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First & First plans creative campus in St. Paul's Midway

The innovative developer that brought Minneapolis such imaginative properties as The Broadway, Aria and Icehouse Plaza is taking on its biggest project yet with its first venture into St. Paul. First & First is moving ahead with the redevelopment of a 5.5-acre, multi-structure property at 550 Vandalia Street in the Creative Enterprise Zone to be known as Vandalia Tower—a nod to the old water tower that will become a focal point of the property.

Founder and head visionary Peter Remes says he plans to transform the property into a dynamic campus housing an array of creative tenants from woodworkers to graphic designers, artists, architects and more. He says negotiations are also underway with potential craft brewers and restaurants. One of the defining features of the campus will be what Remes describes as a “secret garden” courtyard in the center of the complex.

“It’s a big campus, a big project by almost anyone’s standards,” says Remes, who grew up less than two miles from the site—a fact he says gives the project particular personal significance.

The 205,000-square-foot property sits one block north of I-94 and two blocks south of University Avenue where the new Metro Transit Light Rail Green Line will start running June 14.  In many ways, the location speaks to another of First & First’s defining missions—to connect a place’s past, present and future; preserving it’s heritage while breaking transformational new ground.

The Midway area of St. Paul has a rich history as both an industrial center and transportation hub dating back to the end of the 19th century when James J. Hill imagined the area as a central connection point for the Great Northern Railway.

More recently, the Vandalia Tower property embodied the industrial past of the area as home to the King Koil Mattress factory. Remes plans to keep that history close to the surface as he reinvents the property as a modern mixed-use centerpiece to a neighborhood already gaining recognition as a center of creative activity and commerce.

“That’s when the magic occurs, in terms of being able to honor that past and let that history breathe, and yet infuse it with modern day amenities…and just really have this juxtaposition that occurs when you walk in that can be very thought provoking,” Remes says.

The main building is currently home to around 30 tenants including a growing community of woodworkers, artists, and other creative entrepreneurs. Some have worked out of the crumbling building for years, while others are newly recruited tenants.

Nordeast Makers moved into the building last fall. Hundreds of members use the large shared workspace—and its collection of top-of-the-line equipment—to tinker, build and create everything from art and furniture to innovative software and technologies.

Remes says these are the types of tenants he hopes to attract and cater to at Vandalia Tower. “What they bring to the table is that energy we hope to continue to build upon and to grow,” he says.

First & First hosted a meeting with current tenants last month, many of whom are worried the lofty development plans will increase rents that would price them out of their spaces. Remes says that while modest rent increases are likely, the goal is to keep as many of the creative tenants already there as possible.

“We want these people to prosper, we want them to do well, and that goes for the neighboring businesses, as well,” he said.

 

Union Depot welcomes back passenger rail May 7

After a 42-year hiatus, passenger rail service will return to the historic Union Depot in Lowertown Saint Paul on Wednesday, May 7—bringing the station one step closer to becoming the central multimodal transit hub planners spent $243 million envisioning and renovating.

Union Depot will return to its original intent of being a national connection point for train travelers when Amtrak’s Empire Builder arrives to the station’s Kellogg Entry at 10:03 p.m. Amtrak’s current station in the Midway area of Saint Paul will close when the Chicago-bound train departs that morning.

From Union Depot, passengers can connect to a variety of other transportation networks, including intercity buses like Greyhound and Jefferson bus lines, as well as Metro Transit and MVTA local bus services. In June, the new Metro Transit Green Line light rail will start rolling with Union Depot as its Eastern terminus. There are also plans to house a bicycle center, complete with storage facility at the station, according to a joint statement from the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority (RCRRA) and Amtrak.

Originally built in 1881 as a stepping stone for passengers arriving and departing on journeys to and from the quickly expanding Western United States, as many as 20,000 travelers a day passed through the station during its peak in the 1920s, says Deborah Carter McCoy, of RCRRA.

“It’s a very important building for many people,” says McCoy, who currently works out of the station. “Every day there is a new story about someone’s father who was a conductor or an uncle who was a Red Cap [Amtrak service agent].”

With the rise of the automobile and increased popularity of air travel, passenger rail service took a nosedive in the middle part of the last century. “There just wasn’t a lot of traffic in and out of these large train stations,” McCoy said.

Union Depot shuttered its gates in 1971 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. The renovation wrapped up in 2012, priming the depot for the modern resurgence of train travel and multimodal transportation.

