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Urban Organics expands at Schmidt Brewery site

St. Paul aquaponics firm Urban Organics just finalized the purchase of an 80,000-square-foot building on the redeveloped Schmidt Brewery site, according to Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal. The site will likely house an aquaponic (“aquaculture”) system that produces lettuce and other greens year-round without soil or fertilizer.
Though decision-makers are mum on the details, Urban Organics also appears to be deepening its already robust partnership with Pentair, an MSP-based corporate giant that builds innovative water filtration and recycling systems. (The company is responsible for Target Field’s thrifty irrigation infrastructure, among other highly visible projects.) Pentair designed and built the aquaponics system in Urban Organics’ Hamm’s facility.
According to the Business Journal, the Schmidt Building’s actual buyer is a newly formed entity called Urban Organics Pentair Group. Urban Organics Pentair Group shares an address with a Pentair satellite office, suggesting that the larger firm is playing an active role in Urban Organics’ new project.
It’s unclear whether the Schmidt purchase presages a series of collaborations between Urban Organics and Pentair. In previous conversations with The Line, Urban Organics co-founder Fred Haberman has expressed optimism that aquaponics systems as large as 500,000 square feet — several times the size of the planned Schmidt facility — would be technologically feasible and profitable within a decade.
Regardless of its implications for Urban Organics’ future, the Schmidt transaction adds a second historic brewery location to Urban Organics’ expanding corporate footprint, following the company’s flagship facility at the old Hamm’s Brewery. It’s also a huge win for MSP’s booming urban agriculture scene, and proof that small-scale, sustainable food production systems can play a role in fixing what Haberman calls “the [United States’] broken food system.”
Business is “innovating at the wrong end of our food system,” says Haberman, pointing to heavily processed snack foods with little resemblance to naturally occurring, nutritious ingredients. “The real need is for innovation to create more sustainable modes of production.”
Urban Organics’ food production system is definitely sustainable. According to Haberman, aquaponics uses just 98 percent less water than traditional irrigation. Since much of the United States’ fresh produce is grown in the water-starved Southwest, Urban Organics’ water-sipping, locally operated technology is a huge advantage.
And since Urban Organics uses fish to clear waste from its tanks, the growing process doesn’t produce industrial quantities of harmful runoff — another advantage over non-organic, soil-based agriculture.
“By itself, aquaponics won’t solve the problems facing modern agriculture,” says Haberman. But Urban Organics’ ambitious vision for a more sustainable agricultural future is nonetheless worth celebrating — and the new Schmidt space marks a major milestone on the company’s journey.

