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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.
 
 

HWY North popup brings locally made to Hamline-Midway

“It's hard to put into words what feeling we are going for,” says Emily Anderson. “Fun, unique items that make you smile and want to do a happy dance.” Do not, however, expect any mass-manufactured Snoopy’s in Anderson’s new pop-up shop in the Hamline-Midway area of St. Paul. Her new popup shop, HWY North, only carries locally made goods that Anderson carefully curates.
 
“I am emphasizing Minnesota made goods because a) it resonates with my desire to buy local, b) supports our neighborhood artists, and c) hopefully creates a space where the many creative geniuses in our awesome cities can come together, share their talents, and perhaps collaborate to make something bigger than would otherwise have been possible,” she explains.
 
Anderson opened HWY North after noticing a retail space for rent in her neighborhood. A crowd-funding campaign helped cover the costs of setting up shop. Anderson has a background in visual art and public art, with an emphasis in art education and museum studies. She explains that she’s “always been driven through the arts, but over time I've realized that more than being an artist, I am an appreciator of the arts.”
 
For a long time, she envisioned opening a shop “that offers the public a place to see the talent within the immediate area, as well as a place to come together, have a sense of community and make.” To that end, HWY North has a regular schedule of classes for kids and adults ranging from sewing a tote bag to creating a Ukrainian egg ornament to making holiday cards.
 
The workshops, Anderson says, “encourage others to become makers by showing them new/old/forgotten skills, and by getting them ready to continue making beautiful things with their hands. Did you know studies have shown that being creative is essential to mental health? We bump that up a notch by also providing a fabulous community for making. It's all pretty great.”
 
Anderson finds HWY North’s bespoke shirts, jewelry, toys, art and home furnishings through local craft fairs. “But people are starting to contact me directly, which is exciting,” she says. She and group of collaborators discuss which items fit best with HWY North’s aesthetic, a continual work in progress, she says.
 
HWY North’s lease runs through March, Anderson says, “however, I would love to extend the lease if the store is successful.”
 

Brews + asanas for micro-boom lovin' yogis

Forbes has called out Minneapolis as “The Healthiest City in America” despite our micro-brewery boom, not to mention our growing micro-cidery and micro-distillery scene. So how to maintain our awesome standing created by residents who “breathe clean air, prioritize exercise and keep their weight down, supported by a city that was among the first to add bike trails and ban smoking in public places” as the Forbes article gushed? Especially with the early onset of winter?
 
By doing yoga inside the breweries and cideries of course.
 
GetKnit Events has put together a new series that combines balances with brews for all the micro-boom lovin’ yogis in the Twin Cities. Called Yoga at the Brewery, the series kicks off Saturday morning at Urban Growler Brewing Co. in St. Paul. A ticket includes a one-hour all-levels yoga class taught by an instructor from YogaFresh, a flight of five samples for tasting, and exclusive access to the brewery prior to regular hours.
 
On Saturday, January 10, Yoga at the Brewery takes place at Sociable Cider Werks in Minneapolis, and on Saturday, February 28 at Excelsior Brewing in Excelsior. On arrival, guests will be situated on yoga mats in their intoxicating environment among the kegs and fermentation tanks. “After toning our bodies and focusing our minds,” according to GetKnit’s website, “we will turn our attention to communal health as we join together to enjoy flights of five brews.”
 
“How do Twin Cities residents keep up their commitment to fitness during the area's notoriously cold winters?” the Forbes article asks? Brews and asanas are the answer.
 
 
 
 

Twin Cities architecture firms receive AIA Honor Awards

What do an airy and daylit community library, a renewed college studio-arts building, a sustainably designed and modern apartment structure, and a renovated historic performing-arts center have in common? All of these Twin Cities projects were recently selected for a 2014 Honor Award during the 80th annual AIA Minnesota Annual Convention and Exhibition.
 
A panel of jurors from outside the state selected eight projects for Honor Awards from 73 submissions. Four of the awards were for projects in the Twin Cities: Hennepin County Walker Library designed by VJAA, Minneapolis; Brunsfield North Loop Apartments designed by Snow Kreilich Architects, Minneapolis; the renovation of Northrop, a historic performing-arts and innovation center on the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis campus by HGA Architects and Engineers, Minneapolis; and, also by HGA, Phase II of the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center, the Studio Art renovation and expansion, at Macalester College in St. Paul.
 
