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Geno's Brings Italian Sandwiches to Northeast

 A trip to New York inspired the new Geno’s Italian-style sandwich shop at the corner of Hennepin and 4th St. SE in Minneapolis. Opening in a former Subway, the limited-seating restaurant features a fast-casual Italian menu in a diner environment.

“Owner Gene Suh was inspired by places in New York that do a quick chicken parmesan sandwich,” explains Nick Kelly, general manager. “It’s fun,” Kelly says of the restaurant, which sports chrome tabletops and an Italian-focused bar menu. The overall atmosphere is part fast-casual and part diner, while serving warm and familiar Italian staples.

The menu is mostly traditional, serving appetizers like garlic cheese bread and meatballs to be paired with a built-to-order sandwich like eggplant parm or porchetta. There are more creative options like “meatolives,” described as sausage-wrapped, cheese-stuffed and deep-fried olives. With quick service and a lively sandwich menu, Kelly hopes Geno’s will become a popular lunch destination in the area.

Suh also owns Lyndale Taphouse (where Kelly was previously assistant general manager) and Hammer & Sickle in Uptown. Geno’s will follow the dinner and a drink approach that’s been popular at those businesses.

Geno’s will serve house red and white wines on tap (priced at $3 for a small pour), as well as cocktails and a limited selection of canned and bottled beer. Kegged wines give customers fresher selection (though, Kelly admits, from California instead of Italy), and the cocktails will pull from Italian tradition. Many use a house-made limoncello. The bar will also feature a new take on the negroni cocktail—and serve wine slushies.

The Hennepin-Fourth Street corridor has seen new growth in recent years, including expansions of other Uptown-based restaurants such as Bad Waitress, Glam Doll Donuts and Lu’s Sandwiches. Suh had been eying Northeast Minneapolis for his next expansion, Kelly says. The area’s new housing developments provides a wide base of customers—even with all the new businesses in competition.

While Lyndale Taphouse and Suh’s other restaurants have been successful, Geno’s is a new concept entirely. It builds off the success and organization of the other restaurants, Kelly says, but will be its own entity.

“This company does a really good job of providing good food and drink, but making it fun and inviting and bringing personality into it,” he says. As a longtime Northeast resident, Kelly is also excited to work closer to home. Though, he openly admits, “We’re technically Southeast because we’re on the other side of Hennepin.”

Geno’s anticipates a soft open shortly after Valentine’s Day, aiming for an official opening on Monday Feb. 27.

Can Can Wonderland: Amusements Galore in MN's First Arts-Based Public Benefit Corp

What do a tornado, a Ferris wheel, and your grandma’s basement all have in common? At Can Can Wonderland’s quirky and whimsical mini golf course, these are all themes to different golf holes. The best part? The holes are all designed and created by local artists.
Arriving at Can Can Wonderland feels a little like stepping into Willy Wonka’s Factory—only with more of a speakeasy vibe. Once you pull up to an old canning warehouse in St. Paul’s Hamline Midway neighborhood, you first enter through a big, red door. After following arrows down a secret stairwell, you arrive at a landing with two doors labeled as fire escapes. Don’t be fooled by the signage. Once you open the door, Can Can Wonderland appears and you step into a long, light-infused warehouse stretching about a quarter mile from end to end.
While the 18-hole mini-golf course is at the heart of the experience, there are also many other amusements to entertain the young and the young-at-heart. In the bar area, craft cocktail connoisseurs, Bittercube, provide the imaginative drink menu where you’ll find everything from spiked slushies to tasteful tikis. If you’re hungry, chow down on the selection of sweet and savory noshes such as hot dogs, mini donuts or cotton candy. Not in the mood for mini golf? Explore the boardwalk of attractions, filled with vintage pinball and arcade games. There is also a black box theater that hosts a variety show every Thursday night.
“We have a house band and music acts,” explains Jennifer Pennington, CEO, Can Can Wonderland. “You never know who the acts are going to be ahead of time. Last week we had a sitar player, a drone demonstration, a guy playing the tuba with a black light shining on him and an amazing juggling duo.”
Can Can Wonderland was first imagined in 2008 after Pennington’s husband, Chris, designed a golf hole for the Walker Art Center’s artist-designed mini golf. Their friend, Kristy Atkinson, who is also Can Can’s artistic director and co-partner, was one of the original minds behind the Walker’s artist golf. Working on the project together, they all realized they had a good thing going.
“It was so fun that we wondered why we didn't do this all the time,” says Pennington. “Then it was like, how can we make a business that is self-funded and free from being reliant on grants? We really started to take the concept seriously in 2010 when we moved to St. Paul and it developed from there.”
Fast forward several years. The Penningtons and Atkinson partnered with their commercial real estate broker, Rob Clapp, to become co-founders of Can Can Wonderland. They then looked to the community to help bring the space to life as the first arts-based public benefit corporation in Minnesota.
They had a call for artists, which received over 200 submissions, including entries from students whose teachers incorporated the project as part of their course curriculum. Two of the students’ submissions even made it into the final golf course.
After a successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign and hours of planning, design, and coordination, the amusement space is now officially open to the public. Go grab a slushie and get your golf on.