St. Paul bike plan begins with downtown "loop" and Grand Round

Minneapolis’ Grand Rounds Scenic Byway System is well known to Twin Cities walkers, runners and bicyclists. One of the country’s longest continuous systems of public urban parkways, the system includes the Chain of Lakes, the Mississippi River, and assorted parks, picnic areas and bridges. St. Paul has its own Grand Round, which is back in the news as a primary component of the recently approved St. Paul Bicycle Plan.
The plan, which the City Council passed in March, “will guide the development of a safe, effective and well-connected network of bicycle facilities to encourage and facilitate bicycle transportation,” according to the City’s website. In fact, the plan is poised to more than double the number of bike pathways and connectors through St. Paul in the next several decades. The two priorities this summer, says Rueben Collins, transportation planner and engineer for the City of St. Paul, are a new downtown “loop” and the Grand Round.
The Downtown Loop and Spur Network, according to St. Paul Smart Trips, was inspired by the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. A loose square rather than a loop, per se, the system would include a variety of off-street bikeways and paths connecting parks, attractions and other destinations throughout the downtown area. The first phase is occurring along Jackson Street to create an important commuter and recreational connection between the Samuel Morgan Regional Trail along the Mississippi River and the Gateway State Trail, which extends northeast out of St. Paul with connections to Stillwater and beyond.
The Grand Round, a 27-mile parkway around the city, extends from Fort Snelling to Lake Phalen via Shepard Road and Johnson Parkway, continues along Wheelock Parkway to Lake Como, then to Raymond Avenue and across I-94 to Pelham and East River Road. “Not all the parts of the Grand Round read like a parkway,” Collins says. So as city streets are slated for reconstruction, bikeways will also be put in place to offer cyclists safe, often tree-lined and dedicated lanes.
This summer, as Raymond Avenue in the Creative Enterprise Zone is under reconstruction, so will that portion of the Grand Round be redesigned and implemented. “Wheelock is also scheduled for reconstruction in a few years,” Collins adds, “so we’re already looking at transforming it into a place that prioritizes biking and walking.” The City of St. Paul is also working at branding the Grand Round “to make it more attractive for bicyclists,” he says.
While the bike plan will be “implemented piecemeal,” Collins continues, “eventually the entire system will tie together into a single network. The new bike plan gives us the vision and blueprint for where we want to be in the future. It’s an overall, top down, bottom up, across the board plan for the entire city co-authored by many departments and partners.”
The bike plan is part of Mayor Chris Coleman’s 8-80 Vitality Fund, which was based on the work of internationally known urban designer Gil Penalosa who keynoted the St. Paul Riverfront Corporation’s Third Annual Placemaking Residency last year. Coleman’s 8-80 Vitality vision was designed to ensure infrastructure, streets and public spaces are accessible and enjoyable for all residents. The newly adopted bike plan is the first strategy to advance that vision.
As new bikeways are constructed, communities will be invited to weigh in on the types of lanes and facilities that will best serve them. “We’re always asking the question, ‘What do bicyclists want?’” Collins says. “The question sounds simple, but is actually quite complex.” Dedicated and protected lanes, and shared lanes are attractive to different types of bicyclists. Also taken into consideration are “what the existing environments allow us to build.”
“At its root, a systematic bike plan is an economic development strategy,” Collins adds. “We know that people want to work and live in place where they can be outdoors, connecting with nature and with the people around them. We also know bicycling is an indicator of a healthy city and healthy economy. Our goal is to be the best city for bicycling in the country.”

SPRC's 4th annual Placemaking Residency focuses on healthy cities

“The connection between place and health isn’t an intuitive one,” says Patrick Seeb, executive director, St. Paul Riverfront Corporation (SPRC). The fourth annual Placemaking Residency hosted by SPRC, May 11-15, hopes to forge that connection in the Twin Cities.
Titled “Moving the Twin Cities to Better Health,” the weeklong event will explore the relationship between urban design and population health through workshops, walking and biking tours, presentations and social events. Events will take place on St. Paul’s East Side, along University Avenue and in the Ecodistrict in Downtown St. Paul, as well as in the East Downtown area of Minneapolis and the South Loop of Bloomington.
“Well be out in the community, moving around the Twin Cities throughout the day and into the evening, in order to be interdisciplinary and so that participants — including urban planners, community activists, health experts and policy makers — can find different ways to engage,” Seeb says.
In past years, the residency has featured one key speaker focusing on a single topic. Last year the focus was on walkability and bikeability in the cities. The year before, the residency topic was place as a driver of economic investment. The first year, arts and culture as a strategy for place was the focus.
This year, three residents — all from the San Francisco area — will “enrich the conversation,” Seeb explains. Dr. Richard Jackson is the author of Designing Healthy Communities and the host of the PBS series of the same name. “He’s made a career out of studying the built environment and its impact on health,” Seeb says.
Gehl Studio is the San Francisco-based office of Gehl Architects. The firm’s work is cross-disciplinary, and incorporates architecture, urban design and city planning in projects around the world. “The studio focuses on changes we can make right now,” Seeb says. “Rather than thinking about long-term change, the studio specializes in immediate solutions. The Open Streets movement came out of their shop.”
The third resident, Dr. Anthony Iton, is senior vice president for healthy communities at The California Endowment. “His work helps people understand geographic, racial and wealth disparities throughout the U.S.,” Seeb explains. “He’ll present data about how your zip code can predict your expected lifespan.”
“In the past 40 to 50 years, the focus on cars, people feeling unsafe walking or biking to work or school, and food deserts are among the concerns that have emerged relating to health and cities,” Seeb says. “There’s a whole field of thinking that says we can change all that; that we can reduce childhood obesity if neighborhoods and streets are safe for kids to walk or bike to school, where they have access to healthy fresh local food.”  
“With this placemaking residency focused on healthy cities, we hope to expose people to the topic and get them to look at MSP and the choices we make in our cities through the lens of health,” Seeb continues. “The question is: How can we be much more intentional about creating a safe and healthy future in our cities?”