For the time being, the Empire Builder out of Chicago will be the only passenger train passing through Union Depot—a somewhat fitting start, considering James J. Hill, known as “The Empire Builder,” was a major motivator behind the station’s initial construction.

McCoy says feasibility studies are underway to explore additional trains running between the Twin Cities and Chicago, and the MN High-Speed Rail Commission is also looking at options for a more rapid connection.

Adult rail fares for the Empire Builder start at $66 each way to Chicago and $164 each way to Portland and Seattle. The RCRRA and Amtrak will host a free event celebrating the return of passenger rail service on National Train Day at Union Depot, Saturday, May 10.

Kyle Mianulli

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

Night market debuts June 14 in St. Paul's Little Mekong

The vibrant blend of sights, smells, sounds, and people milling together at Southeast Asian night markets can be a vivid sensory and cultural experience. This summer, the Asian Economic Development Association (AEDA) is bringing a slice of that life to the Twin Cities.

Throughout the summer, AEDA will hold five outdoor night markets in the Little Mekong business and cultural district of Saint Paul, between the Mai Village and Little Szechuan restaurants on the 300 block of University Avenue. The first market will be held June 14, the same day the Green Line’s light-rail service begins.

The Little Mekong district is home to a high concentration of Asian residents and businesses. Of the almost 80 establishments on the five-block stretch of University between Mackubin and Marion streets, about 75 percent are Asian-owned according to a 2013 AEDA study documenting the impact of Central Corridor Light Rail Transit on the area.

Many of these small businesses were hit hard by light-rail construction over the last several years, according Theresa Swaney, AEDA’s communications coordinator. AEDA hopes to bring needed visibility, and customers, to businesses still reeling from the disruption. Swaney also hopes the night markets will help breathe new life into the area as a nighttime destination. “It’s sort of shifting the idea of what’s acceptable, and possible, at night,” she says.

Like farmers markets, the Little Mekong night markets will host local farmers selling fresh produce, but also up to 30 different vendors selling specialty food, art, and crafts. “It’s sort of this mix between a festival and a farmers market,” says Swaney. “It’s going to be a little more entertaining and a little more exciting than just getting your vegetables.” Artist organizer Oskar Ly is planning live performances, art, and activities as part of the market.

Organizers are currently looking for businesses and vendors located from throughout the Twin Cities to participate. Unlike many markets, applicants don’t have to be established. “We’re pushing toward new vendors,” Swaney says. “We want these people to have an opportunity to sell their stuff, and if they do well, maybe draw them into opening a brick-and-mortar business in the district or along University.”

AEDA also hopes the night markets will help lay ground for a new public plaza and community gathering space at the site. A rundown building used mostly for storage currently sits in the middle of the plot. The organization recently held a series of workshops and community meetings to gather input on redeveloping the site.

Source: Theresa Swaney
Writer: Kyle Mianulli

Urban Growler and MMAA debut new film on women and beer

Whether through images of the early English barmaid, American sitcom brewery workers Laverne and Shirley, or the Miller Lite Girls passing out promos at sports bars, women and beer have had a dynamic, sometimes complicated relationship through history.

For Deb Loch and Jill Pavlak of Urban Growler Brewing, however, it’s pretty simple.

“We happen to be women and we happen to brew beer,” Pavlak said before a screening last week of “The Love of Beer,” a documentary about women fighting to end gender stereotypes surrounding the craft beer industry in the Pacific Northwest. The film and discussion, part of the Minnesota Museum of American Art’s First Friday Film series, also showed how women are taking hold in the craft brewing industry all over the country.

According to Doug Hoverson, author of “Land of Amber Waters: The History of Brewing in Minnesota,” who led the discussion with Loch and Pavlak before the screening, temple priestesses in ancient Mesopotamia are credited with beer’s invention.

Women also brewed the family’s beer during the early Colonial era. In Medieval England, housewives would make ale and advertise their brew by hanging a broom over their door. These pop-up alehouses were so successful, the aristocracy eventually levied a tax against them, Hoverson said.

Marketing beer by using images of women is a familiar strategy. But marketing beer to women isn’t a new concept, either. One ad from the late 1960s—a time when women purchased most of the beer for the household—shows a bottle of beer nestled amongst a bouquet of pastel-colored flowers. In the 20s and 30s, Guinness was billed as a nutritious beverage for gestating and nursing mothers.

