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MTN joins creative mix in Northeast Minneapolis

 
 
After 22 years in St. Anthony Main along the Mississippi riverfront in downtown Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Television Network (MTN) is relocating to Northeast. On April 1, MTN will be joining the other entrepreneurial businesses, artists and creative industries currently in the Thorp Building, which is also a hub during the annual art festival Art-A-Whirl.
 
“As a creative media organization with a long history of serving the various communities in Minneapolis, we’re excited to move to the Thorp Building in Northeast in the middle of a thriving arts district,” says Michael Fallon, MTN’s executive director. Northeast Minneapolis was named the best arts district in the U.S. by USA Today.
 
“There’s so much potential for us in this neighborhood as we’ll be right in the thick of things, serving the community in the way public access television is meant to serve,” Fallon adds.
 
MTN’s mission is to “empower diverse Minneapolis residents seeking to connect to the larger community through the media,” according to its website. “We provide low-expense training for anyone who wants to learn to use the media,” Fallon adds.
 
MTN is largely supported through the Public Access Education and Government Channels (PEG) fees attached to cable subscribers. Over the years, the organization has given artists, comedians, community activists and numerous groups a platform for their work.
 
MTN’s studios have launched such talents as Fancy Ray McCloney, Viva and Jerry Beck (of the show “Viva and Jerry’s Country Music Videos”), Rich Kronfeld (of “The Choo Choo Bob Show”), “Mary Hanson (of “The Mary Hanson Show,” which is “one of longest running public access talk shows in the country,” Fallon says) and Ian Rans (of “Drinking with Ian”). MTN also broadcasts city government meetings and has given the growing Somali community a place to produce public-affairs shows that reach other immigrants. 
 
The new space will include staff offices; equipment rental; two fully equipped, community-focused television studios (with cameras, lights and a green screen) and video editing suites; a Youtube set-up for fast and easy studio productions; and a multipurpose classroom and public gathering area.
 
“We already been reaching out to the Northeast community and potential collaborations and we’re working on a partnership with [the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association] NEMAA,” Fallon says. “ We expect to fit right in and to become an essential part of the Northeast’s creative mix.”
 
 
 

"Inspired at Blu" brings student design to downtown Mpls

 
Now showing on the large digital wall in the swanky lobby of the Radisson Blu Minneapolis Downtown is a selection of work by Michelle Bowitz, a senior in the graphic design BFA program in the College of Design at the University of Minnesota. In a novel collaboration, the hotel and the college have created an artist-in-residence program called “Inspired at Blu.” Bowitz was the first student artist selected.
 
About her work, Bowitz says: “Curiosity and motivation keep me learning and growing as a designer everyday. All of my work speaks to who I am today; pulling from personal experiences and techniques I have learned throughout my years studying design. Minneapolis has been an incredible source of creativity and inspiration. I’m extremely excited to continue my life’s journey living, working and exploring in this beautiful city.”
 
Every six weeks, Blu’s digital wall — a design focal point in the hotel lobby — will come alive with a different student’s display. “Inspired at Blu” will rotate through all of the design programs in the college, including architecture, landscape architecture and product design. After Bowitz's graphic designs, "Inspired at Blu" will show work from the college's apparel design program. The collaboration is the first between a hotel and the college.
 
“It is important to us that our guests experience a true sense of place when they visit and we wanted to not only elevate that experience, but also further connect with the vivacious art community that Minneapolis boasts,” said Steven Lindburg, general manager, Radisson Blu Minneapolis Downtown, in a press release. “We are thrilled to be partnering with the College of Design, University of Minnesota, to provide emerging artists a platform to showcase their original art within the city.”
 
The jurors who selected Bowitz’s work include Radisson Blu Minneapolis Downtown management; College of Design faculty; Emmet Byrne, design director, Walker Art Center; Heather Soladay Olson, founder and marketing director, Soladay Olson | Marketing for Creatives; and Barbara Redmond, creative director & designer, Barbara Redmond Design.

Later this spring, the hotel hopes to expand "Inspired at Blu" to gallery spaces in the skyway to show 3D work.
 
 

Pollinate Minnesota adds to buzz about pollinators

 
For three years Erin Rupp worked with local bee advocacy group and honey producer Beez Kneez as its director of education, incubating ideas about how to expand the public’s understanding of the vital role pollinators play in our food system. This spring, her ideas came to fruition. Rupp recently launched Pollinate Minnesota, a nonprofit organization designed to engage the public, including policymakers, in “a world with strong, healthy pollinators and people, where farms are functional parts of ecosystems and schools are functional environments for all learners,” according to the website.
 
