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West Seventh : Development News

15 West Seventh Articles | Page:

Renovated Palace Community Center a new nexus of neighborhood activity

In the 1970s, the Palace Community Center in the West 7th area of downtown St. Paul was “a very popular place,” recalls Christopher Stark, architect for the St. Paul Department of Parks & Recreation. “But it was also very heavy and dark and closed in, without any windows, like a lot of community buildings of the era.”
Last May, the center closed for a much needed expansion and makeover. With help from LSE Architects in Minneapolis, the renovated Palace Community Center opened January 30, its new glass façade gleaming in welcome to visitors. “We really wanted a new front that was opening and inviting, and communicated how we’re accessible to everyone,” Stark says. “All of the glass brings in natural light and connects all of the spaces inside to the outside.”
After LSE noted that the existing building had “four backs to it” and no real front, the design team used glass to “engage all sides of the building with the outdoors,” Stark says. “We didn’t want any visual connections to be lost, and the building is now connected with the streets, the softball and baseball fields, and the playground.”
Approximately 5,000 square feet of the building—almost the entire structure—was demolished; only the gym remained. Expanding the building to 16,5000 square feet allowed the center to expand its programming, as well. “Instead of only targeting youth and physical activities, we created a place with opportunities for all ages, from kids in after-school programs to seniors who can use the center as a gathering place for forging social connections,” Stark says.
LSE kept the building entrance at the corner of Palace Avenue and View Street, and inserted a new central commons area inside that shows off a new wood structure. Off the commons at the center of the building is a new community room (the old one was on the second level, accessed only by one staircase—no elevator) with a kitchen. The community room and adjacent senior room are separated by a flexible divider, which can be opened to create a larger space. “Another one of our goals was to ensure our renovated building included a lot more flexibility,” Stark says.
A new awning and porch on the east facing the ball fields are for anyone wishing to relax in the shade on summer days and watch the kids play. In the winter, the ice rink outside now has a warming room with an operable wall that can be opened to the indoor fitness room for more space. The warming room and adjacent bathroom can also be kept separate and open when the rest of the building is closed.
The renovated center is a Buildings, Benchmarks & Beyond (B3) project. B3’s guidelines for sustainable building were “developed for and are required on State-funded projects in Minnesota, however they are easily applied to any project,” according to the B3 website. The sustainable-design strategies incorporated into the Palace Community Center include a storm-water retention pond on site, daylight sensors throughout the building and energy-efficient mechanical systems. 
“We had a popular facility people had been visiting for years,” Stark says. “But it was cold in the winter and hot in the summer. It wasn’t meeting its potential. Now we have an inviting, environmentally sound community center with programming that provides activities for everyone, and with the flexibility that will allow the Palace Community Center to evolve over time.”

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.

