28.1.06

stp: It's a bird... its a plane... it's SuperTarget!

Two weeks ago, I attended the first (and only) public meeting about the new SuperTarget going in on University Avenue. (Here's a Strib story on it.) The meeting was great, almost exactly like the movie, I [heart] Huckabees combined with Office Space. In another sense, the meeting was depressing because it highlit how very far apart lie the community's dreams from the gritty reality of the street.

Here's a rundown:

The audience was around 50 people, half of whom were the usual neighborhood activist types, the other half were older "social capital" people who had wandered in or seen an advertisement somewhere. They weren't particularly hostile to Target, though I think most people were from the anti-corporate, anti-big box, pro-small business, pro-TOD vein.

First, Brian McMahon, director of University United (the local density advocacy group) gave a speech about the "unique" stores that some (but not all) corporate chains are designing to fit into urban markets. (Note: because big boxes have pretty much saturated the rural markets, they're turning to the one place they haven't cornered... the city. This often requires building denser stores with small parking lots, two stores, etc. Here is a post on this topic from a while back.) The basic gist of McMahon's talk was the new SuperTarget should be a two story store with something on top, (or with an adjoining parking lot) like the stores they have in urban areas such as Manhattan or downtown L.A.

Then the two Toms got into the action. Yes, there were two Toms representing the Target Corporation. The first Tom was an architect, had grey gelled hair with a nice black suit and some fancy artist (architect?) glasses. The second Tom was "folksy," with a beige sportcoat and brown penny loafers, paunchy with male pattern baldness. After the long powerpointed introduction by the neighborhood advocate talking about fancy architecture, the two Toms had a few little tagboard illustrations of plans for the new SuperTarget.

Here's a fairly accurate rendition:

_________
|________|


So, they had these pictures of a big box Target and were trying to point out all the "amenities," like a sidewalk and a landscaped tree and a path through the parking lot, etc. It was pretty funny.

Don't get me wrong, though. I am all for the SuperTarget, and think that the company is doing a heck of a lot for the city. Compare them to any other big corporate chain that already owns the land and already has the zoning approval they need to build a more profitable building, and you'll probably discover that even having a neighborhood meeting is going way beyond the minimum requirements. Plus, the new SuperTarget will be set back along I-94, and they're going to build actual streetfront, human-scale buildings along University Avenue. Like, with windows and everything.

That said, the meeting was really funny. The funniest part was this one dyed-haired old woman who had walked the block or two from her house to the meeting, and raised her hand duringg the Q & A and said, "Why do you have all these flowers and trees in the parking lot? They're just taking up space. Nobody will see them. I don't want flowers and trees in my parking lot."

The neighborhood groups, and the mayor, have big plans for this area, and would like to see it get denser, less boring, more pedestrian friendly, and economically vibrant. But University Avenue, as it now sits, is one of the most car-centered, economically depressed, least walkable parts of the core cities. Considering how dense the surrounding area, and how central the site, this street is wa-aa-aay behind...

...and that's why Light Rail will be a frickin' revolution! (Viva la revolucion!)

Also:

What about the abandoned Mervyn's store? What's to become of that? I've heard that WalMart is gonna buy it and create a Franken-SuperWalMart

Also Too:

Don't forget the Bus Barn!

27.1.06

mendotaheights: Par 3 Golf Course

This story has a special place in my heart. I grew up right across the street!

In a decision the Mendota Heights city attorney is calling an important precedent, a divided high court has overturned two lower court rulings and decided that Mendota Heights had a "legitimate interest [in] protecting open and recreational space," meaning a city's wishes can trump those of a landowner wanting to develop the property.

Other suburbs take note! Open space is worth money. Big bucks to all the property owners anywhere near this golf course, and if they can keep it from getting developed all to hell, and somehow keep it open, the whole area will be much the better for it.

Check out this site if you don't believe me...

But at the same time, it'll be hard to stop these property owners from trying their damndest to put a slew of McMansions down all over this land.

Also:

Who knew that grassroots was even possible in Mendota Heights? There's not a sidewalk to be found in the entire city!

Update:

A domino effect!

stp: Minnehaha & Dale Rec Center Complex

I'm of two minds about whether or not this rec center proposal is a good idea.
The $50 million project includes an indoor soccer field, aquatic center, music room, 500-seat theater, fitness center, computer lab and meeting rooms. The center also would offer an array of after-school, senior, family and mentoring programs.

But a Feb. 17 deadline for finalizing plans is approaching, and Salvation Army officials are still negotiating a minefield of land deals and government bureaucracy, not to mention trying to bridge a $9 million fundraising gap in the next 27 days.