Pollinate Minnesota will use honeybees to teach about pollinators’ role in creating a healthy, sustainable food system, focusing on interactive experiences for individuals and groups that include visiting bees in their hives. “I really love teaching about pollinators by putting people in beekeeping suits,” Rupp enthuses. “Bees are great tool to connect to a lot of different subjects. They’re social insects. And we know they sting — that’s pretty engaging, right, that they can hurt us? — and yet we’re doing most of the stinging by damaging their habitat.”
 
Rupp says beekeepers are losing 30 to 50 percent of their hives annually, mainly due to starvation. Because of the decimation of native habitats, bees need to fly greater distances to find pollen and nectar. Systemic pesticides — including neonicotinoids, which persist in the environment, and when used as seed treatments move into the pollen and nectar of adult plants — kill bees. And plant cultivars, while showy and colorful, often have had the nectar and pollen bees need bred out of the plant.
 
“The decline of bees tells the story of how our food system is broken in a way that both second graders and state legislators can understand,” Rupp says. To those ends, Rupp is actively seeking partners for the upcoming season; places where she can expand the possibilities of teaching with bees, such as in parks close to schools or on school grounds. She’s also at the State Capitol working on “forward-looking legislation that’s good for pollinators and people,” she says, including Governor Dayton’s “Buffer Bill.”
 
Rupp also wants to work on pesticide legislation, and to collaborate with the Minnesota Department of Transportation of increasing native plantings along roadsides. Meanwhile, she encourages people to plant flower gardens and pots with flowers bees need. “Just ask the seed catalogs or plant nurseries you’re buying from whether their products are free of systemic pesticides like neonicotinoids,” she says.
 
On Monday, March 30, Pollinate Minnesota will celebrate its launch with an event that includes a 2015 legislative session overview of Minnesota state pollinator policy work.  The event runs from 6:30-8:00pm on 3.30.2015 at the Gandhi Mahal Community Room, 3009 27th Avenue South, Minneapolis.

 

Youth responses to art and identity enliven MMAA windows

 
The Pioneer Endicott in downtown St. Paul has undergone a significant transformation in the last year. The three-building complex includes the two, six-story Endicott buildings constructed in 1890 — and designed by renowned architect Cass Gilbert, who officed there for 20 years — on either side of the Pioneer building, which was built in 1889 to house the St. Paul Pioneer Press. All of the buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places.
 
While the upper floors have been renovated into apartments, and the second is home to a wine shop, the street level in the Pioneer is home to the Minnesota Museum of American Art (MMAA). Since moving into its “project space,” MMAA has mounted a number of significant exhibitions. But the museum has also creatively networked with an array of St. Paul organizations to expand its presence throughout the city — including co-presenting a theater production last summer that occurred on and around the Green Line light rail.
 
On view until mid-April, in the Pioneer Endicott’s large windows, between 4th and 5th streets, is another of these efforts: the photographic results of a collaboration among the museum and two youth-oriented non-profit organizations, St. Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN) and In Progress. The photographs were created by teen participants in Set It Up (a SPNN afterschool program), after they met with St. Paul artist Julie Buffalohead.
 
The students visited an exhibition of Buffalohead’s work, titled “Coyote Dreams,” at the MMAA, and talked with the artist about her process and artwork. (The show closed February 22.) “We had the students work with Julie because her art deals with themes that are very relevant to teenagers, such as feeling left out of cliques, not being good enough, struggling with identity,” explains Christina Chang, MMAA’s Curator of Engagement.
 
Buffalohead’s work, which has been exhibited throughout the U.S., also playfully and pointedly deals with motherhood, American Indian identity and popular culture. “SPNN has limited access to real working artists, exposure to whom is really crucial to young aspiring artists,” Chang adds. SPNN offers Set It Up youth various opportunities to use media and communications to empower themselves. While the program focuses on video production, it has evolved to include other media such as photography.
 
At the end of the exhibition tour and discussion, Buffalohead suggested the students create a photo project that reflected “the playfulness of childhood.” After meeting with mentors to brainstorm ideas around the theme, each student submitted a photo in response to the exhibition. The MMAA then worked with In Progress, a youth-oriented nonprofit that offers large format printing at a reasonable cost, to produce the final works for the windows.
 