Each of those Twin Cities architecture firms also won for additional projects located outside of Minneapolis-St. Paul. HGA was awarded for the Marlboro Music Cottages at the Marlboro Music School and Festival in Vermont. VJAA won for its Welland International Flatwater Centre, Toronto 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto; and Snow Kreilich received accolades for a home on Lake Minnetonka. In addition, Leo A Daly, Minneapolis, received an Honor Award for the design of The Toro Company’s headquarters in Bloomington.
 
The AIA Honor Awards have five categories: architecture, interiors, restoration and renovation, urban design and master planning, and small projects. This year's awards were selected by a panel of jurors from outside the state: Angela Brooks, FAIA, Principal, Brooks + Scarpa, Los Angeles; Mary-Jean Eastman, FAIA, Principal & Executive Director, Perkins Eastman, New York; and Dan Rockhill, J.L. Constant Distinguished Professor of Architecture, University of Kansas, and Executive Director, Studio 804.
 
According to an AIA Minnesota press release, the jurors’ selection of this year's Honor Awards offers “a real snapshot of the meaning of architecture today.” The awards will be presented to recipients on Friday, December 5, at the 2014 Awards Celebration at International Market Square in Minneapolis. The celebration will also showcase AIA Minnesota’s 2014 Gold Medal recipient Julie Snow, FAIA, Snow Kreilich Architects.
 

Arcanum's secret society promises immersive experience

The storied history of the Cathedral Hill neighborhood in St. Paul includes gangsters, Prohibition, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his Gatsby, and of course W. A. Frost. The restaurant and bar (with a summer patio no one can resist) is named for the pharmacist who opened his fabled apothecary (which sold “medicinal wines and liquors”) in the 1889 Dacotah Building. Today the creative thinkers at W. A. Frost are not only purveyors of “upscale unwinding,” as Robert Crew, director of food and beverage operations describes the iconic establishment’s vibe, but history buffs as well. And they’ve hatched an exciting new program for the likeminded.
 
It’s called the Arcanum Secret Society: a four-part series of immersive cocktail parties in historical places. Arcanum launches on November 25, and will occur again on February 7, and in April and June at “secret” locations. The first one? Not so secret anymore: The elegant Art Deco bar in the former Commodore Hotel. Once home to the Fitzgeralds and Sinclair Lewis—and reportedly a stop for bootlegger John Dillinger—the Commodore played a leading role in St. Paul’s Roaring 20s social scene.
 
That historical era will be the theme of the first Arcanum event, which is also “soft opening” for the newly remodeled Commodore. Arcanum participants, Crew says, “will be among the first to see the re-imagined space. It will truly be like stepping back in time, as though you were rubbing elbows with F. Scott and Zelda.”
 
The ticket price ($110 per person) includes classic craft cocktails assembled in part using a Prohibition era-style white whiskey from 11 Wells. Guests also enjoy passed canapes provided by W.A. Frost and live music. “For the cost of a typically upscale dinner you'll get food and beverages—plus an unforgettable experience. It's not an everyday occasion. It's a unique opportunity,” Crew says.
 
The idea for Arcanum had been brewing for a while, Crew adds, and extends W. A. Frost’s singular brand. “W.A. Frost has a reputation for facilitating ‘upscale unwinding.’ It's refined, but not stuffy. That's the exact kind of vibe that Arcanum has,” he explains. “So while the events aren't necessarily at W.A. Frost (in fact, we can't tell you where they all are!), they each exhibit that signature quality.”
 
Arcanum is working in concert with Commonwealth Properties on the series, which owns the Dacotah Building, the Commodore Hotel and other historic St. Paul properties. “Commonwealth Properties makes a point of uncovering some of the city's most iconic architectural treasures, and making them relevant to today while preserving all of the historic detail and charm,” Crew says.
 
“The Arcanum event series itself is somewhat of a throwback—the intimacy and secrecy of the events evoke the speakeasy and the Prohibition Era,” he continues. “That's fitting, since all of the Commonwealth Properties served as ‘witness’ to that time in St. Paul's history. Each Arcanum event will be held at a location that has historical significance and each event will feature an immersive cultural experience.”
 