Palace Theatre set to energize downtown St. Paul

A century ago, the Palace Theatre opened in downtown St. Paul as a vaudeville house. Over the past 40 years, it has sat vacant, slowly slipping into a state of disrepair. Soon that is all about to change. The 100-year-old theater is set to reopen as a rock club with a stellar lineup of musical acts. Locally based groups Atmosphere, the Cactus Blossoms and the Jayhawks kick things off in March. Such national acts as Regina Spektor, The XX and Phantogram will be playing in the following weeks.
The Palace’s debut musical lineup is thanks to collaboration between First Avenue and Chicago-based Jam Productions. “We came on board about four years ago,” says Nathan Kranz, general manager, First Avenue. “[The City of St. Paul] knew that we have a great working relationship with Jam and we partner on all sorts of events around town. It was determined that the best way to move the Palace project forward was a combination of Jam and First Avenue, and that we use our different relationships to ensure the success of the Palace once it was open.”
The City of St. Paul purchased the Palace Theatre in 2015. “There had been a lot of deferred maintenance,” explains Kranz. ”All the things to make it safe, sound and secure were fixed and the rest of the theater was preserved to the best of our ability.” Some of the space’s improvements include a new HVAC system, roof and bathrooms, as well as a larger bar area.
As for the overall vibe inside? Much of the venue’s original architectural elements and materials remain, but have been revamped to reflect the nightclub atmosphere. An 800-seat balcony overlooks an open audience floor with lighting controls that set the mood for each event.
With a 2,500-seat capacity, the Palace is expected to help energize surrounding businesses. “Our goal is to sell out concerts, so when we bring in 2,500 people at a time, that's a big influx of people,” says Kranz. “I imagine that will spill over into bars and restaurants in the area. Also, I would imagine that the Palace Theatre would become more of a destination for Minneapolis residents when they see that it's very easy to get there.”
While it will primarily function as a rock club, the Palace will also be available to accommodate various types of events. In the meantime, Kranz promises more musical acts will soon be announced. As for Kranz’s dream act to perform in The Palace? “The one person I've never had the chance to work with or show in one of my rooms is Bob Dylan. And I hope that will change at some point.”

