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Prospect Park's reversal on historic status brings conservation-district concept into focus

Members of the Prospect Park-East River Road Improvement Association (PPERRIA) were in favor of historic status for their Minneapolis neighborhood--until they were against it.

It was in 2008 that Council Member Cam Gordon got city approval for the neighborhood's nomination for local historic designation. But over the two years that the nomination was pending, Prospect Park residents had a change of heart as they experienced tougher-than-expected provisional enforcement of historic-district rules.

And so this month, at PPERRIA's urging, the city council rejected historic designation for Prospect Park.

"It sounds strange," admits Joe Ring, leader of the effort to get historic status. "Like most things in life, it isn't simple."

Residents supported rules on owners making changes to building facades, Ring says, but they weren't expecting restrictions on rear additions, temporary wheelchair ramps or lead-paint abatement work.

Did the neighborhood waste $55,000 on a report by historical-research firm Hess Roise that determined it deserved national historic status? No, says Ring, because the city accepted the report, giving the neighborhood standing to object to demolitions like those that inspired the designation effort 15 years ago.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation suggested PPERRIA might instead pursue designation as a conservation district, a status enjoyed by neighborhoods in cities such as Nashville, Tenn., Cambridge, Mass., and Boise, Idaho. A University of Minnesota study due this fall is surveying conservation districts across the country and may recommend language for lawmakers here to consider.

Ring says administration of conservation districts, compared to historic districts, can be more neighborhood-based or bottom-up. And it might give PPERRIA greater say over things like the scale of new student-housing projects or Xcel Energy's tree-trimming practices.

Source: Joe Ring, Prospect Park-East River Road Improvement Association
Writer: Chris Steller

Hennepin County re-doing hairy 5-way intersection ahead of Central Corridor construction

People who design streets are taking the coming of the Central Corridor light-rail transit line linking Minneapolis and St. Paul as an opportunity to revisit an intersection that has bedeviled traffic engineers for decades.

The Central Corridor route is a mile away from the complicated five-way crossroads of East River Parkway, Franklin Avenue, and 27th Avenue SE, but its impact is expected to be felt there. In preparation for the train following Washington Avenue SE through the university campus, that street will be closed to motor vehicles to create a pedestrian/transit mall.

East River Parkway may get much of the motor-vehicle traffic redirected from Washington Avenue, bringing those drivers to the intricate intersection.

Runners, walkers, bicyclists and traffic from the nearby University of Minnesota converge there. Balancing their competing needs has meant a series of shifts and tweaks over the years.

The reconstruction now underway is bringing improvements that include the latest in road-sharing techniques and technology, from "bike boxes" where cyclists can wait for green lights in front of other vehicles, to signal sensors that detect bikers and pedestrians as well as cars.

If those innovations work at East River Parkway, they may see action at other traffic trouble spots. "Why do I get all these odd intersections?" asks Hennepin County Transportation director Jim Grube. "I must have been born under a bad sign, as Eric Clapton would say."

Source: Jim Grube, Hennepin County
Writer: Chris Steller

U of M research identifies the 44 best plants for northern green roofs

Green roofs have special appeal on buildings in northern climates. They can insulate against extreme temperatures, conserving warmth in the winter and reflecting the sun's hot rays in the summer, in addition to limiting water runoff.

But most of what's known about designing modern green roofs comes from Germany, Toronto, and Chicago--places not as, let's say, rich in climatological variety as the Twin Cities.

With the wrong plants for this climate, well-intentioned and otherwise well-designed green roofs fail. So University of Minnesota horticulture professor John Erwin and graduate student Jonathan Hensley set out two and a half years ago to study which plants were best to plant on top of buildings.

They tested 88 plants on the roof of Williamson Hall, a university building that is mostly underground. But it wasn't ease of access that led them to choose a test site with a roof at ground level, says Erwin. The plants actually have a tougher time of it there, where the air is warmer and moves less.

Their focus was on "extensive" green roofs--those where plants grow in shallow tray systems that are light enough to retrofit. It's a matter of supply and demand: "Most roofs are already built," Erwin says. ("Intensive" green roofs use deeper soil that can need the support of structures such as underground parking ramps.)

The findings: forty-four plants, half of those tested, will work in Minnesota. Hensley's thesis containing the list will be made public this fall. That will help building owners inspired by examples at Target Center, Minneapolis City Hall, and Mystic Lake Casino have more success with green roofs of their own.

Source: John Erwin, University of Minnesota
Writer: Chris Steller

Central Corridor Business Resources Collaborative rolls out "Ready for Rail"

Most of the Central Corridor light-rail line lies in St. Paul, and that's also where most of the focus on helping small businesses survive the construction period. But several Minneapolis districts will see construction disruptions as well, says Kristin Guild, business development manager at Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED).

That's why Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak joined St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman Tuesday to announce a new "Ready for Rail" initiative meant to provide businesses along the new transit corridor in both cities with a straightforward way to get help making plans.