Paddy Shack brings Irish fare to Half Time Rec

Goodbye frozen pizza. Hello savory shepherds pie, Irish poutine with crème fraiche and brown bread with Kerrygold butter. Josh Thoma and Kevin Fitzgerald, who elevated bar food to an art in the kitchen of the 1029 Bar in Northeast Minneapolis as a start-up to the now award-winning Smack Shack in Minneapolis' North Loop, have done it again. This time the venture is Paddy Shack at The Rec, at the Half Time Rec in Como Park in St. Paul, best known until now for bocce ball in the basement, Irish music and dancing, and a decidedly laid-back vibe with beer prices to match.
 
Thoma and Fitzgerald teamed up with Jack Riebel, formerly of Butcher & the Boar, to build out a kitchen at The Rec and develop an Irish-inflected menu—including a lobster and cream sauce sandwich with a dash of whiskey dubbed The Dublin Lawyer that solidifies the culinary connection with Smack Shack. The dogs come wrapped in bacon with pickled green tomatoes and jalapeños or in beer cheese sauce, macaroni and Serrano pesto. Clearly, no one needs to leave hungry anymore.
 
Brothers Steve Mars and Scott Mars, who co-own The Rec, haven’t forsaken the dive-bar feeling or décor, despite the food upgrade. The Rec remains a beloved neighborhood bar—with a difference.
 
The brothers selected St. Paul native Riebel, a 2013 finalist for the James Beard Foundation Award for best chef in the Midwest, because of his credentials, ingenuity and connections with Thoma and Fitzgerald: They’re all working on a redo of The Lexington, at Grand and Lexington avenues in St. Paul, as well. Meanwhile, The Rec’s added more than a dozen full- and part-time kitchen positions to ensure the food keeps coming.
 

Union Depot muralist honored with installation and exhibition

In 2005, Atlanta-based painter Ralph Gilbert received a fellowship in mural painting from the National Academy of Design Museum. His topic was the multicultural history of Minnesota railroads. The destination for his six murals was St. Paul’s Union Depot. After Gilbert conducted extensive historical research, he spent seven months painting the panels, working on them at the same time to ensure continuity in style.
 
On Thursday, from 6-8 p.m., the Minnesota Museum of American Art (MMAA) will guide visitors from its Project Space in downtown St. Paul to Gilbert’s murals, which are on display on the west wall of the Grand Waiting Room at Union Depot. Concurrently, MMAA is showcasing an exhibition “Ralph Gilbert: Studies for Union Depot,” through December 7. The show includes selections from Gilbert’s preparatory work including 10 drawings, four watercolors, four oil sketches on panel, and nine oil paintings.
 
The niches at Union Depot that hold Gilbert’s murals are tall and narrow, measuring 16-feet high by six-feet wide, with arched tops. “The challenge for Gilbert,” according to a press release issued by MMAA, “was developing each composition within the unconventional proportions.”
 
The concurrent exhibition at MMAA’s Project Space, says Christina Chang, Curator of Engagement, MMAA, “presents a very small selection of Ralph’s extensive process, and also shows how he worked through ‘problems’ or compositional challenges. It’s a unique opportunity to see these materials so close at hand to the finished work.”
 
Gilbert’s subject matter includes the Mississippi River and the Dakota tribe that made way for white settlement; Union Depot’s historical connection to the former Rondo community; the arrival of European immigrants to Minnesota via Union Depot; and the deployment of soldiers from the Union Depot during two world wars.
 
MMAA’s collaboration with Union Depot represents a long-held desire to engage the Depot’s commitment to public art with MMAA’s dedication to strengthening its connection to Lowertown, Chang says. “The exhibition presented the perfect opportunity to do so. It’s rare to have an exhibition of preparatory work so close to the final piece, especially with public art, so we’re hopping visitors will take advantage of the opportunities to see both venues on the same trip.”
 
Chang adds that mural installation, in concert with MMAA’s exhibition, brings well-warranted attention to Gilbert and his work. “So often, artists are lost in the history behind public art.”
 