St. Paul Bicycle Plan widens its scope

The City of St. Paul recently revealed the latest draft of the comprehensive St. Paul Bicycle Plan, which proposes adding more than 200 miles of bikeways to the city. Incorporating public input on a previous draft of the plan, the latest manifestation takes a wider look at bicycling in the city. The plan now addresses bicycle parking, traffic signals, bicycle counting programs and other topics.
“This is a very significant effort,” says Reuben Collins, transportation planner and engineer, St. Paul Department of Public Works. “This is the first time the city has had a stand-alone vision for bicycling across all the city departments and the first time that we’ve really looked at the neighborhood level to ask what are the bicycle connections.”
St. Paul residents voiced feedback on the plan at a series of open house events and through Open St. Paul, as well as in personal emails and letters. Much of the community input called for addressing questions around wayfinding, trail lighting and zoning codes that would require bike parking in new developments, and encourage the incorporation of locker rooms and shower facilities to better accommodate bike commuters. The plan was revised to include much of that community feedback, according to Collins.
In development since 2011, the plan’s major aim is to complete the Grand Round trail system originally envisioned in the late-1880s as a figure-eight loop encircling both Minneapolis and St. Paul. The plan would also add a 1.7-mile loop in downtown St. Paul, which has been a notable void in the city’s bicycling infrastructure.
There is currently a recognizable disparity in the geographical layout of bikeways throughout the city, as well. While bicycling facilities are relatively abundant in the western half of the city, historically, there has not been equal investment in bicycling infrastructure on the East Side of St. Paul, according to Collins.
“I think there are a lot of reasons for that (disparity), but it’s something we are very aware of and looking to change,” he says. “We are looking to address that and reach some sort of geographical equity throughout the city.”
While city-specific numbers are hard to come by—something the plan seeks to address with bike counting protocol and programs—regional studies show a steady incline in the number of people riding bikes throughout the Twin Cities.
Bicycling rates increased 78 percent in the metro area from 2007 to 2013, according to a report from Bike Walk Twin Cities, a program of Transit for Livable Communities.
While Minneapolis is consistently ranked amongst the top bicycling cities in the country, St. Paul has struggled to keep up with its bike-friendly sibling to the West. “Certainly we can say anecdotally we know there are a lot more people riding bicycles [in St. Paul],” Collins says.
The St. Paul Bicycle Plan looks to solidify that growth in ridership by cementing an official citywide vision for bicycling. Planners hope to have the plan incorporated into the St. Paul Comprehensive Plan; one of the plan’s goals is St. Paul becoming a world-class bicycling city.
Sources of funding for the long-range plan will be “many and various,” Collins says. One significant potential source is the 8-80 Vitality Fund proposed by Mayor Chris Coleman. In his budget address this summer, Coleman earmarked $17.5 million to rebuild “key portions of our streets,” including completing Phase One of the downtown bike loop as laid out in the Bicycle Plan. He dedicated another $13.2 million towards completion of the Grand Rounds.
“It will be a very sizable investment to really get the ball rolling to implement the recommendations in the plan,” Collins said of the Mayor’s funding priorities with the 8-80 Vitality Fund.
The plan will next go before the Saint Paul Planning Commission October 17 where another public hearing will likely be set. After that, it goes back to the transportation committee, back to the Planning Commission, then on to the City Council for a final vote and hopefully adoption. Collins says the earliest he expects the plan to be put up for a vote is February of 2015.