One of the students, Darartu Tashoma, says that, “For me, it was inspiring to think back to my own childhood, and to think back on some of the stories of what I did as a kid. Julie’s art made me think about all our similarities that we have when we're children."
 
Adds Kevin Kalla, SPNN’s Youth Programs Coordinator, “Meeting Julie and hearing about her work was inspiring because she was very real in the way she talked about her art. She talked about the struggle of figuring out your identity, of being torn between two cultures and not being fully accepted by either. She talked about art as a way to process some of these emotions that are difficult to express. And she also talked about motherhood and how having a child inspired some of the more playful aspects of her work. I think that many of the youth in Set It Up found something to relate to in what she said, and were interested in the way that art could be used to explore some pretty complex ideas.”
 
The collaboration with MMAA was a first for SPNN. “While Set It Up has done photo projects in the past, this is the first time we've done a photographic response to an art exhibit,” Kalla continues. “The youth in Set It Up were able to have an authentic connection with an artist. They were able to collaborate with a local arts institution. And they had the honor of having their work displayed in public.”
 
“This project was a tremendously valuable experience for the young people in Set It Up, and that final piece — visiting the museum again and seeing their work on display in the windows — really made them feel like they were part of something bigger.”
 

Spyhouse West opening in the North Loop

 
Spyhouse Coffee Roasters will open its fourth cafe in a portion of the 3,900-square-foot, ground floor commercial space in Brunsfield North Loop on Washington Avenue in Minneapolis. Dubbed Spyhouse West, with an expected opening in June, the coffee shop, “will have a very different aesthetic and charm, but will still have those same Spyhouse elements and character that have been a defining standard for us,” says Christian Johnson, Spyhouse owner and director of operations.
 
Johnson adds that he’d been looking for a location in the Warehouse District for more than a decade, until the apartment complex was completed last year. “Brunsfield aligns with our overall mission in that its minimalistic design and location, and the demographics of the immediate area, seem a perfect fit for us,” he says. The project, designed by Snow Kreilich Architects, earned an AIA Honor Award for architectural excellence in 2014.
 
The location is also far enough away from such other indie cafes as Moose and Sadies, Johnson continues. “I spent a lot of time at M&S in college in the 90's, so I am quite fond of those memories from back then,” he explains. This fourth location for Spyhouse (which started in 2000 with a coffeehouse in Whittier, then added another on Hennepin Avenue in Uptown in 2008 and in the 612 Broadway building in Northeast Minneapolis in 2013) “will bring an attention to the craft of coffee and design characteristics that are congruent with the lifestyle of the neighborhood,” he says.
 
Adds Vincent Lim, president and general manager of Brunsfield America, Inc., “One key criterion [for a potential retail tenant] was that the user must share our vision for the space — to be an amenity to our residents and our community.” In addition, he continues, “our research on Spyhouse revealed the very passionate and committed entrepreneurs behind the business.”
 
As for being an entrepreneur who has “worked 80 hours a week for the last 15 years,” Johnson says, “it is important for me to grow a brand not out of ego, but out of what feels right…. and to know when to slow down. I have so many ideas for restaurants and cafes that I have to be careful the design wheels in my head don’t accelerate too quickly.”
 
He doesn’t, however, have any plans to move out of state, much less out of Minneapolis. “We like to have cohesion and proximity within our stores to ensure consistency, quality and ease for the staff, and myself, to commute to,” says Johnson, who owns a home between two of Spyhouse’s locations.
 

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.
 

Pillsbury A Mill transformed into 21st-century hub for artists

More than a decade after Minneapolis’ historic Pillsbury A Mill closed, capping the city’s reign as the country’s flour-milling capital, the four-building mill complex—which includes the iconic limestone A Mill—is once again becoming a hub of innovation and industry, this time driven by artists. The developer Dominium, which recently transformed St. Paul’s 1890 Schmidt’s Brewery into Schmidt Artists Lofts, is completing the adaptive reuse of the milling complex with BKV Group into the A-Mill Artist Lofts.
 
The first phase, Warehouse 2, a four-story, wood-frame building next to The Soap Factory, has been open since December and includes 43 living units, says David Lepak, community manager, A-Mill Artist Lofts. The 1881 A Mill designed by architect Leroy Buffington, the south A Mill cleaning house, and the 1910 elevator known as the “red-clay-tile building,” will be open for occupancy in August.
 