Hoodstarter crowdsources solutions for vacant storefronts

Kickstarter connects you with people willing to fund the innovative idea you’re working on in your garage. Why can’t you get funding for the innovative idea you have for the vacant storefront down the block?
Hoodstarter may have an answer. Co-founders Justin Ley and David Berglund, who work together at UnitedHealth, recently finalized and launched a first-of-its-kind crowdsourcing/funding platform that allows users to post vacant properties, post and vote on ideas for new onsite businesses or public uses, and fund entrepreneurs willing and able to turn those ideas into tangible businesses.
Property owners, real estate brokers, entrepreneurs and Twin Cities residents mingle on its website, exploring property listings, offering ideas, gauging interest and forging new connections.
“The goal of Hoodstarter is to connect neighborhood and city residents — anyone with a stake in and ideas for the vacant space — with real estate brokers equipped to market empty properties, property owners looking to monetize their holdings, and companies or entrepreneurs willing to shoulder the risk of launching a new use,” says Berglund.
“We’re facilitating connections between all the parties to a typical real estate transaction,” adds Ley, “including community members directly and indirectly affected by the project. Basically, we’re taking a model that hasn’t changed in 50 years” — commercial real estate development — “and making it much more efficient, while also creating opportunities for businesses and ideas that might not have access to other sources of funding.”
Though the platform hasn’t yet provided direct funding for any nascent businesses, the founders follow the well-worn model used by other successful crowdfunding platforms: taking a five-percent cut of users’ contributions and passing the rest along to entrepreneurs.
Hoodstarter’s database includes vacant sites across the Twin Cities, from expansive, high-visibility spaces like the unoccupied retail level at St. Paul’s new West Side Flats to abandoned churches and petite storefronts along community corridors like Chicago and James avenues in Minneapolis.
In addition to listings with detailed information about the property, including its price per square foot (when publicly available), leasing agent and amenities, Hoodstarter has a social function that supports lively debate over user-generated ideas, posted properties and urban life in general. The community is largely self-policing: A recent post suggesting that a prime Chicago Avenue storefront be left vacant was met with swift, if polite, criticism.
Less than a year and a half since its initial launch, Hoodstarter is already gaining traction across the Twin Cities. “When you see a vacant lot or storefront, there’s an intrinsic desire to envision its potential,” says Ley, especially if it’s in your neighborhood. “You can’t help but wonder, ‘Why has that place been vacant for so long?’ It’s a frustrating feeling.”
The South Minneapolis resident speaks from experience. His commute takes him past the same vacant space every day — a retail storefront empty for so long that no one quite remembers what it used to be.
Ley’s “pet” storefront crisply illustrates the problems Hoodstarter seeks to remedy. The property sits on an otherwise busy corner, near Angry Catfish, the Baker’s Wife and other popular businesses. It has obvious assets: space for indoor and outdoor seating, corner visibility and a floor plan tailor made for a restaurant or cafe.
But before Hoodstarter approached him, the owner had legitimate concerns about developing the property, says Ley, or even finding a temporary tenant for the space. According to Ley and Berglund, even well-meaning property owners who care about their neighborhoods can be overwhelmed by the cost, time investment and risks associated with finding a commercial tenant or developing a space on their own.
And, counterintuitively, many owners prefer to leave their properties empty as commercial land values rise, in the hopes of cashing out as the market peaks. Hoodstarter’s success will depend on its ability to convince property owners that they stand to gain from filling vacancies now, not waiting to sell later.
If all goes well, the owner of the vacant South Minneapolis property may soon have a new tenant or buyer. Last fall, Hoodstarter held a Better Block event at the site itself, continuing the conversation that began online.
According to Ley and Berglund, this hybrid model — using in-person events to publicize vacant properties and build support for the best usage ideas — could be a big component of Hoodstarter’s model going forward. But first, they need to fill some vacancies.

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.

Conflict brewing over warehouse next to Schmidt Artist Lofts

Conflict is brewing at the Schmidt Brewery site in St. Paul. Proposals to redevelop a warehouse structure adjacent to the new 247-unit Schmidt Artist Lofts on West 7th Street include an enclosed self-storage facility. Many community members feel the proposed reuse would be a wasted opportunity.
The warehouse, a relatively modern structure at 547 James Ave., overlooks the Mississippi River Bluffs. Its proximity to the artist lofts makes the warehouse is a prime destination for more housing or another use that would compliment the new $130 million artist housing development, says Ed Johnson, executive director, Fort Road Federation, which serves as the neighborhood’s District Council.
The 67,000-square-foot warehouse was previously used as storage for the brewery, but has been vacant. It’s the only structure on the property not owned by Dominium, which developed Schmidt Artist Lofts, or by the Ford Road Federation.
The Federation successfully advocated for the rezoning of the entire Schmidt Brewery site in 2008 to allow for housing and mixed-use development. The current proposal would require a non-conforming use variance that would essentially bring the parcel back to its previous zoning designation as light industrial.
Last month, the St. Paul Planning Commission narrowly approved the variance request. The Fort Road Federation is now appealing that decision before the City Council.
“Our argument is basically, ‘How can you give up on a rezoning effort that was done several years before these developments got in place and how can you give up so soon after Dominium put [130 million] bucks into that area’,” Johnson says. The Federation is also opposing the proposal on the grounds that it does not conform to the St. Paul Riverfront Master Plan and St. Paul Comprehensive Plan, both of which include references to West 7th Street.
After a previous deal with a potential developer for the Schmidt Brewery complex fell through in 2008, Fort Road Federation stepped up to purchase all the structures on the property except for the main building, which was developed into housing by Dominium. They bought all but the remaining warehouse from long-time owner Bruce Hendry.
The Federation is currently in the process of selling off the keg house building to a developer who plans to put in retail. The organization is also working to cover a small budget gap to redevelop the historic Rathskellar: the plan is to put offices on the ground floor and turn the basement--which was formerly an iconic beer and meeting hall, and still retains many historical characteristics and flourishes--into a community event center. The Federation has already secured state and federal historic tax credits for that project.
The redevelopment of the Schmidt Brewery site in the West 7th neighborhood has been ongoing. The Schmidt Brewery celebrated its glory days as one of the most iconic brewery operations in the Midwest. It then had a much-contested and controversial life as an ethanol plant. In its current manifestation, which includes 247 units of affordable artist housing, the brewery is a story of urban rejuvenation and community revitalization.
The neighborhood has been slow to recover after Hwy 35E took out a third of its population, and is still struggling to overcome a reputation for violence and crime. The tide seems to be turning, thanks to projects like the Schmidt Artist Lofts and other efforts to revitalize the area.