In 2011, Chick Beer ruffled some feathers with the release of “the first beer specifically for women.” The bottles, covered in labels shaped like black cocktail dresses, were packed in purse-like cases with white sequins, thus embracing a hyper-feminine stereotype. “Marketers insist on marketing beer to a particular vision of women, which doesn’t always fit,” Hoverson said.

In contrast, neither Urban Growler’s logo nor messaging identifies the company as women-owned and -run. Loch says the product appeals to women, instead, with flavorful, quality beer—sometimes with a more moderate alcohol content. The brewery opens this spring in the Creative Enterprise Zone of Saint Paul.

“We want to be pretty much gender neutral,” Pavlak said. “We have lived our lives believing we can do whatever we want to do, and have felt a lot of craft brewers are very inclusive. We want to continue that tradition.”

Pavlak and Loch aren’t the only women making suds in the industry. Deborah Carey founded New Glarus Brewing Co. in Wisconsin as a gift to her home-brewing husband, Dan, in 1993. “Dan makes amazing beer, but Deb is in charge,” Hoverson remarked. New Glarus teamed with German-based Weyermann Malting, also led by a woman, to release the Two Women American style lager in 2010.

“Hopefully,” Hoverson added, “we’ll get to the point where this will not be particularly newsworthy anymore.”

Source: Jill Pavlak, Deb Loch, Doug Hoverson
Writer: Kyle Mianulli
 

Lydia’s Place brings fresh angle to co-working movement

A new co-working model is joining CoCo, Joule, and other innovators in the Twin Cities’ growing co-working movement. The newcomer is Lydia’s Place, nestled in a dense pocket of nonprofits in the Creative Enterprise Zone near the new Green Line in Saint Paul.

Founded by former adman and current Lutheran pastor Scott Simmons, Lydia’s Place is co-working oriented around the common good. Simmons says he hopes to seed both a professional and faith-based community of altruists at Lydia’s Place.

The new venture aims to satisfy two modern day needs with one stroke. First, it provides office space and equipment to a workforce that is increasingly independent, freelance-based, and according to Simmons, professionally isolated. “It’s fulfilling a need that’s not being filled,” says Simmons, who worked for nearly a decade as a freelance advertising copywriter.

Secondly, as attendance at traditional faith services continues to drop, religious leaders are looking for new models to sustain worship communities. “People’s lives don’t revolve as much as they once did around religion,” Simmons says.

With backing from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Saint Paul Synod, Lydia’s Place is a Lutheran mission. While most of the current “Lydians,” as they call themselves, come from Lutheran backgrounds, Simmons says faith affiliation is not a prerequisite for joining the co-working community.

“This is a place where anybody, whether they’re atheists or agnostics, are welcome,” Simmons says.

In theory, Lydia’s Place isn’t all that different from other co-working spaces in the Twin Cities. When you put a group of motivated self-starters together in a communal professional environment, collaboration and mutual benefit ensues.

While many new co-working spaces seem to be gauged toward entrepreneurial and tech startups though, Simmons says Lydia’s Place is couched in the idea that some people are more motivated by helping others than the prospect of a billion dollar IPO.

“We are gifted and are called, whether by God or by our basic humanity…to use those gifts not just to improve our own lot in life, but the entire world, and that includes people at the fringe,” Simmons says.

The benefits of this type of co-working are already manifesting. Rev. Margaret Kelly recently started Shobi’s Table, which seeks to serve and empower the homeless population in Saint Paul. Kelly plans to incorporate a food truck into the new ministry, staffed and maintained by those struggling on the margins.

She is now teamed up with another Lydian, Tom Melander, who has a background in career guidance services. The two hope to incorporate workforce development into Shobi’s Table’s mission.

Eric Darling is new to the co-working community. His startup, Donormite, seeks to connect charities with donors through the gifting of specific items, rather than money. Darling is now working out of Lydia’s Place part time, and is helping connect others at Lydia's place to donated office furniture and equipment through his new online donor platform.

Lydia’s Place opened in January and is still small, but growing. Simmons says there are currently at least nine core collaborators working from the space at least occasionally, and says he is fielding more calls from interested people every day. He’s already talking about expanding into a bigger space in the same neighborhood.

There’s currently no official fee to use the space, though there is a suggested donation for those who plan to be there regularly. “At this point our model does not have to be an economic model,” Simmons says. “It’s a relational model. We want to build community.”

Simmons plans to have the space completely supported by co-workers by August 1 this year.  With collaborators giving what they can, the venture is less than $100 a month short of that now.