Alchemy Architects adds third prefab module to school

At Cornerstone Elementary School on the Montessori Center of Minnesota's (MCM) campus on St. Paul's East Side, innovative architecture and design are creating a unique learning environment that fits a holistic curriculum serving the school’s 160 students.

A 157,000-pound hydraulic crane recently dropped a new modular classroom into place, completing a 3-year, 25 percent expansion of the public charter school that is part of the MCM program. Total cost of the expansion is $1.45 million, including landscaping and a greenhouse.

The 1,500-square-foot prefabricated classroom is the third to be installed on the property and will house one of the school’s two upper-elementary classes (grades 4-6). The other upper-elementary classroom and one lower-elementary classroom are housed in two other modular classrooms installed during previous years. The other lower-elementary classroom is housed in the main structure on campus.

Lining the property’s natural wetlands, the three modular classrooms were designed by St. Paul-based Alchemy Architects whose weeHouse design and construction system specializes in prefabricated energy-efficient structures.

The unique classrooms support MCM’s philosophy of providing the best for the smallest in developing students rich in “character, will and spirit,” according to Liza Davis, special programs coordinator at the school. The classroom structures feature large windows that bring the natural setting directly into the learning environment.

“The response of the children—when they can sit and watch the change of the seasons or ducks laying their eggs—from the windows in their classroom has been pretty remarkable, especially for the urban children,” Davis said.

A teacher training organization since 1973, MCM wanted to expand its outreach and elementary education, which led to the relocation of the center to its current site in 2008 and the addition of Cornerstone Elementary in 2011.

The school is focused on providing excellence in education and youth development to diverse communities that often face barriers to quality education. More than 60 percent of the student population qualifies for free or reduced lunch, according to Davis.

The use of modular classrooms has practical advantages, as well. They provide a financially savvy way to gradually expand facilities as the school grows over time.

“The charter school very quickly needed to have more space to really serve the number of children it needed to serve,” Davis said. “We needed to expand the campus and have beautiful spaces but still be financially responsible.”

Being able to expand in an affordable way that adds a valuable layer of education makes MCM’s expansion unique. The modular classrooms incorporate all facets of the curriculum in the same space with science facilities, and even a kitchen built into the structures.

“You really feel like you are in a living community space, not just a classroom that is separated into sections,” Davis says.

As with the previous installations, students and their families watched the new structure get hoisted 30 feet into the air and set in place. Davis says the design and installation process give students a sense of ownership over their learning environment.

As an example, the patios off the classrooms needed a good bit of shoveling during winter. Davis says the students were eager to pick up shovels and get to work taking care of their space.

“Seeing that something is intentional, that it’s beautiful, and that there are natural materials involved…helps communicate the same philosophy that drives our work with the children,” she adds.


Tracy Sides' Urban Oasis concept wins Forever St. Paul Challenge

Tracy Sides, a healthy-foods advocate who lives on St. Paul’s East Side, frequents the nearby Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary. The grounds have become a source of inspiration for her, and more recently, the focus of a million-dollar idea. 

In February, Sides submitted a plan to transform a vacant building at Bruce Vento into a food hub, to the St. Paul Foundation’s Forever St. Paul Challenge, a contest to support ideas for improving the city.  

Sides’ Urban Oasis concept rose to the top, and on Monday the foundation announced it was the contest’s winner. The foundation will contribute $1 million to the cause.    

Urban Oasis was among 1,000 entries in the beginning. The pool was whittled down to 30 semifinalists and more recently, three finalists. A public voting system online determined the final winner. 

For Sides, the outcome came as a pleasant surprise. At the same time, it seems like a natural next step in a longstanding community process to liven up the nature sanctuary, she says. Urban Oasis is part of a bigger project to renovate the city-owned building, she adds.   