 
 

Rayette Lofts: Renovation brings historic structure back in style

Despite the prominent corner it occupies at E. 5th and Wall in St. Paul’s Lowertown, the Rayette Building has always been a bit nondescript in the public imagination—perhaps because for the last 15 years, the concrete structure was a parking garage. The Rayette Building has a storied history, however. And last Thursday, the historic structure celebrated its most recent chapter as the restored and repurposed Rayette Lofts.
 
Now home to 88 market-rate apartments, with a roof deck overlooking the Mississippi River, St. Paul Farmers Market and new St. Paul Saints baseball stadium, Rayette Lofts adds to the “critical mass of residential developments, and entertainment and cultural amenities that are the recipe for sustained success in Lowertown,” says Will Anderson, associate project manager, Sherman Associates.
 
Sherman developed the seven-story, 145,600-square-foot structure in collaboration with Kass Wilson Architects in Bloomington. Because the project was created using federal and state historic tax credits, Sherman and Kass Wilson also worked in consultation with the National Park Service, State Historic Preservation Office and St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission.
 
“We needed to make sure our modifications were done in a historically appropriate manner that complied with the historic context of the building and the neighborhood,” explains Ryan DuPuis, project designer, Kass Wilson. The preservation process also involved extensive research into the Rayette Building’s history.
 
In 1911, Joseph Strong and H.F. Warner opened their large wholesale millinery business in the building. In 1936, Raymond E. Lee, a University of Minnesota graduate and creator of a permanent-wave treatment for women’s hair, had moved into and renamed the building Raymond Laboratories. By 1951, Lee had changed his company’s name to Rayette. The company’s products were famous for creating the Rayette Wave. In 1963, Rayette introduced Aqua Net, which became the top-selling hairspray in the United States.
 
Rayette also acquired the Faberge cosmetic and fragrance company in the 1960s, but vacated the building by 1971. In 1997, the Heritage Preservation Commission approved a plan for the building to be converted into a parking garage. During the building’s recent conversion to residential units, Kass Wilson was charged with removing a ramp that wound from the first to the top floors, and replacing the cavernous opening with elevator shafts, egress stairs and vertical ductwork for new mechanicals.
 
Because the original windows had been removed or badly damaged, DuPuis says, the architects also studied historic photos, and sought out original remnants “and whatever else we could salvage to recreate the historic window openings and arrangements, and mullion patterns.”
 
In addition to floor-to-ceiling windows with spectacular views of Lowertown, the units have polished gypconcrete floors, and corrugated concrete ceilings and brick walls original to the building. The structure’s columns were also left exposed in the living units, the spacious lobbies on each floor and in the second-level party room.
 
“All concrete is not created equal,” DuPuis says. “The Rayette Building was slowly deteriorating. We got to it just in time.” He credits Sherman with having the foresight to invest in the building and lead its adaptive reuse.
 
“We could have lost that corner of history in Lowertown,” DuPuis adds. “By enclosing, protecting and converting the structure to a new use as Rayette Lofts, we’ve reinforced the limestone façade and historic feel of the street for another 100 years.”
 
 
 

Sioux Chef brings indigenous cuisine to Minneapolis

Minneapolis-based chef and Oglala Lakota member Sean Sherman is about to open the Sioux Chef, a first-of-its-kind restaurant that will serve locally sourced “pre-colonization” cuisine. Sherman is in the final stages of selecting a space, most likely along Seward’s Franklin Avenue or along East Lake Street. He wants to be “as close as possible to the heart of the Twin Cities’ indigenous community,” he says.
 
Depending on the condition of the space, the Sioux Chef’s doors could be open as early as December, but the first quarter of 2015 is more likely. When the restaurant opens, Sioux Chef will be the first in the country to serve a menu comprised exclusively of regional indigenous dishes that only use ingredients available prior to first contact with European settlers.
 
Sherman’s approached means no wheat, soy or other staples we currently take for granted. In addition to bison, elk, duck, perch and other fish and game species—often dried or cooked over an open flame—Sherman will incorporate such native plants as wild rice, wild turnips, chokecherries and sumac berries.
 