Source: Scott Simmons
Writer: Kyle Mianulli

Northgate Brewing expands to include taproom, more craft ales

After just one year, Northgate Brewing is upgrading to new digs. The Northeast Minneapolis brewery just signed a lease on a new space at 783 Harding Street NE, which will include a 1,500-square-foot taproom.

Co-owner Adam Sjogren says neither he nor his partners anticipated the rapid growth. At around 750 square feet, Northgate’s current location at 3134 California Street NE is one of the smallest brewing spaces around. “We were very small,” Sjogren says. “There was not a lot of room to grow.”

With almost ten times the square footage, including the taproom, the new space will allow Sjogren to experiment with different brewing techniques that will be even more true to the brewery’s focus on English session ales.

“We really want to be able to have the space to do some barrel aging, some real ales—cask stuff—and be able to make some one-off batches and test them in the taproom to see what people really like,” Sjogren says.

Most English-style ales get a bad wrap in the States, Sjogren says. They don’t pack the same slap of citrusy hops and don’t have the same high alcohol content Minnesota beer drinkers have become accustomed to in their microbrews.

By nature of the ingredients and brewing process, these session ales don’t travel or store well, Sjogren adds. They have to be enjoyed fresh, and thus close to where they’re produced. He and business partner Todd Slininger grew fond of the earthy freshness these beers offer while traveling in the British Isles several years ago.

“It’s really good over there, but it gets represented poorly, we think, here in the States,” he says.

There will soon be more of Northgate’s fresh session ales. The brewery produced around 300 barrels in its first year, according to Sjogren. That was distributed between 30 different tap accounts around town and about 40 liquor stores. With the added space, Sjogren expects Northgate will have the capacity to produce around 1,500 barrels the first year.

Northgate’s new space will share a building with the soon-to-open Wander North Distillery—a new venture by Brian Winter who is looking to distill quality spirits from locally sourced grains. Winter and Northgate’s head brewer Tuck Carruthers used to play on the same rugby team, according to Sjogren.

Collaboration between the distillery and brewery is a foregone conclusion, Sjogren says. What might such collaboration look like? Sjogren says Northgate could make a “wash”—the process of rinsing the yeast used to brew a batch of beer for reuse—then give the wash to the distillery to use and age for spirits.

Sjogren attributes a good deal of Northgate’s early success to the supportive craft beer community in Northeast Minneapolis. Several other recently opened breweries have experienced similar growth and expansion in the last year and half. Indeed Brewing Co., Dangerous Man Brewing Co., and 612 Brew are among them.

“It’s as true as everybody says and most people don’t believe,” Sjogren says of the mutually supportive craft beer scene in the Twin Cities. Northgate Brewing plans to open its new space later this year.

Source: Adam Sjogren
Writer: Kyle Mianulli

Sunrise Market: old-world traditions, gluten-free options

The grand opening of Sunrise Creative Gourmet Market on Saturday, March 8, continues a 100-year-long tradition for the Forti family of bringing hard working Minnesotans authentic Italian cuisine. The new venture at 865 Pierce Butler Route in Saint Paul includes a retail location, factory outlet, and large-scale cooperative commercial kitchen with dedicated gluten-free space.

Fourth generation owner Tom Forti is building on the foundation laid by his great grandfather in 1913, when he opened the original Sunrise Bakery in Hibbing. Guilio Forti emigrated from Rome in the early 1900s to work in the mines of southern Minnesota. Already in his 50s, he soon decided to leave the mine and return to his former craft—baking artisan Italian breads.

Sunrise Creative Gourmet holds its Italian heritage close while bringing age-old recipes into the modern age. Many of the recipes used today have been passed down from generation to generation, according to Forti. Using imported Italian equipment along with locally sourced ingredients maintains another level of authenticity while incorporating modern flare.

“It’s an emotional investment in the product,” Forti says.  “We’re a very prideful family and we take great pleasure in knowing people like our food.”

That pride was reaffirmed Saturday. With more than 500 customers stopping in to sample both classic and new fare from Sunrise, the small market was bustling from open to close. “It’s great for a little shop like this…we had no idea what to expect,” Forti says. “It was a pleasant surprise.”

Forti’s father started his own spinoff of Sunrise Bakery when he opened Sunrise Deli in Hibbing, incorporating fresh pastas, Italian meats, and more to the family’s line of baked goods. He and Tom’s mother own and operate the deli today, while his aunt and cousin run the original Sunrise Bakery, both in Hibbing.

