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Payne - Phalen : Development News

6 Payne - Phalen Articles | Page:

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.”

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.

Urban Organics: Twin Cities first indoor organic aquaponics farm

With the ceremonial snip of ribbon made from kale, the old Hamm’s Brewery building in East Saint Paul kicked off its new life last week as the Twin Cities first large-scale indoor organic aquaponics farm.

By combining fish and vegetables, the Saint Paul-based Urban Organics hopes to supply a steady stream of hyper-local organic fresh produce to Twin Cities’ consumers year-round.

Urban Organics utilizes an innovative closed-loop water filtration system designed by Minnesota-based Pentair. Fish raised in large tanks provide nutrients to feed the plants. In turn, the plants’ root systems clean the water before it’s recycled back into the fish tanks.

Urban Organics co-founder Fred Haberman says the system allows the operation to produce crops 40 percent faster using only 2 percent of the water traditional forms of farming require to grow the same volume of veggies. Once all six floors of the building are up and running, Urban Organics expects to produce 720,000 pounds of greens and 150,000 pounds of fish annually.

The endeavor does more than grow fresh organic vegetables that go from harvest to kitchen table in hours. Urban Organics also addresses a confluence of challenges associated with rapid population growth, as it simultaneously confronts modern concerns with the global water supply, disparate food systems, sustainable energy, and urban renewal. That confluence, Haberman says, is “outrageously exciting!”

Haberman is passionate about the economic development component of Urban Organics—one of the major motivators behind the site choice, for which the City of Saint Paul chipped in $150,000 toward the purchase price.

“This was a brewery that employed a ton of Eastsiders for a very long time,” said Saint Paul City Council President Kathy Lantry at the opening event. “When it became vacant [in 1997], it was a huge blow to the neighborhood.”

Haberman and co-founder Dave Haider both draw inspiration, and the occasional consultation, from Will Allen, a former professional basketball player who was given a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” for his work spurring urban renewal through sustainable agriculture in inner-city Milwaukee, Wis.

“Will Allen really took aquaponics and used it to transform a food desert…into a food oasis,” Haberman said at the event.

It’s not the first time Haberman and Haider have pursued a mutual passion in a big a way. The duo also worked together putting on the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships in Minneapolis.

Their new endeavor is not without its challenges.

“No one’s made money at this that we know of,” Haberman said. “We know the demand for local organic produce that is fresh year round is very high. Where the challenge is for us, is being able to create enough production and grow capacity in a very expedited, efficient way so we can get the cash flow positive.”

The farm is currently growing two kinds of kale, Swiss chard, parsley, basil, and cilantro, as well as raising tilapia. Through an exclusive partnership, all of the farm’s production is currently on shelves at select Lunds and Byerly’s stores around the Twin Cities.

Haberman says they plan to continue experimenting with different leafy greens and will likely try raising striped bass as other floors of the building become operational later this year.

Kyle Mianulli

East Side Neighborhood Development Company collecting data on impact of energy-efficiency measures

Last summer, St. Paul's East Side Neighborhood Development Company (ESNDC) started targeting local businesses as a part of its ongoing effort toward "Urban Greenewal."

ESNDC's sustainability coordinator, Sam Hanson, explains via email that the term refers to "re-visioning and redevelopment work that we have helped plan for the neighborhood because one of the core focuses is sustainability." 

Although sustainability has always been a priority for the group, it's moved to the top of its agenda in recent years, out of necessity. "Now that the national economic hardships have hit local residents and businesses, we know it is more important than ever to help people figure out ways to cut back on energy usage to save money," he says.

Hard data is just starting to trickle in, and ESNDC will work to quantify the impact this summer, but Hanson expects to see plenty of savings, with little up-front cost, as a result of a wide range of improvements to area businesses over the past year.

For example, as a part of a partnership with Energy Smart, Payne Avenue businesses, which ESNDC focused on for a "clustered impact," got concrete advice for how to become more energy-efficient with all kinds of do-it-yourself types of fixes.     

The Center for Energy and Environment stepped in with free lighting audits while Solarflow Energy, which assessed a handful of businesses, "determined the style of building found along Payne Ave combined with the location of the avenue itself made for great solar collection," he says.

ESNDC also has a forgivable loan program to help businesses retool for energy efficiency. In the case of Donald's store, which was already efficient, ESNDC helped pay for an engineer to visit the store and verify it met all Energy Star requirements, he says. 

"As we continue to develop programs and partnerships, there will be more and more options for community members to be active in pursuing green and sustainable practices," a situation he says is vital for a prosperous neighborhood.

Source: Sam Hanson, ESNDC
Writer: Anna Pratt

Focus on rebuilding foreclosure-wracked communities earns Habitat group Carter visit

A broad, neighborhood-scale approach to rebuilding city neighborhoods hit hard by bank foreclosures has netted Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity the prize of an appearance by a former president and first lady.

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter are stopping in St. Paul and Minneapolis this week as part of the 2010 Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project. The Twin Cities are among only four urban centers the former first couple will visit during the national week-long effort.

In St. Paul's Payne-Phalen neighborhood and Minneapolis' Hawthorne neighborhood, thousands of volunteers will join forces to construct, renovate and do repairs on 26 homes. The high-profile event is meant to focus attention on the need for affordable housing--a need exacerbated in recent years by the wave of foreclosures.

"We serve the seven-county metro area," explains Nancy Brady, a vice president at Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. "We do a lot of work in all communities that want us to work with them. In the wake of the foreclosure crisis, we focused on neighborhoods that were most impacted and partnered with those neighborhoods."

That means coordination with local government in each city, as well as neighborhood organization like the Hawthorne Area Community Council and the East Side Neighborhood Development Corporation.

With 14 events during the week, including opening and closing ceremonies, "this is our Olympics," Brady says.

Source: Nancy Brady, Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity
Writer: Chris Steller

HealthEast fills part of St. Paul's former 3M site

When a big city loses a homegrown Fortune 500 company, it hurts. It hurts less when the company moves its operations only as far away as a nearby suburb, since jobs stay close. But either way, the city can be left with land that once cradled a world-class business but now sits idle or underused.

Examples in Minneapolis include the former General Mills sites on the downtown riverfront and on the city's East Side. After General Mills decamped to the west to establish a new corporate campus in Golden Valley, both areas required years of redevelopment effort to get back to their current states of economic vitality.

On its own East Side, St. Paul has 45 acres that once were home to 3M, before the company originally known as Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing moved its world headquarters further east to Maplewood. The sprawling former 3M site along the Phalen Corridor--together with two smaller, adjacent sites--has been rechristened Beacon Bluff.

The sprawling former 3M site along the Phalen Corridor has been rechristened Beacon Bluff and is being marketed for industrial redevelopment by the St. Paul Port Authority and commercial real-estate firm Cassidy Turley. On 4.5 of those acres now stands a new HealthEast Medical Transportation facility. It opened for business this summer with 120 jobs and a $5.1 million investment in construction.

"It's really an important step to reclaim the jobs that were lost when businesses like 3M and Whirlpool went away," said Mayor Chris Coleman at a ribbon-cutting event last month to dedicate the building. "This marks the beginning of the reshaping of the whole East Side."

Source: Tom Collins, Saint Paul Port Authority
Writer: Chris Steller
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