His flavors and technique are pitch-perfect. Though indigenous populations were decimated during the 19th and 20th centuries, there remains a strong cultural memory among older Lakota, Ojibwe and others. “People constantly tell me that my dishes taste like what their grandparents made,” he says.
 
One concession to modern realities: The Sioux Chef won’t serve wild-caught game, says Sherman, due to a lack of available processing facilities capable of satisfying health authorities. The restaurant’s bison and elk, among other species, will come from nearby ranches.
 
Nor will Sherman be dogmatic in his approach. “First contact” is a blurrier concept than many realize, he says. For example, dandelions probably arrived on the Eastern Seaboard with the first wave of white explorers and spread across the continent within 50 years, far faster than the Europeans who brought them. So Native Americans may have cooked with them long before setting eyes on the first settler—and that’s good enough for Sherman.
 
The Sioux Chef concept arose accidentally, when Sherman—then La Bodega’s executive chef—decided to write a traditional Lakota cookbook. After some digging, he realized there was very little recorded information about what the Lakota ate before Europeans arrived. Most of the recipes he found were from the Southwest. Even those “were basically Tex-Mex with some Native influence,” he says. Supposedly authentic foods from the Upper Midwest, like fry bread, only appeared after the introduction of white flour and other European staples.
 
Traveling extensively across Minnesota and his native Dakotas, Sherman eventually pieced together an exhaustive list—“too many to count”—of native plants, fungi and game species used by pre-colonial populations. He also researched traditional preparation and preservation techniques, like meat dehydration.
 
Until the restaurant opens this winter, the Sioux Chef is a mobile catering and education unit. Sherman travels to food-, health- and Native American-themed events throughout the Twin Cities and the greater Midwest, serving locally sourced dishes (some of which may appear on the Sioux Chef’s restaurant menu) and explaining his approach to pre-colonization cooking. Recent appearances include a diabetes conference and traditional medicine gathering
 
So far, Sherman says, support for the Sioux Chef is beyond what he expected. He was in Ohio last weekend for Roots 2014, a major gathering of celebrity chefs and nutrition experts, and “a huge deal for the Sioux Chef’s exposure,” he says.
 
Public enthusiasm may lead to bigger things for the Sioux Chef. “After I get the restaurant going, my ultimate goal is to hone this business model and expand with additional locations under different names,” he says. Since naturally available ingredients vary so much from place to place—“even from here to the other side of Wisconsin, the availability is totally different,” he says—the food at pre-colonization restaurants would vary widely from city to city.
 
“It’s funny that you can get food from almost anywhere in the world [in the Twin Cities],” he adds. “The only food you can’t get yet is the food that came from right here.” Sioux Chef will change that.
 
 
 

Frame by Frame shop provides gallery space in Dow Building

Within the unassuming Dow Building at 2242 University Avenue in St. Paul are studios in which more than 30 painters, woodworkers, metalworkers and photographers create their work. Now an innovative framing business with a unique model is giving the inner creativity of the Dow Building an outwardly visible face.
 
Khanh Tran opened Frame by Frame in the building’s storefront in September and plans to have his frame shop double as a gallery for artists in the Dow Building. Rather than take a commission on works that sell out of the shop, he charges artists a flat monthly rate to display their work. So far, 16 artists from the building have taken him up on the offer.
 
A frame shop needs artwork to frame and display, while artists need a clean, sleek space to show and sell their work. “It’s a win-win for everybody,” Tran says. He designed the space with crisp white walls and professional grade track lighting.
 
As a tenant of the Dow Building for several years, Tran had been watching the storefront space for some time. He previously rented a small studio in the building to store his framing equipment while pursuing other interests. He developed relationships with many of the artists and makers in the building during that time, making the new gallery arrangement a natural fit.
 
Tran credits his entrepreneurial spirit to his parents. His father was a tailor, his mother a seamstress. Together, they built Tran’s Tailors, a chain of tailor shops throughout the Twin Cities. “They worked hard for it,” Tran says. “It’s not easy to open five businesses from nothing. That’s where I get my drive.”
 