On the one hand, $50 Million is a lot of money!

On the other hand, I don't want to build a church on this plaground/open space property... especially if it happens to be right where the city is planning on building a "transit corridor."

But I'm of one mind when it comes to these two things:
  • 1) I want Ray Kroc's money to atone for a great many sins.
  • 2) Whoever's is charge of this project doesn't have their act together. The due date (Feb. 19) is fast approaching, and it sounds like the mayor has just heard of it!

metcouncil: Funding Parks and Stuff

Q: Is this debate Pawlenty no-tax politics or grassroots stickin' it to the man?

Council member Mary Hill Smith said that at a time when cities like Woodbury and Eden Prairie are going to voters with property tax issues for parks, she cannot countenance such an expenditure for a city "with a lot of assets," not least of which is the Mall of America. Especially not one that will be privately owned and the centerpiece for a development that includes a private hotel, office space and condominiums.

A: Didn't the Met Council have a debate a while ago about the usefulness of decorative streetscaping?

It's hard to tell, but I still think the Met Council's navel gazing is just contributing to the metro's deer-in-the-headlights stasis.

We're like transportation zombies! ("Brains... Brains... We need brains...")

Mea Culpa

I've been horrible -- Horrible! -- lately. I'm sorry.

Here. I offer you this picture of a bike parked in South Minneapolis.

Excuses? I'm applying to grad school... my computer's broken... the dog ate my homework... there's a fly in my soup... i've got three kids in preschool at home sick with the bird flu...

More coming. For example, I've attended two very interesting meetings in Saint Paul lately: one on the new University Avenue SuperTarget, the other on all the planned transportation projects coming in the capitol city.

Here are topics I'm thinking about:

  • The proposed Salvation Army rec center at Minneahaha Avenue and Dale St.
  • The Mendota Heights Par 3 Golf Course debate
  • The MetCouncil's grant for a LRT station park in the new downtown
  • An update on the LRT debate: pro and con
  • The Snelling & University stop of the proposed University Avenue LRT
  • The "Michigan Left" vs. "the New Jersey Left" vs. the traffic circle
  • Redistricting in Florida
  • Canada!

More to come...

13.1.06

stp: Streetcar Tracks!

Check out this great story from the Strib:

Old streetcar line holds no promise for future

An excavation under University Avenue showed the tracks would be of no use to a proposed Central Corridor rail line.

Proponents of a new light-rail line between Minneapolis and St. Paul have wondered for years whether modern trains could run on streetcar tracks abandoned more than 50 years ago and now buried under University Avenue.

Now light-rail planners have the answer: No. The rails are thin and many of the cross-ties crumbling. In fact, the old track would have to be dug out of the way to make a solid bed for a new rail line.


Whaa? Who are they kidding? It's a nice thought, I suppose. There's actually a great idea at the end of the piece:

Granite paving stones are the only part of the trolley line that may have value for light rail. The granite blocks were placed with interlocking precision along both sides of the rails to create a smooth driving surface for cars crossing the tracks. If unearthed, the stones could lend character to a station design, [Steve] Morris [Ramsey Co. project director] said.

Actually, every time I see a hole in the pavement and a cobblestone sticking out, my heart skips a beat. (W 7th is good for this...)

mpls: Pillsbury Mill Towers Shot Down

The HPC rejected plans for new condo towers along the Main Street riverfront on Tuesday, the Strib reports:

After the marathon seven-hour meeting, Kit Richardson of developer Schafer Richardson said he was unsure of their next move. "I honestly don't know," Richardson said.

And David Frank, project manager for the developer, said they might "go back to the drawing board" or to the City Council to appeal the decision. "We knew that the staff had recommendations for this, but you always hope for the best," Frank said.

Chad Larsen, a member of the Preservation Commission, said it was the longest meeting of which he had been a part. "This [issue] deserves a lot of consideration," he said. "It's one of those things ... just because it's late, you can't skim right over it."

Nearly seven hours into the hearing, the commission rejected the developer's desire to build a 15-story building near the historic mill complex, and in quick succession rejected similar plans for buildings of 27, 24 and 20 stories.


Frankly, I'm surprised. It goes without saying that this is prime real estate. But the proposals seemed to me to fit in quite nicely with their surroundings, and they had gotten the prior approval of two neighborhood groups affected by the buildings.