“Dominium knows there’s a need for affordable artists’ housing, and we’ve been successful with other projects in St. Paul and St. Louis,” Lepak says. The complex, which will be LEED certified, includes 255 living units designed for qualifying artists. To support artists’ work, the complex includes galleries, a performance and rehearsal space, and studios for dancers, visual and multi-media artists, photographers and potters.
 
“The neighborhood is already highly populated with artists,” says Lepak, referring to the Marcy-Holmes and Northeast neighborhoods. The transformed A Mill complex will further “drive people to the area for creative resources, and bring untapped resources to an already existing artists community with theaters and galleries.”
 
BKV Group, a Minneapolis architectural firm, has been working with Dominium on the project. The design team started by conducting laser scans of the buildings, to determine where structures and floors didn’t line up, and where components were missing. In addition to shoring up exterior masonry, structural repairs included new steel support columns (particularly in the limestone A Mill), floor decking and joist repairs, and leveling the floors.

The project was made possible through historic tax credits, because the A Mill is on the National Register of Historic Places. As such, the renovation was closely scrutinized by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and the National Park Service. In particular, the red-tile building—a former grain elevator—doesn’t have openings on the first eight floors, and none could be created. “It’s like a crawl space and we treated it that way,” explains John Stark, project architect, BKV Group.
 
The 27 new living units, instead, are on floors 8-12, and were designed around the existing openings, “which means each unit is unique,” Stark says. In the basement, the architects created a gathering space, fitness room and connections to the two-level parking garage. New outdoor landscaping around the railroad tracks is in the works.
 
The new complex will also have a roof garden with panoramic views of the Mississippi River and downtown Minneapolis, Stark says, and the landmark Pillsbury’s Best Flour sign is being redone in LED lights for greater energy efficiency.
 
Dominium is also considering the use of a hydroelectric heating and cooling system for the complex, using water from the nearby river. The water would enter through an existing tunnel, drop into a turbine pit and generate power to operate the complex. The initiative “would make the complex largely self-sustaining,” Stark says.
 
The project has significant merit regardless. “We’ve helped put the buildings back on the tax rolls, and created a new source of industry that tells the character of what Minneapolis was and is today,” Stark says. Lepak agrees, adding that the new A-Mill Artist Lofts “will add tremendously to the further development of an economically vibrant area of Minneapolis.”
 
 

WorkHorse brews a perfect blend of art and community

Ever since she began working as a program director at the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC) in St. Paul five years ago, Shannon Forney has been excited about “the energy shift happening in the neighborhood.” The neighborhood is St. Anthony Park, which encompasses the Creative Enterprise Zone, and is home to the Metro Green Line’s Raymond Avenue light-rail station, which is across the street from MRAC’s office.
 
“People have been so excited about light-rail transit, what it would bring to the neighborhood, and how it might reinvigorate the historic fabric of the neighborhood,” she says. Forney and her partner Ty Barnett participated in Irrigate artist training last year, she adds, and “we really resonated with the idea of artists and businesses working together to raise each other’s profile.”
 
So Forney (also an arts administrator and performing artist) and Barnett, who has long been in the coffee business, decided to start WorkHorse Coffee Bar. Located half a block west of the Raymond Station on the Green Line, in a space that has housed both a coffee house and MidModMen + Friends’ extra inventory, WorkHorse is scheduled to open later this month.
 
That’s not all. Outside WorkHorse’s front door is a 24”x 35” vintage fire-hose cabinet, which Forney is transforming—with help from a Knight Arts Challenge grant—into the Smallest Museum in St. Paul. Forney will curate the micro-museum’s exhibitions with help from five-member board whose members she selected from local arts organizations and community members.
 
“Ty has been in the coffee industry for a long time,” Forney says—citing seven years as manager of Nina’s Coffee Café and a stint at Black Dog Coffee & Wine Bar, among other establishments—and “has dreamt of having her own coffee shop. So the impetus for WorkHorse really is coming from Ty. It’s an execution of her vision.”
 
“Mine is the Smallest Museum, and how I’ll bring my personality into the business,” she adds. Inspired in part by the Little Free Library movement, Forney explains, “I decided the cabinet is the perfect little nook for showcasing artwork.” She recently sent out a request for proposals. The first exhibition will open in June.
 
Meanwhile, Barnett has been working with contractors to renovate the 50-seat coffeehouse. The bathroom was made ADA compliant, and the kitchen, coffee bar and register area built out. They removed plaster to expose an existing brick wall and painted the tin ceiling silver.
 