Tom Forti is now bringing a new perspective to the family business. After graduating from the University of Saint Thomas in 2001, he went to work in the food industry, spending three years working retail and restaurants in Idaho. He moved back to Hibbing in 2004 to bring a wholesaling aspect to the family business. For the past nine years he has been working for Trudeau Distributing, a specialty grocery distribution company.

Through that role, he’s formed important relationships with Twin Cities’ grocers and co-ops, he says. He’s also become a familiar sight at area farmers’ markets, where he staffs the family stand.

While the Saint Paul retail expansion is an exciting development for the family business, it’s the cooperative commercial kitchen component that has Forti’s passion cooking.

“This building is going to service as retail, but really, we’re here to produce gluten-free pasta and hopefully gluten-free entrees,” he says.

With half the space dedicated for gluten-free production, Forti is looking forward to bringing in up to 12 other small- to medium-size businesses to use the space and sell their products in the marketplace up front.

The Sunrise Market will carry products from all the family’s related businesses including, fresh, frozen and dried pastas, sauces and porketta, as well as signature potica, biscotti, and other baked goods.

Source: Tom Forti
Writer: Kyle Mianulli

ARTIFY transforms Midway lot into public art site

One year ago, the former Midway Chevrolet car dealership at 1333 University Avenue was yet another vacant lot along the Central Corridor—a remnant from a previous era when car dealerships dominated the Midway area of Saint Paul. Today, the lot stands as a colorful, artistic sign of things to come.

Over the past year, artist/organizer Oskar Ly has been working on a large-scale public art project at the site dubbed “ARTIFY—Bringing the Arts to Hamline Station.” Her project aims to create a renewed sense of place around the site ahead of a 108-unit affordable housing development, which Project for Pride in Living plans to break ground on this spring.

Ly brought community members and more than two-dozen local artists together to create 20 public art installments and 11 performances at the lot—all based on the theme “Home is…” She says the goal is to signify the transformation of an abandoned business to a place people would soon call home.

ARTIFY capped-off its yearlong project with a final celebration, “Midway is Home,” last Saturday. Artists reflected on their work, while spectators toured the grounds to view the various installments. Poetry for Thought, a local effort to inspire community dialogue through spoken word performances, organized area poets to present original works and spark discussion of what “home” means.

Janell Repp, a Saint Paul native, has lived all over the world, most recently in India. For her, home is often changing, she says. She once purchased a car at the Midway Chevrolet dealership. “I sat in this office and signed the papers,” she said. “It’s funny how time changes…you make your home where you are… and you keep moving through time.”

The most visible installation to passerby is a large mural painted at the Saint Paul Open Streets event last summer. It depicts a row of colorful houses over the façade of the old dealership with the words “Home is Hamline Midway” printed across the top. Another piece involves 108 house-shaped wood cutouts decorated by area youth with their own ideas of what “home” is.

Mischa Keagan and Witt Siasoco held several workshops at the Hamline Midway and Rondo libraries where people traced places they considered home on large green canvases that are now on display at the site. “All along people talked about their family, their kids, their homes, and their dogs…it was a really nice way to get to know people in the community,” Keagan said.

Most of the art installments will remain on display till demolition begins this spring. Ly says she has at least one more project planned. She hopes to hang large photos on the fence surrounding the construction site this summer. “I want to create a façade that helps create an environment that’s more community-oriented than if it was just a construction site,” she said.

The future PPL development will feature a public plaza to display art, thanks in part to the ARTIFY project, according to Ly.

ARTIFY is supported by Irrigate Arts, an artist-led creative placemaking initiative that seeks to foster a new sense of place through public art along the Central Corridor. Irrigate is made possible through a partnership between the City of Saint Paul, Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corporation, and Springboard for the Arts.

Sources: Oskar Ly, Janell Repp, Mischa Keagan
Writer: Kyle Mianulli

President Obama highlights TC transportation during Depot stop

The Twin Cities’ growing transportation infrastructure grabbed the national spotlight when President Barack Obama dropped by the newly renovated Union Depot in Saint Paul last Wednesday to tout a $300-billion-dollar transportation proposal.

Obama pointed to the $243-million-dollar Depot makeover in Lowertown as an example of the boost transportation development can give to local economies. “This project symbolizes what’s possible,” he said.