Creed Interactive sets up shop in Lowertown

As St. Paul’s Lowertown neighborhood continues growing by leaps and bounds, the local tech community is taking note and moving in—including Creed Interactive, an interactive web design shop specializing in creative services and web solutions. The company recently moved into a new office space overlooking CHS Stadium. Designed by Shelter Architecture and built by Bauer Design Build, the space utilizes the historical and industrial modern vibe to its fullest.
Creed staffs 20 employees and is growing every year. Operating in a flexible work environment, the staff works remotely half the time. They needed a space that would reflect their work style and convey the company’s four core values: excellence, all in, resourceful and serving. Stacy Anderstrom, Creed’s co-founder, was at the helm for the entire process. “We craved an open floor plan while also needing conference rooms that were private. We also needed spots that could be used to focus and get work done,” Anderstrom explains. “Basically we needed it ALL in a 5,000-square-foot space!”
Anderstrom and her husband, Creed’s president and co-founder Jonathan Anderstrom, first saw the property when they were on a date in the neighborhood. Soon after, they found someone to open the space and immediately saw the potential. “My husband saw raw, I saw beauty,” says Anderstrom.
The build-out process started with Shelter Architecture designing the office’s layout. “The design tried to take into account Creed’s teamwork and all the varying sizes those teams might take throughout the day,” explains architect Kurt Gough, owner of Shelter Architecture. “There’s big, casual seating as well as a formal training room for clients.”
Some of the office’s other features include a lounge area that resembles a posh cafe, a large work table surrounded by cobalt blue stools, and a large multi-purpose room with a training area, kitchen and ping-pong table. There is also a nursing room dedicated to new mothers.
Not only has Creed created a fresh space for employees; it also welcomes others into the office. Creed has already hosted meetings for both the City of St. Paul and the Chamber of Commerce. “As a company we have hosted ‘Lunch and Learns’ internally and would like to open these events up to the public in the near future,” says Anderstrom.
As for the location?  Anderstrom says you can’t beat Lowertown. “The location is ideal with the Saints stadium directly across the street, and the Farmer's Market and Train Depot are both nearby. We love that we can walk to some of the best and newest St. Paul eateries.”

"Spirit: Made Here" Is Initiative's Latest Installation in Downtown Minneapolis Storefronts

The Hennepin Theatre Trust recently launched the seventh season of its window art installation series, Spirit: Made Here. Consisting of more than 30 window displays filling empty storefronts and commercial spaces in downtown Minneapolis, the project’s installations include an array of art mediums including painting, paper sculpting, photography, fiber art, three-dimensional mixed media, video and an interactive light show. The window art is on display in a six-block stretch between 6th Street and 10th Street from Hennepin Avenue to Marquette Avenue.
Founded in 2013, Made Here is the brainchild of the Hennepin Theatre Trust’s Cultural District Arts Coordinator, Joan Vorderbruggen. Working with the program’s panel, building owners, artists and the community, Vorderbruggen and her team curate and create a walkable, interactive showcase of emerging artists. “We are proud that we often times give opportunities to artists who may have never exhibited before,” says Vorderbruggen.
Made Here also focuses on bringing art to new and unexpected audiences, and increasing the public’s awareness of downtown Minneapolis as a cultural destination. Additionally, it seeks to create a downtown that is representative of people from diverse cultures and backgrounds.
On average, 40 percent of Made Here’s artists come from communities of color, with balanced gender representation. “Our panel is diverse, and actively networks in order to authentically invite different community members to participate,” Vorderbruggen explains. “A great secret to our success is having that big, diverse group.”
In this installment of Made Here, more than 75 Minnesota artists and students created art interpreting the theme of spirit. “Spirit: Made Here is filled with light, puppetry, images, projections, social justice and environmental justice,” says Vorderbruggen. “I'm really pleased that Made Here is a function of the community that it serves. When you think about downtown, it’s for everyone. We're all here. It's ours and we all share it.”
Spirit: Made Here is on display now through March 30, 2017. View an interactive walking tour map from Made Here’s website.

Barrel Theory Brings Small-Batch Craft Beer to Lowertown

Barrel Theory Beer Company, a new taproom and brewery, will be coming to Lowertown in early 2017. Founded by three friends (two are former Surly employees), the brewery will emphasize a small-business atmosphere where the beer is fresh and the owners are onsite helping out.

While new breweries have popped up across the country and the Twin Cities in recent years, Barrel Theory promises to set itself apart. The differentiation begins with the space, which will seat about 95 guests inside a brickwork building dating from the 1800s and is next door to Dark Horse Bar & Eatery. Barrel Theory is leasing both the main level for a taproom and brewery, and also a basement for storing barrel-aged stouts and sour beers.

“There are a lot of breweries around the country where you can name that one beer they make,” says co-founder Brett Splinter, previously the director of technology at Surly. “We want people to think of us as consistent with our beer quality and with our customer experience.” The beers will be brewed by former Surly shift brewer Timmy Johnson, with friend Todd Tibesar, CPA, filling out the ownership team.