But the HPC felt that new, taller condos would affect the landmark Pillsbury 'A' Mill, which is right next door. Here are some quotes from opponents:

senior planner Amy Lucas noted that the size of the new buildings "drastically alters the historic relationship between the historic buildings by diminishing the scale of the neighboring National Historic Landmark, Pillsbury A Mill Complex". . . Scott D. McGinnis, a professional historian since 1986, said the proposed buildings would "completely overpower" the integrity of the complex. "It detracts from those buildings being the centerpiece," he said . . . Michael Norton, an attorney for Bluff Street Development, which owns some nearby buildings that use solar-power water heaters, said the new buildings would "dwarf" his and interrupt their access to the sun. "We believe that this project is the wrong project for this area," Norton said. "It would be a disaster."

Oh, whoop-de-doo. These people are way out of touch. I'm all for historic presevation, don't get me wrong. Preserving old buildings is the kind of thing that Minneapolis has never done correctly (except for the Primo brewery), and there is a lot of need for community voices defending old structures.

But the Pillsbury 'A' Mill hasn't been the largest mill in the world since the 19th century. Flour is made in Buffalo NY and probably China, folks, and there's no reason why the old mill has to be the central focal point of the city forever.

Hello? Look across the river? That giant mill was turned into a museum and surrounded by theaters, condos, and exciting new buildings (after it was burned down b/c it was abandoned). Redeveloping the riverfront transformed really empty parking lots into useful space, and is a big part of making the downtown liveable again. Saying that new buildings on the East Bank would "diminsh" the 'A' Mill is like saying that no building should be taller than the Foshay Tower because Wilbur Foshay jumped from the top floor when the stock market crashed.

For once the neighborhood groups have hit the nail on the head:

The [neighborhood supporters] note that they have no enthusiasm for high-rises on the river and that the Marcy-Holmes Master Plan states that no building should be higher than the red tile elevator on the A Mill, "but taller buildings are acceptable if they help achieve the neighborhood goals."

The group's goals -- met by the developer -- included saving the mill, extending the grid so nearby streets and avenues connect to the riverfront and enlivening the sidewalk for pedestrians, and adding retail shops. The group also wanted varied heights, with shorter towers closer to the mill complex, and distinct gaps.

"What we got is towers spaced so we can still see between them," said Arvonne Fraser, a Marcy-Holmes resident and the wife of former Mayor Don Fraser. "We'll have people right on the riverfront instead of empty mills and paved-over empty lots."

I'm disappointed in the HPC, and I hope that the city council overrides them in this case.

10.1.06

mpls: City-wide Wi-fi!

Also, the city Wi-fi interweb network is happening a lot faster than I thought it would. Like, they're already wiring a few test networks (according to The Bridge) to finally choose a company from the two finalsts. The two neighborhoods to be wired are Cedar-Riverside and Seward.

If Mpls gets this done soon enough, I'll move back across the river. It's that important to me.

stp: Upcoming Transit Summit

Saint Paul Light Rail supporters should know that there's a transit summit coming up 1.23 at Hamline University.

(from a press release)
(Saint Paul) – Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman today announced he will join the city’s district councils in hosting a forum on key transportation initiatives in Saint Paul on January 23rd at Hamline University in the Drew Science Center Auditorium. [7pm until 9pm in the evening.]

“This forum is an opportunity for the public to engage elected officials and government agencies as we continue to work on a citywide vision for transportation. There is no question the coming years will bring new opportunities for Saint Paul, and we want to engage the community from the beginning to ensure they have a voice in the process,” Coleman said.

Light Rail will be the topic du jour. I'm sure Coleman wants the University LRT to be his legacy...

mpls: HPC looks at 'A' Mill on Main

The new condos going along Main St NE are are being reviewed today by the Historic Preservation Comission, according to the latest The Bridge. You've probably seen the plans for tall bldgs all along the East bank of the river, downtown. Well...
the development proposal is set to be heard next [...] at what promises to be a marathon meeting. From there, the proposal goes to the planning commission to request zoning changes, then to the city council.

The developer [...] noted that the extra height would pay for the "expensive historic renovations, without public subsidy." Responding to questions, he said the price range for the housing units is estimated to be between $175,000 and "a couple of million dollars." [Development manager David] Frank said the historic Pillsbury sign will be retained. The entire development is expected to take 10-12 years to complete.
So far, two NRP associations (Marcy-Homes and Nicollet Island/East Bank) have voted to support the project. That's a good sign for the developers, because the city hardly ever fails to support a project if it has local community approval.

Personally, I like the project and think that that area is ideal for build-up. I'll miss the free feeling that the area around Soap Factory has had for years, but that's progress, I guess.