“We’re restoring the space to its vintage grandeur,” Forney says. “There’s a real appreciation of history in this neighborhood, which Ty and I share.” The décor will be “vintage industrial,” she adds, “a cross between a machinist's shop and your grandfather’s workshop. We’re imagining a big, long, communal wood table down the middle of the space.”
 
Merging business, art and community is at the heart of the couple’s approach to WorkHorse, Forney says. A former colleague of Barnett’s, who now owns Voyageurs Coffee Roasters, will be roasting small-batch coffee for WorkHorse. “We have the delightful vision of two fledgling businesses helping each other,” Forney says.
 
She wants to create community in other ways. The exhibitions in the Smallest Museum will engage customers, passersby from the neighborhood and Green Line commuters. Forney hopes neighbors and commuters will become regulars, stopping by for beverages and simple lunch options. “For us, coffee and art are about community,” Forney says.
 
“We’re excited to become a part of the community synergy around transit, art and the exchange of ideas happening on University Avenue,” she continues. “‘Working together, all boats rise’ is a business philosophy we definitely live by. And it’s amazing how much support we’ve been getting already.”

 

LoHi gets another boost with pop-up Art Outlet

The much beloved Art Outlet, formerly located on I-394 (or Highway 12 for long-time residents) in Golden Valley just west of Minneapolis, is back. Carter Averbeck, owner of Omforme Design at 24th Street and Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis, has teamed up with Greg Hennes, an art industry veteran and Art Outlet’s originator, for a two-week original art extravaganza at Omforme.
 
“Greg and I have banded our two small businesses together to bring back Art Outlet, and to promote original art and affordable art buying,” Averbeck says. “We’ve been hanging art throughout Omforme’s space for the last week. We’ve got artwork all the way up to the ceiling!”
 
For many years, Hennes’ eclectic Art Outlet was a prime destination for purchasing original art at discounted prices. Hennes stocked more than 1,000 original works of art in diverse media—at up to 50 percent off retail prices. In 2010, Art Outlet closed after the building was sold.
 
Hennes currently owns the Hennes Art Company in Uptown, a corporate and residential art consulting business that also offers custom framing and art brokering services. “But he has a lot of art,” Averbeck explains, “and reviving Art Outlet is something Greg’s been wanting to do for a long while.”
 
“Omforme already promotes local artists,” he adds. “So teaming to make art accessible to people who can’t afford retail price tags is something we both wanted to do.” Before opening Omforme, Averbeck experimented with several pop-up shops. So inserting Art Outlet as pop-up inside Omforme was a natural fit.
 
The pop-up Art Outlet includes works by a mix of local, national and international artists. “Name a style, a medium, a genre, and we’ve got it,” Averbeck says, from sketches, posters, prints and paintings to sculpture. A tag on each work includes information about where to learn more about the artist. Price points begin at $25.
 
The Lowry Hill East area, or LoHi, just south of downtown Minneapolis includes the Loring, Wedge and Lyn-Lake neighborhoods. In addition to Omforme—which offers a mix of vintage and modern pieces that Avebeck restores and updates with singular panache—unique boutiques like Serendipity Road and the Showroom are nearby.
 
Restaurants including French Meadow Bakery and Café, Bluestem Bar, Heyday and World Street Kitchen also generate a livable, vibrant neighborhood where people increasingly like to meet, eat and shop.
 
The temporary Art Outlet, which continues through January 30, “is another edgy, artsy, interesting small offering along Lyndale,” Averbeck says. “Slowly, LoHi is coming into it’s own.”
 
In fact, Omforme is doing so well, Averbeck is considering a move in the neighborhood to a new space up to five times the shop’s current size.
 
 

Architect innovates design service for accessory dwellings

They’re known as granny flats, mother-in-law apartments, even Fonzie suites for those who remember the Fonz’s digs above the Cunninghams' garage in the tv show “Happy Days.” For years, accessory dwelling units (ADUs) have been popular throughout the U.S. for homeowners needing an additional, separate living space for a relative (or family friend) adjacent to main house—and as a flexible housing option in developed urban neighborhoods.
 
Now ADUs are legal in Minneapolis. On December 5, 2014, the Minneapolis City Council passed a zoning code text amendment allowing ADUs on lots with single or two-family homes. Shortly thereafter, architect Christopher Strom, who spent countless hours working with zoning administrators during discussions about the code change, launched his new initiative, Second Suite.
 