While Splinter and Johnson first met and bonded over homebrewing some years ago, their professional experience will set them apart from other breweries in the metro. “Tim is brewing at a very successful commercial brewery and here sits Todd, a guy who can tell us no to everything because he’s the finance guy,” Splinter says, both joking and serious.

With so many breweries in the Twin Cities, the Barrel Theory team drafted a business plan to make sure they stand out. Splinter cites Dangerous Man’s hyperlocal focus as an influence, as well as lessons learned from his friends at Surly. “After working for a bigger regional brewery, we wanted to keep ours small and very focused on getting fresh beer to our customers, and being able to interact with our customers very personally,” says Splinter.

The concept is to grow the Barrel Theory brand slowly and methodically. Most beer will be available at the brewery only, with limited kegs going to local beer-savvy bars. He expects fewer than 10 employees: the three owners, plus an assistant brewer, taproom manager and part-time bartenders to help with operations.

There are pros and cons to a large regional brewery or with a hyperlocal model, Splinter admits, but the personal touch of a small-scale operation connects with him and, he expects, with other beer drinkers in St. Paul. The brewery will not have a kitchen onsite, but will partner with Dark Horse to serve hot food right in the brewery, using a window between the buildings so customers don’t have to venture outside.

Though barrel is right in their name, not all the beer will be barrel-aged. The name is taken from Liebig's Law of the Minimum, an agricultural concept that states a product is only as good as its weakest ingredient. Liebig used a barrel metaphor. “If you stand a barrel on its end, no matter how big the barrel is it will only hold as much water as the shortest stave,” Splinter explains. The barrel imagery is perfect for a brewery but, more importantly, it fits with Barrel Theory’s emphasis on quality and consistency.

Walker Art Center's new entrance a cultural and community gathering spot

How does one merge the architectural styles of the Walker Art Center’s two buildings to create a new, welcoming entrance overlooking the famous Sculpture Garden? This was the challenge presented to architect Joan Soranno, a design principal at HGA Architects and Engineers, and her design team nearly four years ago.
“One of the things the Walker told us from the very beginning is that they didn’t want a third charm on the charm bracelet,” Soranno explains. “Meaning they have the original [1971] Edward Larabee Barnes building—the brick building, and they have the [Herzog & de Meuron] building built in 2005—a very different style to the Barnes building.”
Soranno and her design partner, architect John Cook, led the Walker redesign project, which includes the building’s front entry foyer off of Vineland Place, the adjacent parking ramp, and Esker Grove, a new restaurant by chef Doug Flicker opening in mid-December.
The main priority of the new entrance remodel was integrating the inside with the outside. This union is evident inside the parking ramp, where you can now see out onto Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Spoonbridge and Cherry. It is also notable in the extra windows added to the Bazinet Garden Lobby overlooking the Sculpture Garden.
“We’re trying to make the building a lot more accessible, a lot more inviting, with a lot more daylight and lots of views to the gardens—we’re trying to really integrate both the architectural experience with the landscape experience,” says Soranno.
Situated between the Sculpture Garden and the building itself, the new entrance on Vineyard Place acts as a community gathering spot. “This is why I like doing these types of projects,” Soranno says. “This project reinforces the Walker as one of the most significant cultural hubs in this nation with an entry experience that reinforces people coming together—whether for a meal, or to see a show, or for somebody who wants to be out in the garden.”

612 Sauna Society first sauna cooperative in the U.S.

In 2013, John Pederson built the Firehouse Sauna, a mobile trailer-sized sauna that quickly moved from a personal project to something he shared with friends. It grew into the 612 Sauna Society, which will soon become the first sauna cooperative in the country.

Now registered as a 308B cooperative business, the group just completed a crowdfunding campaign to build a new sauna that will officially launch the new format. A team of 40 volunteers will build the facility and then launch the coop with a February residency in the courtyard at Surly Brewing Company.

The Society’s mission is to improve dialogue and community, bringing sauna to the people in the spirit of traditional Finnish culture, where saunas are a gathering spot for relaxation and rumination. Sometimes 612 will park at a brewery, other times at a public or commercial setting like Como Park or IKEA.