9.1.06

density&diversity: Local Paper Reporting

It might seem hypocritical, because most everything I post on this site comes right from local papers, but... after seeing the special condo pull-out section in the Downtown Journal, I wonder how independent local papers (like the Downtown Journal) can be given the huge portion of their advertising revenue that comes from new condo ads. Newspapers are very sensitive to advertising revenue, and if one or two big advertisers pull their ads (or threaten to), they notice. Would that keep them from reporting less-than-glowing stories about new development?

Of course it's hardly that much different from most small neighborhood papers that report on their advertisers... e.g. a story on the local barber shop, hardware store, or bar that also happens to advertise in the paper. And, to be fair, I've been pretty impressed with most of the reporting in local TC papers. They're stuck in the middle, having to please their indepednetly-owned and big-development advertisers while catering to mostly NIMBY readers. Not easy!

At the same time, I could do with less Condo cheerleading.

mpls: Condo Conversion Progress

The DTJ has a report on city council action which makes it more difficult to convert an apartment building to a condo in Minneapolis. It extends some homebuyer protections and professionalizes the diclaimer phase of the condo-buying process.

Most of the condo conversions have been occurring in the Uptown area, as apartments south of Lake Street and near Lakes Calhoun and Harriet are sold for drastically higher prices. The net effect is that neighborhood rents go up, and affordable housing in desirable locations disappears...

mpls: Grocery mega-block at Hennepin and 12th

More details on the downtown Lunds development from the latest Downtown Journal:

To the west of the 1208 building, a new 2,436-square-foot building at 1214 Harmon Place will place a restaurant tenant and “pocket park” in place of a current surface parking lot. The new structure will “utilize a design based on the facades of the [historic] era,” states a staff report by City Planner Becca Farrar.
...
Douglas Kline, the new director of communications at Lund Food Holdings, said that Lund is in discussion with retailers for the spaces but had no additional information about whether the current tenants would stay. Lund is working on final plans for the block, Kline said, and no information is available about the restaurant tenant or a starting date for construction.

This development, which offerred a polite "no" to the suggestions made by the Historic Preservation Comission, is bigger than I'd thought. They're going to redevelop/renovate the entire block. It'd be nice if Lund's didn't completely determine the kind of tenanats that were in it's building. There's a frame store and a printing store in the building now...

But, griping aside, a new grocery and one less surface parking lot is good news in my book. Now to fix the other "death to chain restaurants" end of Hennepin Avenue...

5.1.06

stp: Bober Drug Sells Farm

Apparently the chain/local battle is over before it starts. The PiPress has the scoop on the CVS's Grand Ave. triumph:

For an undisclosed sum, business owner Ron Johnson will hand over all of the store's customer records and pharmaceuticals, sell the building and promise to shutter the shop in time for CVS' scheduled opening across the street, Johnson said Wednesday.
...
"If they take just half of our business, they put us out of business," Johnson said, referring to the small margins on which the store operates. "If they cut that down, there's no way we could possibly make a profit."

The time to leave might be right, said Johnson, who has seen his property's taxes triple over the past five years. The owner of four additional drugstores in Minnesota
would not disclose the amount CVS agreed to pay, other than to say that the price was "more than fair."

Welcome to 2006. It's a new year.

Friend, you canot even predict the motions of three coupled peldula. You have hardly a prayer with three mutually gravitating objects. We let loose pesticides on our crops; the insects become ill and are eaten by birds that sicken and die, allowing the insects to proliferate in increased abundance. The crops are destroyed. So much for control. Bacon, you were brilliant, but the world is more complex than your philosophy.

-- Biologist Stuart Kauffman in At Home in the Universe

Maybe I'm overreaching, but I'd like to take this moment to tell R. T. Rybak to remember the limits of knowledge. I heard him on NPR today, interviewed by near-total sycophant Gary Eichten. With only a rough count, Rybak used the word "obviously" no less than 25 times in an hour's interview. In my opinion, the best route for a city government is rarely obvious.

Rybak also mentioned that he wants to stick close to existing building codes with an future Uptown developments ("unless they show a clear public purpose"). He neither hemmed nor hawed.

On with the new year...

mpls: Ackerberg profile in the Mpls Observer

Uptown is the real condo battleground in the Twin Cities right now. All the construction that's going on in Downtown is relatively victimless, as most of the new buildings are replacing parking lots. And the amount of development in places like Northeast, Whittier, or Saint Paul pale next to all the activity in Uptown, in and around the lakes. That's where most of the condo conversions are occurring, and that's where the most vehement battles have taken place, specifically over the Lander Group's now defunct Lake Street proposal and Stuart Ackerberg's Lagoon Cinema project.

The article slips often into pangyric, almost reminscent of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead:

His biggest regret, he says, is that he didn't seize the opportunity to work with his father earlier.