An artistic mini golf course to help liven up the old Schmidt Brewery

The Blue Ox Art Putt, a $500,000 artist-designed mini golf course, is in the works for a part of the old Schmidt Brewery in St. Paul.

The concept stemmed from an earlier project that a couple of the Blue Ox LLC group members had been involved in at the Walker Art Center in 2004 and 2008, according to Jennifer Pennington, a member of the group. At that time, Blue Ox team member Christi Atkinson led in the making of an artistic mini golf course that was on the Walker grounds temporarily.

Pennington’s husband, Chris, built one of the holes, which turned out to be a popular part of the course, even earning national press, she says. The whole idea was “so fun and engaging,” Pennington says, “We thought, ‘let’s build a permanent one.’”

Beyond that, the mini golf course could also feature other types of arts programming, such as live music, dance, or puppet shows. “We want it to be a community hub,” she says. “It’s really about creating not just an arts destination but a place for people of all backgrounds to come together.”  

In preparation for the mini golf course, the group looked at a variety of locations, finally settling on the brewery because of the arts-focused development happening there, she says. The Schmidt Brewery is being converted into an artist live/work complex, along with a museum and a taproom/restaurant.

For the golf course, artists will work individually or in a team to design each hole. “It’ll be something to discover for everyone,” she says, adding that she expects it’ll be the kind of place that “inspires wonder and amazement and beauty.”

The plan still has to go through a city and state approval process because of the brewery’s historic status, but Pennington expects construction on the clubhouse to start this summer. Around the same time, the group will put out a call out for artists. Further down the line, the holes will be constructed off-site and installed in spring of 2014, she says.

The Blue Ox Art Putt is planned to open in May of 2014.

Right now, the Blue Ox team is waiting to hear back on some grant applications. Pennington is optimistic that the mini golf course will be a draw in the neighborhood. “There’s been so much positive feedback. A lot of people have been very generous with sharing resources. It’s been a lot of fun,” she says.

Source: Jennifer Pennington, Blue Ox Art Putt
Writer: Anna Pratt

Cooper's grocery adds to the store's facade with a colorful mural

As a part of a larger beautification project in the neighborhood, Cooper’s Foods on St. Clair Avenue and West Seventh Street in St. Paul recently added a large mural to its façade.

The mural celebrates the grocery business, picturing a mix of brightly colored fruits and vegetables, according to store manager Steve Daly.

This portion of the building was a blank canvas beforehand, Daly explains. The mural, which was unveiled in late October, runs about six feet wide and 18 feet high, he says.

Nance Derby Davidson of Acme Scenic Arts designed the mural, which was installed in three separate pieces, according to the Community Reporter.

At the same time, the building’s exterior got a fresh coat of paint, along with new planters and hanging plants. “We’re trying to clean up and beautify the area,” which he says was “getting downgraded in looks.”

The project was made possible in part by a grant from Greening the Avenue (GTA), which focuses on aesthetic and environmental improvements in the city’s second ward, according to the Community Reporter.

GTA initiated the idea of doing a makeover on this corner, to which Cooper’s said yes, Daly says.

Daly hopes that the grocery store’s attention to detail on the corner will encourage others to follow suit. “We’re real happy with the progress,” he says. “We’re trying to make the area more presentable.”

A post on the St. Paul Real Estate Blog gives the grocery store’s project a positive review: “It all looks wonderful,” the blog post reads, underscoring the store’s importance through the years. “It is very much a neighborhood store and sometimes a place to catch up on the local gossip,” the post reads.

Source: Steve Daly, store manager, Cooper’s Foods
Writer: Anna Pratt

Healthy West 7th Initiative to set up a couple of community gardens

The Healthy West 7th Initiative in St. Paul is launching a couple of new community gardens in the neighborhood this spring.