“The thing we do is put [the sauna] on wheels and take it to different locations,” explains Teke O’Reilly, 612’s campaign manager. Mobility brings sauna culture to all walks of life, and it presents an element of intrigue that further attracts people, he explains.

Last year 612 Society teamed with the mobile Little Box Sauna, hitting locations in St. Paul, Minneapolis and Bloomington. “[Little Box Sauna] kind of melded with 612 Sauna Society,” O’Reilly explains. “That brought people out of the woodwork so we knew we have a powerful community,” he says. Little Box Sauna is a separate entity from the Society, which is why 612 is building a new unit this winter.

“The objective is to make as much sauna as possible available for as many people as we can,” O’Reilly says. Though he’s been involved with the project since its early days with Pederson and other volunteers, the group is excited to turn 612 over to the member-owners.

612 Sauna Society has big plans for the future, rooted in the Scandinavian deep thought tradition. The group has spoken with the Minneapolis Parks Foundation about using the parks as a setting where disparate organizations can come together and relax, uniting in the cozy confines of a 150- to 180-degree sauna and talking about life and, perhaps, politics while relaxing together in a distinctly north country way. It’s only in the idea phase at present, but O’Reilly teems with excitement at the thought.

“The reality of that happening is almost profound,” he exclaims. “If we can truly find solutions to these difficult times that we live in through sauna, to me that gives me goosebumps.”

The new trailer will be roughly the size of a medium RV trailer and is open to the public by reservation. Coop members will pay a discount price, comparable to a grocery coop, but anyone can use the unit by making an advance reservation online due to limited space.

Small Park, Huge Impact: Rondo's Commemorative Plaza Under Construction

Since the construction of Interstate 94 in the 1960s tore apart St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood and destroyed his childhood home, Marvin Anderson has worked to make sure the heart and spirit of Rondo lives on. As one of the co-founders of St. Paul’s annual Rondo Days, and a board director of Rondo Avenue, Inc., Anderson has made it his mission to help others remember and revive the spirit of Rondo. “Happiness is the ability to give back to your community and make your community better than when you found it. That’s the key to me. That’s the key to Rondo,” Anderson says.
Anderson is currently spearheading a project to bring the Rondo Commemorative Plaza to life. Located at 820 Concordia Avenue, the plaza is intended to facilitate reflection, connection, conversation and community. “It’s a living reminder of living in a village of Rondo, and it’s bursting to find creative expressions of old Rondo and new Rondo in a space that’s ours,” he explains.
The plaza, which celebrated its groundbreaking in October, will be a pocket park located in a lot where old Rondo’s last two-story building was constructed in 1917. After that building burned down in 2013, Anderson organized an uplifting community funeral where residents came together and celebrated their memories of the place. During the celebration, the idea came to Anderson to create a gathering space in the vacant lot of the old building, which would commemorate the old Rondo neighborhood.
“I said, ‘We’re going to build something on this site,’” Anderson recalls. “‘We’re going to create something here in memory of the building, but also in memory of Rondo.’”
The plan for the space includes a promenade of steps, a built-in sound system, green spaces with benches, a 30-foot tall marker that can be seen from Interstate 94, and panels and exhibits showcasing the history of Rondo. Future neighborhood events are also planned for the space, including concerts, spoken word performances and events for children.
“We want to show people you can do something with something small and have a huge impact on your community,” Anderson says. “I got so much from Rondo. Rondo gave me the foundation to do what I accomplished in life and when I came back home after traveling for school, I felt that it was important that I become a part of this community—and what could I do? It was to bring this joy of Rondo to others.”
The space will hopefully be completed in Fall 2017. Follow along on the progress of the Rondo Commemorative Plaza on the organization’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