“I wanted to be the first to market my expertise with the zoning related to these small residential dwellings,” says Strom, who has a thriving business as a residential architect in Minneapolis, and has designed ADU-type cottages for clients in the suburbs and northern Minnesota.
 
He learned during informational meetings that “a lot of people didn’t want ADUs because they fear too many people would be added to the neighborhood, resulting in extra noise and traffic,” Strom says. “But the new law limits ADUs to a total of 1,000 square feet, including parking; they’re only feasible on certain lots, depending on the positioning of the primary house; and the primary house must be owner occupied. Only one accessory building is allowed per property, so most people will combine an ADU with a detached garage.”
 
As a result, Strom continues, “The majority of the new ADUs to be built in Minneapolis will be Fonzie suites. Remember how he lived above the Cunninhgams' garage? He had a cool bachelor pad totally separate from the main house, but was always at the Cunninghams'.”
 
ADUs are a viable option for creating more space, whether for additional storage, an art studio, home office or apartment for aging parents. With the new zoning, the units can also include a small kitchen and/or bath. “They’re wonderful for seniors, and a nice way to establish multi-generational living next to the primary house while giving the occupant an integral level of independence,” Strom explains.
 
St. Paul, particularly the neighborhood of St. Anthony Park, is currently looking at its building codes, as well, by studying the feasibility of allowing ADUs on single-family lots.  
 
Strom adds that ADUs are “a great entry point for people to start working with an architect.” A well-considered design might result in an ADU that blends in with the architectural style of the existing residence, or be entirely different.
 
Moreover, Strom adds, “Second Suite represents a lifestyle that I want to be able to deliver to my clients. This lifestyle is about families pooling resources and enjoying more quality time together through care-giving that enables grandparents to help with childcare and adult children to help with aging parents.”
 
 

Du Nord opens MSP's first micro-distillery cocktail room

On Friday at 4:00 p.m., the Twin Cities’ newest micro-distillery will open MSP’s first cocktail “tap” room. Entrepreneurs Christopher and Shanelle Montana, owners of Du Nord Craft Spirits, have created a bar with windows looking into their distillery inside a former Motoprimo store in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis.
 
Bartenders will serve craft (and classic) cocktails made with the Montanas’ own L’Etoile Du Nord Vodka (named for Minnesota’s state motto, L’etoile du Nord or “The Star of the North”) and Fitzgerald Gin (named for author F. Scott Fitzgerald). Enthusiasts will also have a chance to join Du Nord’s cocktail club, a short-term promotion ending January 12, with three levels of patronage.
 
Du Nord doesn’t have a kitchen. But a food truck will be on hand. And visitors are welcome to bring in takeout. “We’re surrounded by a lot of good food here in Longfellow,” says Christopher Montana, from Parkway Pizza to Le Town Talk Diner to Midori’s Floating World.
 
In addition to brewing the booze, says Montana, he also built out the cocktail room with help from his father-in-law Mike, a Minnesota farmer who grows non-GMO corn for Du Nord. The two men constructed the tables and the bar, and crafted window moldings from barn wood gathered from a tumbled-down structure on Mike’s farm. With polished concrete floors, exposed ductwork, and several couches in addition to tables and chairs, the Du Nord lounge has a casual feel.
 
“We want people to feel comfortable having a drink and socializing,” Montana says. “We didn’t want the cocktail room to be too rough-edged, like a beer tap room, but not snooty either. The whole point is the room should be comfortable, not intimidating.” The lounge is also about sampling the goods. “We’re a distillery first, but we want people to taste our booze,” Montana adds.
 
Du Nord has been bottling since May, producing “several hundred cases of booze a month,” Montana says. By February, he hopes to be distilling whiskey, as well.
 
Distributed by Phillips Wine and Spirits, Du Nord has “a heavy presence” in the Twin Cities, Montana says, and can be found throughout Minnesota—particularly in the western part of the state, home to sugar-beet producers. “Sugar beets and corn are the backbone of what Northland farmers do well, and both go into our booze,” Montana explains.
 
When he begins making whiskey, the rye will come from a central Minnesota farmer “who was at our wedding,” Montana says. “We like to work directly with farmers, without a middleman.” Pictures of the farmers the Montanas source from will adorn the walls of the cocktail room because “we want people to know who grew the products we use.”
 
Prior to starting Du Nord, Christopher had meticulously home-brewed beer for about 10 years. He worked for Wellstone Action, Democracy for America and now-Congressman Keith Ellison. “I was [Ellison’s] field director during his first campaign and helped set up his office in Washington D.C.,” Montana says. After graduating from law school—where he picked apart the Surly Bill as part of an agricultural law class—he worked at Fredrickson & Byron, taking a leave of absence to open the distillery.
 