The project was supported, in part, through a federal grant program known as TIGER, or Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, which was created as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

“All told, more than 4,000 jobs were created for this project. And we’re seeing businesses crop up and new development crop up all along the line,” Obama said.

During his speech, Obama announced a $600-million expansion of the competitive TIGER grant program to spur economic development across the country. He plans to help finance the plan by simplifying the tax code and closing loopholes—a tactic Republicans generally oppose.

To hear the President speak, some 1,300-ticketed spectators filed into the multi-modal transit hub that will soon service the Metro Transit’s new Green Line, bus lines, and Amtrak trains.

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-St. Paul, who played an integral role in garnering $124 million in federal funding for the Depot project, was among them. She accompanied Obama on his flight from Washington aboard Air Force One.

“The President’s visit here today represents a great victory for all of the tireless champions of transit here in the east metro,” McCollum said in a statement. “Union Depot will serve as the crown jewel of transportation in the state of Minnesota and provide a critical upgrade to our region’s infrastructure.”

A shiny new light rail train that will soon be rolling down the Central Corridor was on full display in front of the Depot for Obama’s appearance. The President toured the maintenance facility for the trains during his visit.

“I just had a chance to take a look at some of those spiffy new trains,” Obama said. “They are nice. And they’re energy efficient. They’re going to be reliable. You can get from one downtown to the other in a little over 30 minutes.”

In an embarrassing turn, the new train that was on display careened off a snow bank and derailed on its return trip from the Depot shortly after Obama departed. It took workers several hours get the train back on track, according to the Star Tribune.

Obama didn’t miss the opportunity to bond with Minnesotans over what is turning out to be the coldest winter in decades. He chided Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, a North Carolinian, who introduced the President at the event, for being soft in the cold.

“When we got off the plane, Secretary Foxx…turned to me and he said, ‘This is the coldest I’ve ever been in my life.’ Now we were only out there for like a minute,” Obama said. The President added that as a native of Chicago, he found the single-digit temperatures that day “balmy.” “February in Minnesota—can’t beat it. Cannot beat it,” he said.

He also commended Minnesota’s contributions to the Winter Olympics in Sochi. “It is not shocking that Minnesotans might be pretty good at the Winter Olympics,” he said. Minnesota sent 19 athletes to the games—the second most of any state.

Sources: President Barack Obama, Rep. Betty McCullum, D-St. Paul
Writer: Kyle Mianulli

Barely Brothers Records adds vinyl to retro shopping hub

Vinyl aficionados can look forward to flipping through a new trove of wax when Barely Brothers Records opens later this month at 783 Raymond Avenue in the Creative Enterprise Zone on the Central Corridor in Saint Paul. Barely Brothers joins such retro and vintage shops in the area as Mid Mod Men and Succotash.

The shop’s grand opening celebration is March 22. Local music acts including Minneapolis-based Eleganza, and Matt Arthur & the Bratlanders, will perform.

Co-owner Mike Elias has spent a good part of his life digging through stacks of records. After working at various record shops for a decade, he spent 13 years at the Electric Fetus in Minneapolis. When he’s not pushing vinyl, he’s often spinning it at clubs and events around town where he performs as DJ Father Time.

Along with co-owner Spencer Brook, Elias is now bringing his erudite musical tastes to bear on this new venture. With 8,000 LPs and 20,000 45s in store, Barely Brothers will offer a “deep and eclectic” catalogue of used records along with new releases, according to Elias.

“We have a pretty good Latin Boogaloo section,” Elias says, only half joking. “People don’t even know they want this stuff yet,” Brook adds.

Just talking about music and expanding customers’ horizons is a big part of the joy of owning a record store, Elias says, while fingering through a rack of albums. “Show me what you like and I’ll show you what else you’ll like,” he says.

Elias and Brook also plan to host live performances in their new space. With movable racks, the record store by day can easily become an intimate music club by night. Elias hopes to tap local DJs—many of whom he calls friends—to spin records specifically from the store’s catalogue. The owners would eventually like to host art-show openings in the space as well.

Their eclectic inventory might attract a certain collector crowd, but Elias and Brook are non-discriminating in their music tastes.  “My tastes are expansive so I really can’t discount anyone else’s…unless it’s Billy Joel,” Elias says.

Brook says they want every music fan, especially young ones, to stop by the shop and rediscover a different way of listening to music. They’re critical of today’s digital music industry, which pushes single tracks over holistic albums.

“We want people to think about the way they are listening to music, that there are better ways to do it,” Brook says. His suggestion? “Sit down and put on a record.”