The launch began as a volunteer effort from resident physicians at the local United Family Medicine clinic.

The idea is to increase nutrition in the area, according to Kate Vickery, previously a resident working on the project. The residents sought to “outline areas the clinic could work on to improve neighborhood health,”  an effort that builds on the clinic’s longstanding community volunteer work in the area.

After gathering feedback from community members through numerous focus groups, interviews, and surveys, the residents found that the area lacks access to healthy, fresh foods, and “information about how to prepare and preserve healthy food,” she says.

In fact, an existing community garden at Victoria and Jackson streets is so popular that it’s had a waiting list for several years, she says.

To expand on that, the residents teamed up with the West Seventh Community Center, Mississippi Market, St. Paul Public Library, Ramsey County Master Gardeners, Sholom Home, St. Paul Department of Public Health, and Allina Health/United Hospital.

With funding and supplies from its partners, one of the community gardens will be temporarily located at Sholom Home’s east campus, and will open this spring. In the future, Sholom could develop the land for senior apartments, she says.

As for the garden, “We’re hoping it’ll be intergenerational, with seniors working with youth,” she says.

Separately, a demonstration garden will go in at the West 7th Community Center. It’ll serve the center’s programming, Vickery says.  

In general, “We’re just trying to meet the need expressed by the neighborhood, and ultimately to improve health, but also to build relationships,” she says.

Right now, the group is preparing both garden sites for planting organic vegetables in the coming months. People can sign up to volunteer on its website.

The group is also encouraging more backyard gardens and container gardens in public places, as well as gardening classes. “We’re hoping the gardens will be an opportunity for people to come together and learn new skills and learn how to be healthier,” she says.

Source: Kate Vickery
Writer: Anna Pratt

Summit Brewery to double its capacity with $6 million expansion

St. Paul’s Summit Brewing Company, which pioneered the local craft beer scene when it started in 1986, announced this week that it’s embarking on a $6 million project to expand its brewery.

It’ll likely begin the six-to-eight-month construction process in 2014, according to Carey Matthews, a company spokesperson.

Last year the brewery hit near capacity, producing just over 100,000 beer barrels, she says, adding that it was a milestone for the company.

The expansion will allow Summit, which grows 10 percent annually, to double its capacity. “It’s a necessity,” she says. “We’ll run out of space to make beer in the next few years.”

It’s something that the company planned for when it built its current home in 1998; it set aside space on the premises for future growth.

This follows $3 million in capital investments that the company has made in the brewery over the last couple of years, according to the Star Tribune.

The current project will include expansion in various areas, including the cellar, office, and warehouse. “The cellar is where we hit capacity issues,” Matthews says, adding that it’s where the fermentation processes take place.

Beer sits for weeks at a time in stainless steel vessels that are multiple stories high. “Right now we can’t add any more tanks,” she says.

Naturally, with more beer comes a need for additional space to package the product and do many other things. The company also plans to add to its quality assurance lab.

Matthews says that the project will also benefit the local economy by providing additional jobs at the brewery.  

In general, the expansion “is a response to our consumers and deepening our relationships with existing customers,” she says.

Source: Carey Matthews, spokesperson, Summit
Writer: Anna Pratt

Multi-thousand dollar sculpture co-designed by Girl Scout troop goes into St. Paul park

To design a public art sculpture for the West 7th Community Center Park in St. Paul, local artist Estela De Paola de Lerma collaborated with Girl Scout Troop 52512.

The sculpture celebrates the transformation of the park, which was perceived as unsafe just a couple of years ago. Today, the park includes a jungle gym, swings, and other play areas, according to the Pioneer Press.  

In a first workshop with the children, the artist went over “the basics of three-dimensional art, public art guidelines, and the purposes of public art,” she explains.  

Afterward, the children came up with some ideas that they used to create cardboard models. A final model incorporated everyone’s voices.   

From there, de Lerma crafted a life-sized model out of foam core, adding a base to comply with the city’s requirements.

The resulting sculpture, titled “Our World,” came together through donations, including powder-coating from the city, that covered thousands of dollars of expenses.

The process took about a year. “The girls couldn’t weld, but they did the design. The ideas are theirs,” she says of the eight-foot-tall metal sculpture.

In the piece, Girl Scouts are shown hand-in-hand embracing a yellow globe.

Each row of figures is painted to correspond with a different level of the Girl Scouts.