His wife Shanelle Montana has a graduate degree from American University in D.C., and is an associate in regulatory and legislative affairs for EDF Renewable Energy. The couple has a 13-month-old son. “We both have demanding jobs,” Christopher says, “but we’ve always thought it would be fun to own our own business. Du Nord is one of the best things we’ve ever done.”
 
In December 2014 the Minneapolis City Council approved Du Nord’s cocktail room, following passage of a new state law allowing distilleries to sell and serve their product onsite. Du Nord’s vodka has “a vanilla flavor to it, it’s a little heavier, smooth,” Montana says. “We don’t add anything to it, we just don’t strip out the flavor. I like vodka that tastes like something.”
 
Du Nord’s gin, he continues, has a louche quality, meaning it gets cloudy when cooled or added to water because of the higher ratio of juniper oils. “We want flavor in our gin, so it’s louche,” Montana says.
 
Whiskey is Montana’s drink of choice, however. Forget the old adage that only the best whisky comes from Kentucky, he says. “They take our corn, turn it into booze, ship it back to us and we pay a premium. Whatever they do there we can do better here. So let’s do it here!”
 
By the end of 2015, Montana is hoping to triple production. “What we can make in a year is what the big guys spill in day,” he says. “We are still just a drop in the bucket. But for this area, we’ll be able to meet demand.”
 
 
 

Peppers & Fries to open in former SuperAmerica

Wise Acre Eatery, Victory 44, and soon Peppers & Fries. The creative conversion of old gas stations into hip neighborhood eateries gets another jump start when Peppers & Fries opens in a former SuperAmerica later this month at 39th and Lake Street in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis.
 
Steve Frias and his daughter Marie Frias are the proprietors. They got their start working with their parents and grandparents (respectively), who are the owners of Boca Chica—the Twin Cities’ longest-lived Mexican restaurant and an institution on the West Side of St. Paul. Steve ran his own restaurant in Burnsville for a while. Marie has been a server, scheduler and manager in a variety of establishments.
 
So it was time, says Steve Frias, to open their own restaurant back in the city. They chose the old SA, which had been empty and for sale for six years, for its size and location. “That part of Lake Street is really growing, with lots of small businesses,” he says, including Forage Modern Workshop, Longfellow Market, Craftsman restaurant and Corazon gift shop. “I want to be part of that growth, with a neighborhood spot seating about 80 people.”
 
Peppers & Fries will be a family-oriented burger and burrito grill with 11 tv screens for viewing sports. Three garage doors will open onto a spacious patio (for dining in warmer weather). Ben Awes of the Minneapolis architecture firm CityDeskStudio, and Denise Fierst of Denise Fierst Design, have been working with Frias on the conversion.
 
“The building is pretty simple, but with surprisingly elegant existing brick and exposed steel columns,” Awes says. “All we did was try and stay out of the way, and highlight the best existing features!”
 
The interior includes polished concrete floors, exposed trusses and a simple gray color palette. “Steve has a scoreboard from an old field where he coached Little League baseball, which will be lit up on one wall,” Awes says.
 
The team also made sure the new restaurant compliments the existing neighborhood. “We’re not trying to be flashy,” Awes says. “Peppers & Fries is meant to be a good neighbor and serve local residents.” To keep costs down, Awes cut some of the components for the restaurant’s signage in his church basement.
 
The grill will have 16 beers on tap, 11 of them from local microbreweries. The Frias’ will make their own malt cups, source baked goods and tortillas from local establishments, and meats from Longfellow Market and South St. Paul. “My dad has dealt with those small business owners for years and I have those same connections,” Steve says.  

 

First & First expands presence in NE Minneapolis

First & First recently purchased two buildings next door to Red Stag Supperclub and the former Superior Plating site (now under contract to Lennar, a major national housing developer). The buildings, located at 501 & 505 1st Avenue NE, are home to the retail store I like You and art gallery/tax consultants Fox Tax (in 501-503), and the chiropractic clinic Ambiente Gallerie (in 505).
 
“We are excited about the continually evolving neighborhood of Northeast,” says Peter Remes, CEO of First & First. “Although these two buildings are a bit neglected and right now don't offer the best street presence, they are charming and have tremendous potential. We purchased them from At Home Apartments, which had purchased the buildings for a residential opportunity which it later decided to not pursue.”
 