J. Selby's Brings Vegan Cuisine to St. Paul

Vegans and vegetarians rejoice! A plant-based restaurant is coming soon to St. Paul, ready to serve brunch, lunch and dinner to herbivores and omnivores alike.
J. Selby’s plans to open on the corner of Selby and Victoria avenues this winter. Located in a building built in 1910, the restaurant’s renovation has been challenging. “Going from a convenience store, to a hair salon, to a restaurant is a huge jump,” says J.Selby owner, Matt Clayton. “The original 1910 construction is fascinating. We’ll keep the brick exposed since it’s a design element.”
Clayton, a practicing general surgeon for 18 years, decided to leave his job to pursue something different. With no direct plan in mind, Clayton left and kept his eye open for interesting opportunities.
It wasn’t until Clayton took a trip to Phoenix to run a marathon that he had the idea to open a plant-based restaurant. Having been on a vegan diet for three years, he was happy to discover a plethora of vegan dining options during his visit. He loved the menu so much at one restaurant, Green New American Vegetarian, that it became his inspiration behind bringing the vegan fare to the Twin Cities.
Clayton hired chef Rick Berdahl to develop J. Selby’s menu, which will include appetizers such as chili cheese fries, tots, quesadillas, nachos and buffalo cauliflower. The fast casual-style restaurant will also carry a variety of sandwiches including a club sandwich, buffalo soy curls, BBQ Beaf and a Philly. “A lot of the sandwiches will look and taste like meat, but they’re not,” says Clayton. J. Selby’s will also use some fake meat products from local company, The Herbivorous Butcher.
By opening up J. Selby’s, Clayton hopes he can use the restaurant to help change perceptions on what people eat. “The question is how can you affect change? There are a lot of people who are doing information—books, websites, speakers—but information sways a small percentage of people...but everyone has to eat,” says Clayton. “When you go to Seattle, Chicago or Phoenix, there are about 10-15 vegan places you can pick from. If we’re successful, I hope we’ll see more vegan options in the Twin Cities.”

Capital City Bikeway Underway in St. Paul

The Capital City Bikeway is fast fulfilling the City of St. Paul’s Comprehensive Plan’s vision to become a world-class bicycling city. Made up of a system of off-street bicycle trails in downtown St. Paul, the bikeway network will connect to existing trails, making downtown more accessible to both bikers and pedestrians. The first segment of the Capital City Bikeway was inaugurated in October and will be completed along Jackson Street by the end of 2017.
Adopted in 2008, the St. Paul Comprehensive Plan promotes the development and maintenance of a complete and connected bikeway system, encouraging and supporting bicycling as transportation. “Through funding from the 8 80 Vitality Fund we were able to bring the first segment of the Capital City Bikeway to life in coordination of reconstructing Jackson Street—a downtown artery that hadn’t been reconstructed in 50 years,” says Kathy Lantry, director, St. Paul Public Works.
The Capital City Bikeway is a raised, two-way bike path that is elevated to be level with the sidewalk. Lantry explains that the project’s goals include “modernizing streets in downtown St. Paul that haven’t been updated in several decades; adding a two-way bike lane that is safe for people of all ages; and creating a separate sidewalk for pedestrians.”
Not only does St. Paul see the benefit of the Capital City Bikeway to the city’s transportation infrastructure; the City also foresees the positive economic impact the bikeway will have downtown.

“The installation of bikeways and trails across the country has proven to bring economic benefits to cities, including job growth, increased retail sales and property values, and fewer office vacancies,” says Lantry. The bikeway “will also help attract more young professionals to downtown St. Paul. Young professionals are key to the long-term economic prosperity of all cities, and often choose where they live and work based on a city’s rich cultural offerings and vibrant street life. When people come to downtown St. Paul, we want them to feel an aura of excitement and rejuvenation. The Capital City Bikeway is helping to contribute to that atmosphere.”

The Jackson Street segment is nearing completion between Shepard Road and 7th Place. The second segment, between 7th Place and University Ave off Jackson Street, will be completed in Fall 2017. The full route will eventually run on Jackson, St. Peter, 9th Street, 10th Street and Kellogg Boulevard.