Their message reflects the fact that they care about the world, according to de Lerma, who has a daughter in Girl Scouts. The figures come in all shapes and sizes. “Everyone is included, that’s why it’s ‘Our World’,” she says.

The girls’ names and troop also appear on the piece.

“My generation wouldn’t believe that a child could be a sculptor,” she says.

De Lerma says she was interested in the project because it proves that public art involving children can “be more than a mural. It’s a nice way of connecting the community with the place and the art” and with self-expression.

Source: Estela De Paola de Lerma
Writer: Anna Pratt

$10 million to make Cossetta's Italian Market and Pizzeria even more of a destination

Cossetta's Italian Market and Pizzeria on West Seventh and Chestnut streets in St. Paul, which is well known for its authentic Italian cuisine and family-friendly cafeteria, has a plan to turn itself into even more of a destination.

As a part of a $10 million expansion project, a three-story building will be added onto the existing restaurant where the parking lot is right now, according to city information. Parking will be relocated to another Cossetta's-owned lot at 212 Smith Street.

The ambitious expansion will allow for the century-old Cossetta's to bring in a new bakery, take-out meals, and gelato, according to city information. It also makes way for more seating, plus a rooftop restaurant and wine cellar, the Star Tribune reports.

City Council member Dave Thune, who represents Ward 2, where the restaurant is located, says he's eager for the expansion. He says that Cossetta's has "shown incredible vision in the past and I think this will bring it on home." Simply put, he says, "It's awesome."

Financing for the project is still coming together. Cossetta's is applying for $2 million for the project from the city's Rebuild St. Paul program, where it's undergoing the standard review process, according to Janelle Tummel, a city spokesperson.  

Rebuild St. Paul is a branding initiative that identifies projects that can create jobs and spur growth, she explains.  

Echoing Thune, she says Cossetta's is one of a number of projects that are "special because they're shovel-ready and have a big impact on the city right away as far as jobs and investment and general impact on the city."  

Construction could begin in July, and the restaurant will stay open during the work, according to the Star Tribune.

Source: Dave Thune, St. Paul City Council member, Janelle Tummel, St. Paul spokesperson
Writer: Anna Pratt

Dominium Development planning to rehab old Jacob Schmidt Brewing Company

Dominium Development and Acquisition has a plan to secure historic status for the old Jacob Schmidt Brewing Company complex in St. Paul's West End area and to convert it into affordable live/work spaces for artists.

Different parts of the brewery were built starting in the early 1900s and into the 1940s as the brewing process changed over time, according to Owen Metz, a spokesperson from Dominium.

The group wants to redevelop the brew and bottle house into 220 apartments, including a mix of studios, one- and two-bedroom apartments, and common spaces, according to Metz, who adds that the purchase of those buildings is still in progress.

In a kind of partnership, the Fort Road Federation community developer will separately buy the office building and keg house, which will also be a part of the historic district, where a combination of offices, restaurants, and retail is planned to go, he says.

Both ideas were discussed at a community meeting in mid-February, during which the process of achieving historic designation was laid out.

Metz says Dominium plans to bring back the historic appearance of the brick buildings that have sat vacant in recent years, though the project's cost is unknown at this time. "We're early on in the design process. Nothing is pinned down yet," he says.   

The group is "trying to keep the spaces open," loft-style, while some artifacts from the brewing company's old days, such as pieces of tanks and other equipment may be displayed throughout the apartment buildings, he says.

A waiting list to get into another one of Dominium's buildings, the Carleton Artist Lofts on University Avenue in St. Paul, which has a similar concept, tells him there's a strong demand for such a project, he says.

Also, the area has plenty of galleries, which, he says will "help drive the demand and make it a destination," adding, "It's geared toward people with similar backgrounds and lifestyles and work."  

Source: Owen Metz, Dominium Development and Acquisition, LLC
Writer: Anna Pratt

$5 million cleanup underway to make St. Paul's Victoria Park a park

Years of fighting ended last New Year's Eve when Exxon Mobil sent the City of St. Paul $5 million to cover pollution cleanup costs at a West Seventh neighborhood site called Victoria Park.The city bought the former oil-tank land for $1, abandoning condemnation efforts and promising to build a park instead of the vast tract of housing that Minneapolis-based Brighton Development Corporation once envisioned.