Sources: Mike Elias, Spencer Brook
Writer: Kyle Mianulli

Infinite Vapor on a mission with artful e-cig shop

The fast-growing electronic cigarette trend has meant dozens of e-cig stores have been popping up around the Twin Cities. None, however, have been more artfully designed than Infinite Vapor in Uptown.

Tricia Khutoretsky, founder of the hot Public Functionary art space in Northeast Minneapolis, is curating the new shop, which currently includes a collection of screenprints from local artists such as Greg Gossel, Eric Inkala, and Adam Garcia, and a large mural by designer Mike Cina depicting wisps of vapor climbing a wall.

Longtime Twin Cities’ nightclub promoter Beecher Vaillancourt, and his friend and local mixed-martial arts fight promoter Gavin Rydell, own the shop. Anjel Vaillancourt, Beecher’s sister, is the store manager. Beecher successfully quit smoking after Rydell offered him an e-cig years ago. Anjel and the siblings’ parents also all laid down tobacco for the allegedly safer electronic option.

Beecher Vaillancourt and Rydell now have seven stores across Minnesota and North Dakota, and another starting up in Madison, Wisconsin. But the team is pouring special attention into the Uptown location, exploring how a local e-cig shop can do more than just sell supplies. They want to encourage people to quit tobacco for good, while also celebrating local community.

The store started the year with a quit-smoking campaign called “Kick It: A stop smoking movement by Infinite Vapor.” Through February, the store is also promoting a “Kick It For Love” special by offering two-for-one deals.

The shop is also working with a local organization that puts disabled veterans to work recycling e-cigarette atomizers—the piece that absorbs the liquid before it’s vaporized and inhaled.

A degree of uncertainty currently surrounds the future of e-cigarettes in Minnesota. Widespread adoption across the state has led several cities to institute limits on where people can puff on their e-cigs. A bill from DFL State Rep. Phyllis Kahn seeks to treat e-cigarettes like normal smokes under the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act.

Source: Anjel Vaillancourt
Writer: Kyle Mianulli

Roundtable: Incubator roaster for craft coffeepreneurs

As the craft beer boom and local food movement have shown, the Twin Cities has developed a palate for artisanal and locally produced fare. Shawn Person, of Moonshine Coffee Co., is now looking to expand our developing taste for specialty roast coffee. In early March, he’s opening a new storefront location in the Creative Enterprise Zone next to the Green Line in Saint Paul. Roundtable Coffee Works, he says, is a “coffee roasting manufactory.”

Inspired by craft guilds and modeled after collaborative workspaces, Roundtable Coffee Works will house an array of local businesses endeavoring to create their own unique Twin Cities’ flavors of specialty coffee. “It’s really about sharing knowledge and helping each other out—establishing that kind of community,” Person says.

It might not make financial sense for a local coffee shop to purchase and maintain personal roasting equipment. But being able to rent a roaster by the hour to make a one-of-a-kind specialty roast? That’s an opportunity Person is confident coffee entrepreneurs will jump at.

After six years in the Twin Cities’ roasting scene, Person is an industry veteran, he says. He already has several local coffeepreneurs on board and a surprising number of home roasters have approached him about utilizing the space. Due to rising interest, he also plans to have dedicated hours for hobbyists to come in and roast their own beans.

“There’s a growing awareness of specialty coffee in general,” Person says. He’s also noticing “differences in ways of selling coffee. By that I mean Starbucks, Dunn Bros., and Caribou all sell coffee a certain way, and it works. But then there’s another way to sell [it], and that’s small and local, with a neighborhood focus, as well as quality focus.”

Just as people are flocking to taprooms to taste local microbrews, so are they increasingly interested in how their morning java tastes—and is made. They want to feel connected to the process, he says. “People want to see the roaster... At Thanksgiving, they want to brew some coffee in the morning and tell their family, ‘Yeah, my buddy Shawn roasted this.’”

Roundtable will have a retail component though don’t look for tables to sit at with your laptop while you leisurely sip a breve hazelnut latte. The roaster will only offer drip coffee and espresso to go, along with beans. The Roundtable brand of coffee won’t be wholesaled either.

For Person, his start up is more about serving residents of and visitors to the neighborhood. Still, eager customers can purchase Roundtable Coffee beans, mugs, t-shirts and other gear for a limited time through an online pop-up shop and similar pop-ups he’ll schedule annually.