St. Paul Tool Library Will Contribute to Sharing Economy

St. Paul is soon getting a new type of library—one that includes power drills, wrenches and lawn mowers. The St. Paul Tool Library will be the newest branch of the Northeast Minneapolis Tool Library, a nonprofit where members can check out tools for home repairs and projects. The new St. Paul location at 755 Prior Avenue N., in the Midway neighborhood, is slated to open late 2016 or early 2017.
The idea for a new library branch location came about earlier this year when St. Paul resident John Bailey contacted the Northeast Minneapolis Tool Library to express his interest in bringing the nonprofit to his city. Bailey, who is now the chair of the St. Paul Tool Library Local Advisory Board, says the library is a good fit for the area. “I have known about tool libraries for a long time and they make so much sense,” Bailey says. “It seemed crazy that St. Paul didn't have one.”
Zachary Wefel, president of the Northeast Minneapolis Tool Library agrees: “In our strategic plan, we did say we eventually wanted to open multiple branches. So when a few people from St. Paul contacted us and said, ‘We’re interested in doing this,’ we met with them and determined it would be a really great fit.”
With the support of the Northeast Minneapolis Tool Library and a successful crowdfunding campaign, Bailey and his supporters raised the funds needed to make the St. Paul Tool Library a reality. Once the new lease on the space is finalized, the tool library will host a tool drive to fill the new space with inventory.
With the growth of the sharing economy, the tool library is a natural fit for those who want to work on home projects, but don’t necessarily want or need to buy power tools to keep around the house. “I think for many people in St. Paul, [the tool library] can help them save money by buying less tools,” Bailey says, “and as importantly, teach new skills.”
Tool library membership are $55 per year, which gives members unlimited tool checkouts as well as discounts on studio classes. The Northeast Minneapolis Tool Library is currently accepting membership applications in person at their location inside the Thorp Building. Members will be able to use the libraries at both locations.

Transforming Central Project Updates High School's Landscaping and Exterior

When classes started at St. Paul’s Central High School this fall, students were greeted by new improvements to the building’s exterior, including an outdoor classroom, vertical bike racks and landscaping. The improvements were part of a community effort led by a group of parents and volunteers behind the Transforming Central Project.
The Transforming Central Project grew out of discussions in 2011 at the Central PAC (Parent Advisory Council) meetings about simple ways parents could spruce up the campus. Initially, the group of volunteers dubbed themselves the “beautification committee,” and made small changes around the grounds such as planting bulbs and perennials.
The same year, the group decided to survey the Central community about what further changes they would like to see to the landscape. The committee then took those results to the Metropolitan Design Center at the University of Minnesota, which created a document of potential design concepts for Central. This document later helped the committee discuss the vision with the wider Central community, community councils and city council members; it also helped them acquire grants for funding the project.
The updates coincide with Central High School’s sesquicentennial. Established in 1866, Central is Minnesota’s oldest operating high school. “The first conversations in 2011 centered around ways we could soften Central's exterior to help it appear more welcoming,” says Lisa Heyman, one of the co-project managers. “We have always felt that the Central community is very welcoming in the building, and the drab concrete exterior did not accurately reflect that warmth.”
Heyman and the rest of the team at the Transforming Central Project organized a grassroots community effort to get input, raise funds and gain support for the changes at the high school. Some of the environmental updates focus on improving runoff, which included a new filtration design, tree trenches, rain gardens and permeable pavers. New trees better fit the site’s soil conditions. There are more outdoor seating areas, and as a new paved path leading students to the school bus pickup and dropoff area.
The transformation was truly a result of building relationships with the community and created what was needed. “All of the changes to Central have been inspired by comments and suggestions from teachers, students, parents and community members,” Heyman explains. “Our hope is that the community as a whole will enjoy the new space and find it more accessible.”