It is with this new Lagoon project, then, that Ackerberg intends to quell this regret. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime project," he says. "The site is just perfect, and I wanted to do something magnificent [for him]," he says. "I wanted it to be great architecture, to have great magnitude, and to push the envelope of creativity and dynamics. I think it will be something of great interest for a long, long time."


Granted, Ackerberg is charming, and I like his project. But the debate over Uptown development shouldn't be about whether or not a certain building is a memorial for some patriarch. We should be talking about whether or not it fits into its community and surroundings, and what kind of neighborhood Uptown will be in the future.

mpls: SouthWest Light Rail Plans Unveiled

The Southwest Journal reports on a meeting last month that publicly revealed two options for a light rail line through SouthWest Minneapolis. The article doesn't explain how far south the transit corridor would stretch (though it hints that it might reach Apple Valley), but it does give the two choices for the Uptown/Lakes part of the proposed train.

The first choice would run mostly along what's called the Kenliworth Corridor, a train line that parallels Highway 7 through Saint Louis Park. It would cut across the tangletown on the West side of Lake of the Isles (with a stop right at Cedar Lake's Hidden Beach!), and then follow the existing railway along the Western edge of Downtown before connecting with our existing train.

The second choice would go South along Lyndale Avenue through an underground tunnel from Franklin to 28th St, where it would follow the Greenway all the way over to the existing railway corridor on the far side of Lake Calhoun. (It's worth noting that this option would have a stop right under Stuart Ackerberg's Lagoon Condo, which points to the way that investment feeds back on itself, creating other investment.)

The article also mentions a price tag, which ranges from $431 to $926 million 2010 dollars -- around the same cost as the Hiawatha Line if adjusted for inflation. The two plans illustrate the basic dilemma of mass transit lines: they are most expensive where they are most needed. Its safe to say that the second plan, through the heart of Uptown, would have a lot more riders and really be a boost to the already-hot Lyndale Avenue and Uptown real estate markets. The first plan, which runs along mostly uninhabited commercial train corridors through South Minneapolis, is far less densely populated.

But a 10-block long tunnel would be an expensive proposition, and would drive the cost up to a billion dollars. That's billion with a "b." The two plans are awaiting kabbalistic ridership studies, which will be the deciding factor. Well, that and taxpayer funding...

P.S. For a fun time, compare the social and economic costs and benefits of a new Twins Stadium to a new LRT line!

Update

Astute reader kk points to this useful website: www.southwesttransitway.org

mpls: 38th and Nicollet condo on the way

Local developer, Michael Lander, fresh off his losing battle with the Calhoun Area, is preparing to build a condo at the currently-vacant Southwest corner of 38th and Nicollet.

I used to live very close to there, and this development is right on the border between the poorer minority and the wealthy white communities that make the Kingfield neighborhood so interesting. It will surely do quite a bit to push South Nicollet Avenue towards further home-ownership. Plus, that current building, the Theisen Vending factory, is pretty much an eyesore.

The condo sounds good. It's mixed use and has a few "affordable" units. The timetable The project might be approved by the city any day.

The only absurd part of this story is that the builders have to work around an existing contract with ClearChannel Outdoor, to keep the billboard that currently graces the corner intact in the new building. Actually, I kind of like the billboard...

P.S. This has to be the only corner in the state with a Salvation Army and a British sports car mechanic.

mpls: Rex Hardware closes, Lyndale Avenue will never be the same

My favorite hardware store in the world, including the Crafty Beaver in Chicago, was Rex Hardware on Lyndale and 26th St. It had the best window displays and blue-on-yellow hand-painted signage. The Southwest Journal said that the ownder, Anne Shom, is selling it so that she can retire.

Some good news though.
The shop will continue to be a hardware store for a while after Shom has retired, according to new owner Lynn Gordon, who also owns the nearby French Meadow Bakery & Cafe.
...
She purchased the Rex Hardware building and a house next to it. She said it would continue to be a hardware store, until she makes another decision about what kind of business to open there.

Gordon had envisioned putting n organic home store -- with organic mattresses and other home goods -- but now is considering renting it to someone else.

Gordon said she would only consider renting the space to someone with a vision for a community-based business.

In a related note, La Parisien Flats, the small-ish condo at 23rd and Lyndale, was approved. According to the SWJ, "the building will feature French-inspired details such as a vaulted ceiling, peaked roof and a sidewalk cafe." I want to laugh, but I know I shouldn't.

P.S. The Dallas apartment where G.W. Bush (and his future wife, Laura) lived while dodging Vietnam in the 70's was called "Chateau Dijon."