The food hub, which will take up a couple of floors in the four-story building, will include a food cooperative, eatery, event space, catering company, and a food truck. Commercial kitchens will be available for rent, while the hub will also provide business training to small ventures oriented around food. Communal suppers on Sunday nights and cooking classes will also help make the place a true community center, she says. 

The food hub is about “creating something that’s a thriving asset for the community, and that’s addressing some of our needs,” she says. Additionally, in a diverse neighborhood, a food hub seems like an appropriate way to “acknowledge and celebrate our differences,” she says. “We’re connecting people through food.” 

Although food hubs are experiencing a groundswell of popularity across the country, Sides’ concept is unique for the “unprecedented number of spokes [it has]. In a way, it’s modeling a healthy food system, with growing, producing, distributing, selling, preparing, eating, and composting waste,” Sides says. 

It’s about “creating a more equitable and healthy food system. That’s the real outcome I would love to see from this.”

Source: Tracy Sides
Writer: Anna Pratt 
Image: Kevin McKeever - Image Generation

Payne-Phalen neighborhood gathers feedback for future of Arlington Hills Library

Last month, the District 5 Planning Council in St. Paul hosted a community meeting to talk about the future of the Arlington Hills Library’s historic building.

Soon, the library's holdings will go to a new space in the in-progress Payne-Maryland community center, while the vintage Carnegie library building will be repurposed.  

The city plans to issue a request for proposals for the building later this year, intending to sell or lease the building further down the line. In the meantime, the St. Paul library system is serving as a go-between for the city and the community to help guide the next steps.  

Leslie McMurray, who leads the District 5 council, says that the community has long had an interest in what happens to the building, which she describes as a neighborhood treasure.

At the March meeting, attendees helped come up with a set of values and ideals that could form a framework for the building’s planning process. The gist of it is that many people feel the library’s uniqueness is something to build on. They think “it should be a public space, a destination with a unique purpose,” she says.

Some of the ideas that they considered include turning it into an art space or performance venue; a learning center with a focus on literacy or East Side history; or an open civic space of some sort, she says. The words “intergenerational” and “multicultural,” came up, as did the idea of the building having multiple uses, she adds.

“I found it gratifying to hear all of the different ideas,” many of which seem complementary, says McMurray. “People left feeling they do have a stake in the future use of the building. It’s exciting to think about what might come in.”  

Right now, a 10-member advisory body is being organized to help continue this conversation. In the next few months, “We’d like everyone who is interested to weigh in,” she says.

Source: Leslie McMurray, District 5 Planning Council
Writer: Anna Pratt

Gateway Food Initiative receives $10,000 matching grant

Earlier this month, the Gateway Food Coop received a $10,000 matching grant from the Food Coop Initiative (FCI), a national nonprofit organization that promotes the cooperative economy.

Gateway was one of 10 coops across the country to get the seed funding, according to Gateway information.

The coop, which began organizing last year, wants to bring a sustainable, natural foods coop to St. Paul’s diverse East Side.   

Elizabeth Butterfield, who co-chairs the coop’s steering committee, explains the way the grant works: “For every dollar we spend of the Seed Grant money, we are expected to spend a dollar of our own money.” The money will go toward community outreach and member-owner recruitment efforts, including hiring a part-time community organizer.

Additionally, FCI will provide expertise to the coop, “noting if there are techniques that can be repeated in other similar areas throughout the country,” she says.

This kind of relationship building is important for meeting its goals, according to Butterfield. For example, shortly after finding out about the FCI award, "We were approached by Mississippi Market to compete for a $14,000 gift,” which will be given out in October, she says. “Their members will vote to award the money to three out of five nonprofits that are competing for the funds.”

Separately, Phalen Ovenworks is hosting a wood-fired pizza party to benefit the coop on October 6.