The Trans’ family story of success in the face of adversity began on a boat in the Pacific Ocean in 1978. Looking to escape war-torn Vietnam, Khanh’s father saved what little money he could and bought a 30-foot boat. He boarded his 4-year old son and 20 other children and 10 adults to set out for a more prosperous life. “He wanted to escape Vietnam for the better,” Tran say.
 
The boat arrived in Japan and the passengers were moved to a refugee camp, where eventually they were given entry visas to the U.S. The family again packed up their belongings and headed for Bloomington, Minnesota, where Khanh’s uncle lived. Khanh Tran went to college and discovered framing as a potential profession. He stopped into a local gallery and asked if they needed help. “They hired me on the spot, taught me how to frame and taught me how to sell art,” he says.
 
Tran went on to open his own frame shop and gallery space in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis in a storefront across the street from the Northern Clay Center. He then moved to Montana with his wife. There he opened a successful automobile detail shop.
 
Now, back in the Twin Cities, Tran feels he’s landed in the right place to pursue his first passion: framing and selling beautiful original art. “The reason I continue is I like to see the art and I like to have a hand in making that art look even better,” Tran says.
 
 
 

Greening the Green Line with POPS

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) recently released “Greening the Green Line,” a comprehensive report on the state of green space, and plans to improve it, along the Central Corridor. “Greening the Green Line” outlines a vision for a “charm bracelet” of parks and green corridors within a half-mile of the Green Line, including fresh public parks and privately owned public space (POPS) near new housing and retail construction. Pockets of parkland and public space would be connected, where possible, by bikeways and parkways.
 
The report has been in the works since 2012, when the Central Corridor Funders’ Collaborative tapped TPL to “lead a collaborative project that would build a shared understanding of how to integrate green space and common public gathering space in the corridor as development occurs,” says Jenna Fletcher, program director, TPL.
 
“Both the public and private sectors have a role in greening the Green Line,” writes Fletcher on TPL’s website. “The public sector needs to ensure that additional public parks are developed to keep pace with the demand from new residents and new workers…[and] private developers should play their part by incorporating high quality POPS into their developments.” 
 
“Greening the Green Line” outlines several changes that would significantly improve Green Line residents’ access to parkland and public space.
 
First, “city and public agency leaders must take a leadership role in pursuing a connected parks system,” says the report. A program of outreach, education and demonstration projects may encourage developers to pursue POPS, especially if the connection between POPS and higher property values can be made clear.
 
“Greening the Green Line” also encourages city and agency leaders to work with developers to incentivize the creation of new public spaces, through “stacked function” stormwater management (which uses creative landscaping and planters to alleviate flooding during rainy periods) and “value capture” approaches that can extract revenue from parkland and public squares.
 
Fletcher stresses that the Green Line’s “charm bracelet” will fit the area’s character and scale. “POPS can serve as complements to public parks, offering open spaces in varying sizes and forms where it may be difficult to develop public parks,” she says. “Open spaces do not need to be large, publicly owned, or even "green" for them to be beneficial for residents, workers and transit riders.”
 
The Twin Cities has successfully experimented with POPS already; Fletcher cites the MoZaic Building and Art Park in Uptown, which has a half-acre space connected to the Midtown Greenway and Hennepin Avenue.
 
The first Central Corridor POPS since the Green Line’s opening aren’t far off. Fletcher is particularly excited about Hamline Station, a mixed-use development between Hamline and Syndicate that will feature street-level retail, 108 affordable housing units and a central, open-to-the-public “pocket park.”
 
Green Line residents and neighborhood associations can encourage changes in existing and planned developments, too. “Sometimes doing something temporary, like parklets or painting the pavement, can be helpful first steps that serve as a spark that can create momentum for community members to coalesce around bigger ideas,” says Fletcher. “This can set the table for later, bigger investments.”
 
Though “Greening the Green Line” lays out a vision for years to come, Fletcher stresses that there’s a real urgency around the issue of green space in the Central Corridor. About 15 percent of the total land area of Minneapolis and St. Paul is parkland, but the Green Line is less than 5 percent parkland and public space. If nothing is done now, she says, the problem could get worse as more people move into the area and convert its remaining public land to housing, retail and office space.
 

St. Paul Bicycle Plan widens its scope

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

Conflict brewing over warehouse next to Schmidt Artist Lofts

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