Now cleanup is underway at Victoria Park that could take as long as two more years to complete. Meanwhile, the precise sort of park the place is to become remains undecided. At issue is whether to put tournament-worthy artificial-turf athletic fields along the site's Mississippi River blufftop expanse.

"A lot of people see the bluffs as prime access to the river," says Tonya Johnson-Nicholie, who represents the West Seventh/Fort Road Federation in the Parks and Recreation Department's planning process. Public meetings still to be set this fall will let neighbors air their views. Synthetic playing fields would bring funds from the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission--funds that the city doesn't have to develop a new park.

Patty Lilledahl, now director of business development and finance at the city's Housing and Redevelopment Authority, remembers waiting at work on New Year's Eve day for Exxon Mobil's money to arrive. Based on experts' estimates, the sum is supposed to cover pollution expenses, with some left over for the start of park-creation.

A separate, adjacent site saw the beginnings of Brighton's development get built before the recession set in. Thirteen homes, now bearing For Rent signs, stand next to the former Exxon land. The HRA still owns another seven acres of developable land that may yet become housing along the river. The Exxon and adjacent sites together encompass nearly 45 acres.

Whatever sort of park is developed, "we're thrilled because it just increases the value of the nearby properties," says Lilledahl. She adds that all along, the public purpose of the project--which began more than a decade ago with neighbors seeking a better use for the vacant land--is to increase the tax base and make the site "look a lot more attractive."

Sources: Tonya Johnson-Nicholie, West Seventh/Fort Road Federation; Patty Lilledahl, St. Paul Housing and Redevelopment Authority
Writer: Chris Steller

Signs point bikers to 10-state route linking Twin Cities to New Orleans along the Mississippi River

A high-speed train route to Chicago is coming, politicians and transit planners say. But a route to New Orleans already exists and you choose the speed--the Mississippi River Trail is built for bicyclists.

The MRT traces the Mississippi's full length, from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico, following local roads (mostly) and dedicated bike paths (where possible). It's been around since the 1990s but has stayed under most people's radar in large part due to a lack of signage.

That began to change last year in Minnesota, as the state Department of Transportation started putting up signs along one side or in some places both sides of the river.

Not every part of the river has roads on both sides, but Minneapolis and St. Paul are already bicycle-friendly on both the east and west banks.

MRT signs now dot Mississippi River Boulevard in St. Paul, but Minneapolis has lagged because of local concerns about marking too many trails. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board's Grand Rounds Parkway is nearing completion and has its own signs, including ones along the river. But MRT, Inc. board member Suzanne Pepin says she expects that MRT signs will be added soon, allowing Minneapolis to visibly join the 10-state route.

Minnesota is taking the lead among the 10 states along the route with a state Department of Transportation program pushing acceptance, awareness, and enjoyment of the MRT, Pepin says. "This is the right time for the trail to take off," says Pepin, who predicts the MRT will become "one of the most incredible international tourist attractions."

Source: Suzanne Pepin, Mississippi River Trail, Inc.
Writer: Chris Steller

Jefferson bike boulevard to have river at both ends

The web of dedicated paths for biking and walking in St. Paul will soon add an important strand. The city is getting ready to build its first proper bicycle boulevard, on Jefferson Avenue across the southwestern part of the city.

As it passes through St. Paul, the river twists northward, then south again. Due to that geographical quirk, the straight-line, east-west Jefferson Bikeway will meet (or nearly meet) the Mississippi River at both ends: at Mississippi River Boulevard and again at W. Seventh Street/Shepard Road.

Anyone biking the nearly four-mile length of the route will experience three different levels of accommodation: bike lanes from W. Seventh Street to Lexington Parkway; shared lanes (or "sharrows") from Lexington to Snelling Avenue; and bike-boulevard modifications from Snelling to Mississippi River Boulevard.

It's that last stretch where bicyclists will really feel like kings of the road, with a variety of traffic tricks intended to give preference to people pushing pedals. At Cleveland Avenue, a new island will divert cars and give refuge to bikers.

"The city's transportation plan calls for bike facilities every half-mile to mile," explains traffic engineer Paul St. Martin. Jefferson is typical of the kind of street St. Paul is adding to its biking network: located in a current gap in the system, with low traffic volumes, and already stocked with traffic signals. St. Martin said the city will test a similar route on Charles Avenue, another east-west street, which runs just north of University Avenue.

Source: Paul St. Martin, City of St. Paul
Writer: Chris Steller
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