. “We have always felt that the Central community is very welcoming in the building, and the drab concrete exterior did not accurately reflect that warmth.”
 
Heyman and the rest of the team at the Transforming Central Project organized a grassroots community effort to get input, raise funds and gain support for the changes at the high school. Some of the environmental updates focus on improving runoff, which included a new filtration design, tree trenches, rain gardens and permeable pavers. New trees better fit the site’s soil conditions. There are more outdoor seating areas, and as a new paved path leading students to the school bus pickup and dropoff area.
 
The transformation was truly a result of building relationships with the community and created what was needed. “All of the changes to Central have been inspired by comments and suggestions from teachers, students, parents and community members,” Heyman explains. “Our hope is that the community as a whole will enjoy the new space and find it more accessible.”
 

Nimbus Theatre moves to and renovates NE space

Building community is at the heart of Nimbus Theatre’s mission. That’s why when the 15-year-old theater company, led by co-artistic directors Liz Neerland and Josh Cragun, decided to relocate from their five-year-old space on Central Avenue NE to their new address at 2303 Kennedy Street NE, they did so to bring more staging opportunities to the local performing arts scene. 
 
“We kind of knew by the end of last year that we were going to be moving, so we really started [exploring] these ideas of expanding,” Neerland explains.
 
At its former location, Cragun adds, Nimbus was “partnering with other theater companies” and the space "sort of became a community center. We learned a lot in five years about operating a theater and about what we could do better.”
 
The new space, aptly named The Crane Theater for the five-ton crane that towers overhead, is 7,000 square feet—nearly double that of the old location. Built in 1922, the building was originally a Westinghouse factory. In 1953, the back section of the building, which is now the new home of The Crane Theater, was added on as a mattress warehouse.
 
Now the location will serve as a performance space with two stages. The new space will continue Nimbus’ tradition of staging fresh, original productions featuring its own company, as well as guest performing artists.
 
“It’s a gorgeous room that will work great for theater,” says Cragun. He loves how the facility, in which historically appliances were constructed, functions as metaphor for making—even when the space is now used for creating theater. Moreover, he adds, “We’re not remounting [existing plays]. We’re making theater from scratch here.” Thus the building, he continues, “fits well with what we do.”
 
The main stage will showcase Nimbus’s productions and seat around 100 people. The smaller theater will seat about 50 audience members and will serve several functions. “There are not enough performance spaces of any sort in the Twin Cities,” Neerland explains. “So just being able to offer more of it is really needed. [The second theater is] a smaller, flexible stage for a number of things, such as a small theater company doing a scaled-back production or a play reading.”
 
Providing extra theater space isn’t all that Nimbus is looking to do with The Crane. The company’s wants the space be a support center for people who create new theater locally, and provide services and access to shop space and educational opportunities.
 
In order to make the vision of The Crane Theater a reality, Nimbus launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign on September 16. “Pouring effort into the community has always come back to benefit us in a way that’s positive,” says Cragun. “We’re strong believers in building that. So the idea for a crowdfunding campaign was a really natural fit. We’ve done some traditional development work, but we wanted to sort of throw it back at the community and say, ‘Hey, we’re doing this for you. Can you give us a hand?’”
 
For those looking to see the new space firsthand, Nimbus is staging their first show, The Kalevala, a play based on the 19th-century work of Finnish literature, in their new home now through October 30. Tickets are available online at nimbustheatre.com.
 

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.
 
 
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