The place also raises money for the coop through bread sales on Sunday nights.  

So far, the coop has 84 members, a number it hopes to grow through events this fall. But at this point, it’s too early to say where on the East Side the coop might be go. The coop has yet to do a thorough market study, Butterfield says.  
Source: Elizabeth Butterfield, organizer, Gateway Food Coop
Writer: Anna Pratt


American Indian Family Center undergoes $50,000 renovation

Recently, the American Indian Family Center on St. Paul’s East Side underwent a $50,000 renovation.
The center provides family and employment support services to American Indian families, many of whom live in the neighborhood. 
Funds for the project came from Drops of Good: The Maxwell House Community Project, which awarded grants to three similar centers across the country, according to center information.
Renovations at each center began in July, according to the program’s website.
Minneapolis’s Rebuilding Together Twin Cities, a nonprofit organization that focuses on home repair, nominated the American Indian Family Center for the grant.
Michaela Brown, a spokesperson for Rebuilding Together Twin Cities, says via email that the project has helped to create a “more welcoming and functional space for the 800 families served each year by the Center.”
It’s a visible transformation, inside and out. For starters, the building’s exterior went from a drab gray to bright yellow, with a decorative trim that has Dakota and Ojibwe designs. The site has been landscaped as well.  
Over the summer, 250 volunteers helped knock down interior walls, tear out carpet and ceiling tiles, paint walls, and more, an East Side Review story states.  
One major addition to the building through the remodeling project is a “teaching kitchen,” where the organization can expand its programs related to nutrition and cooking, Brown explains.
Previously, the center, which works to prevent diabetes, had to rent kitchen space elsewhere.
The lobby and play area have also been upgraded.
Janice LaFloe, a center staffer, says in the East Side Review story, "We're in a pretty worn and used building and so certainly the significance for me is to create that new, fresh, welcoming environment."
In a thank-you note to those who pitched in, Elona Street-Stewart, president of the board overseeing the center, adds that the “miracle makeover” puts the agency in a better position to serve the people who come in its doors.
Source: Michaela Brown, Rebuilding Together Twin Cities
Writer: Anna Pratt


Gateway Food Initiative launches member-owned coop on St. Paul's East Side

A group of community members from St. Paul’s East Side are making progress on a plan to set up a new food coop in the neighborhood.

(See The Line’s earlier story on the effort here.)

In recent months, the Gateway Food Initiative, which is doing the legwork to establish the coop, has formally incorporated as a nonprofit, according to Stephanie Harr, a spokesperson for the organization.

She explains that Gateway is the umbrella organization for the for-profit coop. Members can pledge $90 for a lifetime membership; they're buying shares in the business and they split the profits. "A lot of people don't understand that it's a for-profit, but that's what a coop is. It's owned by the members," Harr says. 

Right now the coop is in what’s known as the “organizing phase,” she explains.

In this early stage, Gateway needs to fund a feasibility study. This involves bringing in a consultant to evaluate the market, including scoping out possible locations for a coop. “It’s a necessary piece of the puzzle,” and also a “normal part of the process for coops that are starting up.”  

This Thursday, the coop will host a kickoff celebration at 7 p.m. at the Water and Oil Gallery in St. Paul. It’s a way to help spread the word and get community input, Harr says.

So far, the coop has raised $3,000 toward its goal of $10,000. It also hopes to draw 300 members before it opens. “It’s important it be driven by the community,” Harr says.   

Besides filling a void on the East Side in terms of fresh fruits and vegetables, the coop will be an economic engine for the community. The fact that it’ll be member-owned is also a way to bring the community together, she says. “The vision is for a place not only to buy food but to meet others,” including through educational programs.   

“A lot of people are excited about having it,” she says. As it is, “Many people prefer to leave the neighborhood to shop at a coop.”  

It takes between two and five years to get a coop off the ground. “We’re still in the first year, so there’s a way to go,” she says.  