First & First plans on renovating the buildings to improve their overall appearance, installing new windows and rehabbing the common areas. The current tenants remain under leases and have no plans to leave at present, Remes says.
 
As additional spaces in the buildings are rehabbed and become available, Remes says he hopes to “fill them with dynamic, creative businesses that love the brick-and-timber ambience, the Northeast Neighborhood and want to contribute to the area’s growth.”
 
First & First has adaptively reused such Minneapolis structures as the former Theatre de la Jeune Lune, now the event space Aria and First & First’s offices; Icehouse; The Broadway; and Franklin Theater. The creative development company is also working on creative campus in St. Paul off the Green Line light rail in the Vandalia Tower, which will include a micro-brewery and restaurants.
 

A prize-winning proposal for an unused Midway site

An unused parcel of land between the Gordon Parks Alternative High School and the High School of Recording Arts in the Midway area of St. Paul has become the site of a prize-winning vision for community redevelopment. Pablo Villamil of Wold Architects & Engineers and David McKay of Strand Design, both in St. Paul, recently won First Place in the 2014 AIA St. Paul Prize design competition for their proposed outdoor education and community space. The design “is about making a place for the people who live there,” Villamil says.
 
Villamil and McKay entered the competition because “both of us are familiar with the area,” Villamil says. McKay lived in Midway for many years. Wold Architects & Engineers designed the Gordon Parks school. “So we know the layers of community and history in the area, as well as the users,” Villamil says. “That was a big part of our design: identifying and creating a park for the community.”
 
The 2.44-acre parcel, which is surrounded by the schools, retail stores, warehouses, office buildings and parking lots, includes a large hill. “We had to figure out how to make the site function across that elevation change, and make it accessible so residents and people from the schools can meet and connect in the space,” Villamil says.
 
The team’s vision includes an enclosed classroom recessed into the hillside for the Gordon Parks school. A second outdoor classroom for interactive education would allow the school and the public to focus on renewable resources and energy. The team also proposed an outdoor amphitheater terraced into the hillside for the Recording Arts school. The site would also include fields of native prairie plants and flowers, a playing field and plazas.
 
“Education is a big part of the project,” Villamil explains. “We wanted to create places the schools could share, spaces that function for the individual schools, and areas in which residents could receive public education about native habitats, green technologies and renewable resources.” The team’s vision also invites the surrounding community into the space for gardening, gatherings and events.
 
As for whether the team’s vision will be fully realized, that remains to be seen. As winners of the St. Paul Prize, Villamil says, he and McKay will be interacting with stakeholders at formal events and at informal gatherings. “We’re really looking forward to their feedback."
 

SooVAC plans consolidation and move to Minneapolis Greenway

Soo Visual Arts Center, colloquially known as SooVAC, is making a big move in April 2015. Founded by the late Suzy Greenberg in 2001, the non-profit art space—which for two years has also operated a satellite operation called SooLocal—will consolidate the two galleries and move to 2909 Bryant Avenue South, a large three-story brick warehouse building adjacent to the Minneapolis Greenway.
 
“We have steadily increased our budget and programming for the past three years,” explains Carolyn Payne, executive director. “In evaluating SooLocal, we decided it would serve our organization best to be under the same roof as SooVAC’s main space, and the new location has room for that. We are also in the early planning stages of a visual arts residency program and this building has room for us to create that programming as well.”
 
SooVAC will move into a space previously used as an event center. “The building is very green,” Payne says, “and along with radiant floor heating, [the management] requires LED lighting. Many other organizations and museums have transitioned to LED lighting. We’re working with lighting designers that have been in on that to ensure that we continue to put our exhibitions in the best light, so to speak.” The space is also be designed by Will Natzel, an artist and designer, in consultation with  Lars Mason, director of academic services at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and a SooVAC advisory board member.
 
SooVAC prides itself on arts accessibility, building community through art and representing local artists. “As soon as we knew we were going to move, we had a public meeting with artists, supporters and community members,” Payne says. “We asked them where they would like SooVAC to move and what they would like to see in our new space. We had a size and price range, and looked at everything within those parameters.”
 
The new space was selected because it “met and even exceeded our requirements, and also allows us to stay in our current South Minneapolis neighborhood.” In addition, Payne is looking forward to the Greenway’s potential to attract new audiences for SooVAc’s programming and hopes to collaborate on projects with the Greenway Coalition.
 
 
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