Source: Shawn Person
Writer: Kyle Mianulli





Sisyphus Brewery differentiates itself with comedy

Sisyphus Brewery, named for a character in Greek mythology, plans to open in Loring Park in April. The brewery will include a taproom and a 100-seat theater for live comedy, music, and podcasts about beer. The name is about keeping things fresh, with new taps and new acts every week, says co-owner Sam Harriman.

Harriman, a comedy veteran who co-owns the brewery with his wife Catherine Cuddy, are renovating the first floor of a vintage warehouse space that previously served as storage for the nearby Dunwoody College of Technology. The 7,000-square-foot space has low ceilings, exposed brick walls, and industrial floors and ceilings that “We’re not touching,” he says.  The couple is taking a “less-is-more” kind of approach to the design, with wood and metal finishes setting the tone. 

Within the taproom area, Harriman adds, “we’re creating different zones” with booths, shuffleboard, and “a lot of different hangout spots.” In some ways, the place will feel more like a coffee shop, where people can linger over a beer or take in a show. The theater’s programming will come later — after the taproom gets set up.   

The couple decided to merge the brewery with an entertainment venue to differentiate Sisyphus from other breweries. In the near future, the local brewery scene will be “super competitive, more so than it is now,” he says. “I thought entertainment and beer would go perfectly together.”

Source: Sam Harriman, co-owner, Sisyphus Brewing  
Writer: Anna Pratt  



 





Rock Star Supply Co. in chapter development with 826 National

Rock Star Supply Co.’s busy location, in the Creative Enterprise Zone at the corner of Raymond and University in Saint Paul, is about to get busier. The educational nonprofit—its dedicated volunteers tutor elementary- and secondary-school children on writing, algebra, and other subjects—is working with San Francisco-based tutoring company 826 National to bring one of that organization’s signature “stores” to the Twin Cities.

Rock Star is currently a lively tutoring workshop that offers “a range of programs, all free of charge…[that] focus on project-based learning, homework help, [and] extra-curricular reading, along with spectacular writing prompts and smaller writing workshops,” according to its website. This summer, Rock Star’s headquarters, as part of 826’s new franchise-style expansion initiative, will be rebranded as the “Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute.”

What? The name does make sense. Here’s why. In its 10-plus years, 826 National has developed a clever, family-friendly approach to branding. Each tutoring center (it currently has eight, mostly in major Northern cities) doubles as a store with an unmistakable “angle.” For instance, Boston’s “Bigfoot Research Institute” sells cryptozoology books and paraphernalia.

Chicago’s “Boring Store” doubles as a “Spy Supply Store.” (The “boring” part is meant to throw passers-by off the trail.) Seattle’s “Space Travel Supply Company” sells rocket equipment, space suits, and other accessories to “freelance space travelers.” Each store plows its merchandise earnings back into its tutoring operations. So how did the Twin Cities become home to the Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute?

“We went through an extensive ideation process to arrive at Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute,” says Jeremy Wang, chair of Rock Star’s Executive Board. “We’re playing off the idea that, to most of the country, we’re a ‘fly-over’ state, hence the Mid-Continent. And while we have a lot of coastline, none of it is oceanic.” Wang’s thrilled at the prospect of opening a “sub shop” that doesn’t sell anything edible.

The expansion also comes with challenges. “Our biggest hurdle is to be financially stable enough to build out the storefront and sustain our current programming,” says Wang, noting that the organization has traditionally relied on donations from individuals and foundations. Razoo and upcoming Kickstarter campaigns are providing a crucial shot in the arm.

What can kids, parents, and shoppers expect from Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute, née Rock Star Supply Co.? “I think nearly everyone involved at Rock Star Supply Co. has been inspired by the 826 model,” says Wang. “So we don't really see our programming changing a whole lot as we transition.”

That said, Wang does expect Rock Star to add more writing workshops as the transition date approaches. And there’s the issue of merging educational programming and retail activities. “Unlike other 826 sites, we started without a storefront,” says Wang. “They mostly started their programming at the storefront, then worked their way into schools.”

For now, the folks at Rock Star are working to retain their core mission without neglecting the coming transition. For Wang and the rest of the board, this means seeking help wherever they can find it. “We are always looking for tutors in any subject, especially algebra,” he says, “as we have a whole group of students that comes in for Algebra 2 on Tuesdays.” Rock star math tutors: Take note.

Source: Jeremy Wang
Writer: Brian Martucci
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