It's an effort of the Central Corridor Business Resources Collaborative, one of several groups working on the impact of the Central Corridor project beyond the laying of rail while the new transit line is being built. The collaborative, formed as a clearinghouse for information and assistance, is a "loose affiliation" of both cities' governments and chambers of commerce as well as a long list of community development corporations and local business associations, Guild says.

On Washington Avenue SE, crews will have to work over a long period to build a pedestrian/transit mall where cars will no longer be allowed. And readying the Washington Avenue Bridge across the Mississippi River for light-rail trains will mean relocating the on- and off-ramps that customers use to reach businesses such as Midwest Mountaineering on the West Bank.

"The key is coordination," Guild says.

For a fuller discussion of the challenges of light-rail planning, see this week's feature, All Aboard.

Source: Kristin.Guild, Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED)
Writer: Chris Steller

After college try, U of M tearing down 1888 Music Education building

In another era, the handsome but diminutive Music Education building on the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus might have disappeared without a voice being raised or a fuss of any kind.

But the 1888 sandstone structure survived into the 1990s, when along with other buildings on the Knoll (now the Old Campus Historic District) it got a last-minute reprieve from then-president Mark Yudof.

Nearby masonry heavyweights such as Nicholson and Pillsbury Halls got updated for continued use, but the tiny building on the hairpin turn of East River Parkway just outside Dinkytown proved too small for the 21st century. The university began knocking it down this week after 15 years of trying to find a new use or a new owner.

Over that time, says James Litsheim, historic preservation architect for U of M campuses statewide, the university spent $500,000 to keep the structure in decent shape. It needed $2 million more of work but the university offered it for one dollar. There was some interest, but no takers, says Litsheim. No one knew quite what to do with a Richardsonian Romanesque miniature that has no more than 3,000 square feet over four floors, divided into "a rabbit warren" of music practice rooms.

"It's hard to lose this one," Litsheim says, fearing for other small buildings around the state as the university downsizes its space needs in step with reduced state funding. The university is salvaging decorative elements and sandstone facing. The site is so small that the university's master plan calls for it simply to become green space.

The building began as home to the Student Christian Organization. Its last occupant in the late 1990s was a lone researcher, famed inventor Otto Schmitt, in the last years of his own life.

Source: James Litsheim, University of Minnesota
Writer: Chris Steller

Pillsbury "A" Mill tunnels could once again provide power

A system of tunnels that at one time provided the the Pillsbury "A" Mill with all the power it needed, thanks to the Mississippi River's 50-foot drop at nearby St. Anthony Falls, may soon serve as an energy center once again.

A Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage grant is paying for a new study to determine if the tunnels below what was once the world's biggest flour mill can once again harness hydropower in one form or another, or perhaps be a staging area for tapping into the earth's moderating temperatures for geothermal heating and cooling.

Energy created would be used not only for the 1881 "A" Mill once it is redeveloped, but for a massive proposed complex of new and renovated buildings across a three-block stretch of the Minneapolis riverfront.

The tunnels were part of the greatest direct-drive waterpower complex ever built but fell into disuse with the advent of hydroelectric power generation and the slow exodus of grain milling to cities such as Buffalo, N.Y.

"Given their age, they are in remarkably good condition," says Kathryn Klatt of development firm Schafer Richardson.  The tunnels, or millraces, brought water from above the falls into the "A" Mill via headraces, let it fall down vertical tunnels called drop shafts, then delivered it back to the river by way of two tailraces. Those enormous openings can still be seen at the base of the riverbank in Father Hennepin Bluffs Park.

The $7,000 scoping study for the tunnels complements a $30,000 separate study into the feasibility of engineering for such a project that's already underway.

Source: Kathryn Klatt, Schafer Richardson
Writer: Chris Steller

First house renovated under $750K U of M neighborhood-impact plan hits the market

"Brick House" was the nickname for Memorial Stadium, the predecessor at the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus to TCF Bank Stadium, the new home of the Golden Gophers football team.

Now an actual house near the stadium--wooden, not brick--has been renovated by the University District Alliance, a community organization formed in the stadium's wake to strengthen ties between the university and surrounding neighborhoods. It's the first of three houses located in target areas near the new stadium to hit the real estate market after purchase and renovation by the Alliance.

When Minnesota legislators approved state funds for construction of TCF Bank Stadium, they were also motivated to mitigate negative impacts of the mammoth campus on adjacent residential areas. A special aim was encouraging home ownership in neighborhoods where the pace of conversion from family to student rental housing has accelerated in recent years.

The Alliance--made up of resident associations in three neighborhoods of Southeast Minneapolis, the university, and the City of Minneapolis--decided that renovating houses for sale to new resident-owners was the best way of spending the bulk of $750,000 the state allocated to demonstrate how local projects could keep campus-area neighborhoods stable and sustainable.

"Initially there was the hope to at least break even, but that's not going to happen," says James De Sota, Southeast Como Improvement Association coordinator, whose group pushed the Alliance to use green building materials and methods in the renovation work.  Still, he says, efforts at cooperation by local groups, the university and city government are off to a "nice start."

Source: James De Sota, Southeast Como Improvement Association
Writer: Chris Steller

52 University Articles | Page: | Show All
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