Saint Paul Flags #3

Reading the Highland Villager #195

[A stack of Villagers loitering by a pole.]
[Basically the problem is that the best source of Saint Paul streets & sidewalks news is the Highland Villager, a very fine and historical newspaper. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. You basically have to live in or frequent Saint Paul to read it. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free. See also: Three Reasons Why I Re-Blog the Highland Villager.]

Headline: City council commits $4 million more for infrastructure around new soccer stadium; latest outlay will pay for new streets, walks, drainage system
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city is spending more money on infrastructure around Snelling and University where the soccer stadium is being constructed. CMs Bostrom, Noecker, and Prince voted against, including floating an amendment that would strip out $250K for the “great lawn”, a public/private park. The park will be mostly controlled by the soccer team. $2.3M is going to the stormwater management project. [Still waiting for the tax-paying development part of this to kick in…] There is a debate about whether to move the stoplight at Snelling and Spruce Tree Drive, but it is likely to happen.

Headline: Public debates the merits of streetcars on West 7th; supporters held sway at hearing that drew 200
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There was a public meeting about the proposed Riverview / West 7th streetcar and lots of people came. Article includes brief summary of the project, with “proponents outnumbering opponents.” [That goes contrary to every narrative about “neighborhood opposition” I have seen written or spoken anywhere. A good sign I reckon, for people like myself who support the plan’s potential.] Some people are concerned about existing businesses or pedestrian safety or future bike lanes or on-street parking. One guy would like it to serve the Ford site. The project might be done by 2027.

Headline: Organized trash will lower fees for some; new system could be operating by next fall
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: It took 14 months for the city to get an agreement with the garbage companies. CMs Bostrom and Prince voted against, because of “increased costs.” Costs will be something like $20-30 a month, depending on the size and frequency. [Seems reasonable to me. Have to include the collective savings for reduced road wear, which is a large unknown number.]

Headline: Pre-leasing begins for new tenants around soccer stadium
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: New places are going into the old strip mall, the part that wasn’t torn down. [I want new buildings, and new office / retail / residential spaces in the old parking lots! Replacing a Radio Shack with another tenant isn’t what I was hoping for.]  Quote from owner: “the current L-shaped space on the eastern side with 20 active businesses will remain following the demolition of Rainbow, Walgreens, Home Choice and Big top Liquor.”

Headline: County seeks new proposals for jail, West site in downtown
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The County is still trying to develop the land right on the bluff by City Hall. The last project fell through when the County would not agree to subsidize a huge parking ramp. [Good for them, but we need something amazing here. It’s certainly worth waiting and doing it right.]

Headline: Hearing set on plans for senior housing at old Riverside site
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: An abandoned elementary school will become subsidized senior housing. It will also likely reconfigure Lexington Parkway [also mentioned in my recent West 7th ideas piece, now updated with a rendering!] where it meets West 7th, which is currently really dangerous. 

Headline: Mc-Grove rejects proposal to study student housing district
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A neighborhood group voted against extending the “student housing zoning overlay” to the area around Macalester. [I think the current policy should be evaluated before being expanded.] Some people are concerned about the increase of student rentals in their neighborhood. [One perverse impact of the overlay is that it will “push” students to live just outside the boundaries of it, no matter where you put the boundary. Treating students / young people with a default stigma is not that great of a thing to do, IMO.]

Headline: HRA agrees to sell Selby Ave. lots for mixed-use projects
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Two city-owned Selby Avenue long-time vacant lots will become mixed-use senior housing and live-work retail.

Headline: St. Paul property owners brace for tax increases in 2018; but fist they may want to sound off to city, county, school district officials
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Property taxes will go up. There will be meetings.

Headline: City eases rules for raising chickens; ordinance removes the required consent of neighbors for flocks of one to six hens
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: You have to ask forgiveness rather than permission for having chickens now. The city maximum is 15 chickens. [That’s a lot of chickens!] CMs Tolbert, Prince and Bostrom wanted to keep the permission rules in place even for smaller numbers of chickens.

Headline: Downtown’s Pedro Park won’t be as large as supporters had hoped; city favors plan to sell police annex for use as ‘creative’ office space
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Land that had been earmarked for a park for a long time will now still be earmarked for a park but only one that’s half the size because the some people at the city do not want to tear down an old building that it owns but instead want to redevelop it instead. The new developer would pay for the new park, and there’s a proposal in place. The City Council voted 4-3 to sell the old building on the proposed park to a developer for an undisclosed amount that is more than $1.13M. The proposal for the building will be a mix of office and retail, as well as $650K to improve the remaining part of the park. [The original park budget was $30K.] CM Noecker, Prince, and Thao opposed the sale of the building. Some people think downtown needs new office space. [Q: how public will the new park be? Will it look like a park only for people in the new building, or will anyone be comfortable in it?] People who really liked the idea of the full half-block-size park are upset about the loss of half the proposed park. The park was originally proposed in 2009. Building the park would be expensive.  [As long as it doesn't continually play Mozart concerts out of a deadened empty stage in the hopes of keeping homeless people at bat, like they do over Mears for some reason.]

Headline: Variance denied new James Ave. home; contractor placed front of home closer to street than survey indicated
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A new house that was built on James Avenue is almost a foot closer to the property line than is permitted. The home is 19.3’ from the property line, but code says it must be 20’ from the line. The Board of Zoning Appeals denied a [post-facto] variance. The contractor made a mistake, and admits it but wish that the city had said so sooner.Quote from neighbor: “this house is bigger than any other on the block. Standing in our front yards and looking up and down the block, the house will block the views.” The original home was once lived in by a young Charles Schultz. [Insert Charlie Brown “kite stuck in tree” joke.] Nobody knows what will happen next, but “tearing down part of the structure” is listed as an option. [This is an extremely Saint Paul moment, right here.]