Nimbus Theatre moves to and renovates NE space

Building community is at the heart of Nimbus Theatre’s mission. That’s why when the 15-year-old theater company, led by co-artistic directors Liz Neerland and Josh Cragun, decided to relocate from their five-year-old space on Central Avenue NE to their new address at 2303 Kennedy Street NE, they did so to bring more staging opportunities to the local performing arts scene. 
“We kind of knew by the end of last year that we were going to be moving, so we really started [exploring] these ideas of expanding,” Neerland explains.
At its former location, Cragun adds, Nimbus was “partnering with other theater companies” and the space "sort of became a community center. We learned a lot in five years about operating a theater and about what we could do better.”
The new space, aptly named The Crane Theater for the five-ton crane that towers overhead, is 7,000 square feet—nearly double that of the old location. Built in 1922, the building was originally a Westinghouse factory. In 1953, the back section of the building, which is now the new home of The Crane Theater, was added on as a mattress warehouse.
Now the location will serve as a performance space with two stages. The new space will continue Nimbus’ tradition of staging fresh, original productions featuring its own company, as well as guest performing artists.
“It’s a gorgeous room that will work great for theater,” says Cragun. He loves how the facility, in which historically appliances were constructed, functions as metaphor for making—even when the space is now used for creating theater. Moreover, he adds, “We’re not remounting [existing plays]. We’re making theater from scratch here.” Thus the building, he continues, “fits well with what we do.”
The main stage will showcase Nimbus’s productions and seat around 100 people. The smaller theater will seat about 50 audience members and will serve several functions. “There are not enough performance spaces of any sort in the Twin Cities,” Neerland explains. “So just being able to offer more of it is really needed. [The second theater is] a smaller, flexible stage for a number of things, such as a small theater company doing a scaled-back production or a play reading.”
Providing extra theater space isn’t all that Nimbus is looking to do with The Crane. The company’s wants the space be a support center for people who create new theater locally, and provide services and access to shop space and educational opportunities.
In order to make the vision of The Crane Theater a reality, Nimbus launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign on September 16. “Pouring effort into the community has always come back to benefit us in a way that’s positive,” says Cragun. “We’re strong believers in building that. So the idea for a crowdfunding campaign was a really natural fit. We’ve done some traditional development work, but we wanted to sort of throw it back at the community and say, ‘Hey, we’re doing this for you. Can you give us a hand?’”
For those looking to see the new space firsthand, Nimbus is staging their first show, The Kalevala, a play based on the 19th-century work of Finnish literature, in their new home now through October 30. Tickets are available online at nimbustheatre.com.

The Funky Little Chair Offers Upholstery Services and Classes in the CEZ

The Funky Little Chair started with Cynthia Bleskachek’s desire to build a community around the upholstery industry through education. Now open on University Avenue in the Creative Enterprise Zone of St. Paul, The Funky Little Chair offers upholstery services and classes to individuals from all skill levels.
Bleskachek’s mission is to make the craft of upholstery accessible to all who want to learn. “I want this business to be able to share this industry, this craft—and make it approachable no matter how you’re coming in at it,” says Bleskachek. “I am just so excited to share everything that I love about this industry with clients, with students, and with hobbyists because I do think there’s so much beautiful furniture and too often people just don’t know what their options are.”
Growing up with a mother who was an upholsterer, Bleskachek saw firsthand how to take furniture apart and refresh the pieces using new fabrics and materials. When Bleskachek started working in the upholstery industry herself, she discovered that many people were curious and inquiring about what went into a re-upholstery project. Seeing an opportunity to create more transparency in the industry through education, Bleskachek began teaching upholstery classes.
Bleskachek explains, “If you ever got a quote from a custom upholsterer, people wanted to know why it was so expensive. Wasn’t it easy? Which is easy to think if you haven’t done [upholstery]. But through education, you are able to show people what you love about it. What it is beyond slapping fabric on it. It’s a whole craft where everything you work on is different. Every fabric is different and every piece has its own problem solving.”
A few of the educational opportunities offered by The Funky Little Chair include weekend workshops for those who have small do-it-yourself (DIY) projects, weekly workshops offering students a chance to work on larger, more complex projects, workshops for current or aspiring professional upholsterers, as well as free community events where activities might include a DIY Halloween costume brainstorming session or an evening of knitting and crocheting. For those who want extra help with projects, Bleskachek offers modern residential re-upholstery services.
In an age where consumers are inclined to purchase cheap, disposable furniture, Bleskachek understands that education is key to transforming shopping habits and helping others see the value of refreshing existing pieces of furniture. “I think there’s a lot of consumers who are trying to understand and make choices they feel good about. They need to know how. They need to know why. They need to know where. We’re excited to help crack that open a little bit.”
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