Source: Stephanie Harr, Gateway Food Initiative
Writer: Anna Pratt

Urban Organics redefines former Hamm's Brewery space

Urban Organics, an urban fish and produce farm, is leading the way in redeveloping a portion of the historic Hamm’s Brewery site in St. Paul, which has been vacant since 1997.  

The farm will be modeled on Growing Power, a nonprofit organization in Milwaukee, according to David Haider, who co-owns Urban Organics with his wife, Kristen.

“Urban agriculture and aquaponics can change the way food gets to people,” Haider says.

The plans center on aquaponics, which “is the symbiotic cultivation of plants and aquatic animals in a re-circulating system,” according to the Growing Power aquaponics website.

Urban Organics will use a vertical farming system that produces fresh, organic food year-round, including tilapia, spinach, lettuce, herbs, and microgreens.

“It’s a way we feel we can give back,” says Haider, who grew up near the old brewery. He has another personal connection to the place: His great-grandfather worked there for 40 years.

Urban Organics will fill several of the five-and two-story buildings on the premises; they will be revamped in several phases. The first phase, which will probably take three months, will run between $500,000 and $750,000, he says.

To handle the weight of the tanks and other equipment and materials, Urban Organics needed “overbuilt buildings” like those on the site, and the brewery has an aquifer as well. “It’s a great water source,” Haider says.

The food produced will go to local restaurants, markets, co-ops, schools, food shelves, and more. Urban Organics also plans to offer various educational programs on the process.  

“We’re trying to come up with a proven model, to get them into every city,” he says. “We’re all pioneers in this, trying to figure out the best method.”  

He hopes to get fish in the tanks by June.

“I think it’ll be a great thing for the neighborhood,” he says. “Hopefully other businesses will follow suit.”

Source: David Haider, Urban Organics
Writer: Anna Pratt

Updated $14 million plan for phase one of Payne-Maryland Center presented to community

Last Thursday, the public got a chance to learn more about the current design plan for the Payne-Maryland Center on the East Side of St. Paul.

A $14 million phase one project, including a library and rec center, will begin construction next summer, according to Chris Gibbs, who is principal at HGA, the architecture firm that's working on the design.

The library and rec center will share certain spaces within the two-level building that will have 4,500 square feet.

Both the library and rec center will need educational rooms, for example. By moving into the building together, "They'll have a lot more access than they would typically have," he says.

The place will include a high-tech teen space, gym, walking track, fitness equipment and a community room.

Playgrounds and gathering spaces outdoors will also create an "urban town square that acts as a front porch for the building," he says.

To get to this latest design, the architects took in the public response, and then "We spent time looking at the existing neighborhood and the history of the architecture," he says.  

"There were issues of it feeling too big. We tried to break it down," and to make it sympathetic to the area's character.

As such, it was broken into a series of simply defined brick boxes with storefront openings.

The building could also get "small amounts of brick and exterior detailing," that reference area structures.

"It's an interesting balance between honoring the past and looking forward," he says.

Additionally, phase one is "being designed to accept phase two as seamlessly as possible," and to standalone, he says.                

A phase two development, which will involve the private partners, including the Arlington Hills Lutheran Church and Jim Bradshaw, of Bradshaw Funeral Homes, is still evolving. Right now the partners are fundraising for phase two, he says.

In general, the idea is to make it "support multi-function sharing of spaces, utilizing new technologies and enhanced sustainability, and becoming a catalyst for community connections and investment," according to city information.

Source: Chris Gibbs, HGA Architects
Writer: Anna Pratt

Merrick Community Services prepares for $9 million new home on St. Paul's East Side

The century-old Merrick Community Services, which provides support services for youth, families and seniors, is preparing to relocate to a building on Railroad Island in St. Paul.

The four-acre parcel that the J.H. Larson Electrical Company previously occupied includes a warehouse and office space.

It allows for Merrick to triple its square footage and quadruple its footprint, according to Dan Rodriguez, who heads Merrick. "It's a shell of a building that allows us to do a lot of work. It makes sense for our purposes," he says.

The $9 million project has been in the works for some time, as Merrick has outgrown the 50-year-old existing building on the city's East Side, which is "in dire need of being replaced," he says.  

It would cost too much to rehab it, adds Rodriguez.  

The new digs will include a computer lab, flexible meeting space for large and small gatherings, and a gym with a stage. There'll also be areas specifically geared to youth, seniors, and other community members.

Merrick will continue to offer after-school programs, the country's largest Meals on Wheels program, and a food shelf, while a community garden could come later. There's also space in the building for another organization to be a tenant.

A three-year capital campaign will raise funds for the project.

The expansion is happening at a time when "The services we provide are more relevant than ever," Rodriguez says.

All in all, "We're trying to meet the needs of our participants and clients into the 21st century," he says.      

"We think it's a win-win for everyone," including those that the organization serves and the East Side in general, he says. "We represent a commitment to the area and region. We're investing in staying here."

Source: Dan Rodriguez, executive director, Merrick Community Services  
Writer: Anna Pratt

New $1.4 million building for Kendall's Ace Hardware

Kendall's Ace Hardware on St. Paul's East Side is getting new digs only blocks away from its current location at Payne and Maryland avenues.

Soon, it'll start construction of a $1.4 million two-story building that will closely resemble its old home, according to Janelle Tummel, a spokesperson for the city of St. Paul.

The store will take up .8 acres at Payne and Phalen avenues. Its footprint will allow for the lot's remaining 1.8 acres to get developed further down the line, she says.

Kendall's Ace Hardware had to move because of a Ramsey County project to widen the road at its current location. The building, which has long been home to community-oriented hardware stores, will be demolished, she says.  

"The community and the city, and the current owners wanted to keep a local hardware store in the neighborhood," she says. "So they worked together to find a solution to make sure they're able to stay here and be successful."

In this case, the hardware store is the "heart of the neighborhood," where the owners' whole family works. "They're members of the community and they know their neighbors who come and go," she says.

A story in the East Side Review News describes the store as a friendly, "full-service" place, where people can get free popcorn or expert help with hardware questions. 

"[The owner] is committed to keeping jobs in the neighborhood and growing the community," she says.

It was important to the city to preserve the business because, "It's about continuing to spur economic development along major corridors in the city," Tummel says, adding that Ward 6 City Councilmember Dan Bostrom was very involved in the project.

Source: Janelle Tummel, city of St. Paul
Writer: Anna Pratt

East Side community members contemplate setting up natural food coop

At a public meeting on Sept. 20, some residents of St. Paul’s East Side will float an idea for a natural foods coop.

Beth Butterfield, one of the meeting's organizers, says that she's wanted to see a coop close to home ever since she moved to the area seven years ago.

About the East Side, which is the city's largest and most diverse neighborhood, she says, “I love it. I have friends here and I want to stay. But there are things that it could have to be more attractive," such as a natural foods coop.

Earlier this summer, she started talking it over with others who share her enthusiasm. Looking at other successful examples, such as the Mississippi Market on Selby and Dale avenues in St. Paul and The Wedge in Minneapolis, they wondered, “What would it take to open one?”  

Butterfield hopes the meeting will help to provide a sense for the level of support for such a “completely grassroots undertaking,” she says.

She says the timing makes sense because more and more people are interested in local organic foods and where they come from. A local coop would also help keep dollars in the community, which is especially needed on the East Side, she says. 

A coop could include a cafe and meeting space and feature items from local youth farmers.

However, to become a reality, the coop needs a committed group of volunteers. “A coop is about member-ownership. It’s not owned by one person,” which, she says, is what makes it a challenge to organize.

From the planning to the running of such a place, “It’s not just about food. It’s about bringing people together,” she says, adding, “That really is our grander goal in this.”

Source: Beth Butterfield, East Side natural foods coop organizer
Writer: Anna Pratt
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