Headline: St. Paul strengthens its efforts for dealing with vacant buildings
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: City inspectors will now be able to coax building owners to rehab vacant buildings a bit more easily because inspectors have tracked them more closely. Article includes lots of stories about vacant buildings, which come in three categories, and are mostly located in the East Side, North End, and Frogtown. Last year, about 40 vacant building were razed. [I remember this being a big thing in Minneapolis’ North Side as well.]

Headline: City, county adjust their proposals for leasing Highland reservoir site
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A large piece of land that used to be needed as a water reservoir [and is located just across the street from Highland Villager HQ] will be reused as something, but nobody knows quite what yet. The city wants more rec fields, and maybe a bit of a parking lot. The county still wants a big parking lot, and maybe ice rinks someday. There is also a “more ambitious” County proposal involving ice rinks, a “water tower park” [WTH?] and retail. [Can we not with the surface parking lots? It seems like “pave it for parking” is like the #1 answer, no matter the question asked.]


Another Dive Goes Down as Tracks Bar Hits the End of the Line

Tracks Bar on University Avenue has long been one of the weirder ones. Probably most people think that it’s called “Tracks” because it's near the railroad tracks. This is absolutely not the case! The true story is weirder, and you can read it below.

I liked Tracks, and would often meet people there to give them the flavor of the Midway neighborhood. Tracks was the bar and restaurant of the Midway Days Inn, and hanging out at Tracks was always food for thought. During the day, the place would be a mix of old alkies and bored budget travelers, the perfect place to wallow in vague depression. It was connected to the hotel hallway, and to get the the bathroom you had to go past both the bar fish tank and the hotel swimming pool, each of which had its own distinct aroma.

I remember drinking beer with a friend and watching a messed-up man fall asleep on the bus stop out the window. He leaned way over, drooling on himself before gradually succumb to gravity and slipping into the sidewalk. After a half-hour or so, a cop came and told him to move along.

Over the years, Tracks has tried to change, adopting a classic University Avenue Asian-American menu, for example, or rearranging their darts machine. Off in the corner sat the last remnants of the old “supper club”, a previous incarnation (described below). It was a great place for pull tabs, darts, odd encounters, frozen pizza, and long beer-fueled silences. It was also a comfy well-fenestrated hangout for people in Saint Paul uninterested in $10+ burgers (as punk poet and Tracks fan Paul D. would tell you).

Tracks was a stop on my 2015 Midway Dive Bar tour, and Dickinson was there to greet us. I think he was grading creative writing assignments, and looking out the window. Midway is a part of town that is rapidly changing, but I thought that Tracks would stand the test of time.

I guess I was wrong.

Get there while you can, because tomorrow is the last day. So long, Tracks.

[My excerpt on Tracks from my Dive Bars of the Midway guide booklet follows. Buy the entire guide online!]


Dives come in all shapes, sizes, and temporalities. Tracks, about a half-mile West of Snelling Avenue,
offers a most curious story. 

Far back in time this was a “surf-and-turf” white tablecloth joint named Mr. Joe’s. “It was hopping,” one old patron once reminisced, which is difficult to imagine today because, somehow, Tracks transformed from a swank steakhouse into a drab motel bar the color of an expired nectarine.

Today, Tracks is the bar connected to the Midway Day’s Inn, one of the only hotels around, and here small worlds collide. Midway regulars, railroad drunks, cheapskate travelers, and innocent tourists mix to an unmatched social flavor. Where else can you spend an hour playing pull tabs with tourists in town from Iowa for the Hawkeye game while watching people cross University Avenue.

Adding to the human cocktail is the hotel pool, whose chlorine scent sometimes wafts through the door past the fishtank, occupied by two or three goldfish and an inky bottom feeder, and whose sounds echo through the hallway on your way to the bathroom. I’ve a recurring fantasy of renting a room at the Tracks Day’s Inn over a birthday weekend (or out of impromptu despair) and maintaining an assembly/conga line between the bar, the hotel room, and the hot tub waiting between them. Tracks combines the curt familiarity of the dive bar with the uneasy liberation of the hotel bar, a magical and overlooked fiasco, especially in the middle of the city. 

The hotel dive: likely a creature of circumstance, most often found in the suburbs. But here it encroaches into the Midway.

Should you achieve intimacy with Tracks, you’ll notice the strange gold protuberances punctuating the rail along the bar in the shape of huge horse heads. Funny story. Back in the 80s, when Tracks was weathering its nadir, there was a fire, and the club went through a deep identity crisis. Meanwhile a fantastical development was taking place at the very edges of the Southwest suburbs: speculators were building a racetrack named Canterbury Downs. It was to be the first ever Twin Cities’ horse track, and the imaginations of the risk-prone filled with visions of easy money. It was around this time that Tracks was re-named and re-modeled to capitalize on the soon- to-be-burgeoning culture of pony players. Tracks was to be the city’s first off-track betting (OTB) establishment, conveniently located in the Midway, right between the two downtowns. Everything was going to come together, like a great 80s metal cover. 

Alas t’was not to be. The State of Minnesota never legalized off-track betting, and Tracks became just another Midway hotel / dive bar / former surf-and-turf restaurant with gold horse heads guarding its island of alcohol. 

A common pastime at Tracks is to sit at one of the window-side tables and watch the bus stop on the corner. For some reason, this particular shelter attracts vagrancy, and I’ve wasted many a pleasant hour ignoring my problems with beer, watching a man with more problems struggle to stay upright, people drag large bags across the street, or the transit police appear to deal with the addled over-exuberance emerging from the #16 bus.

It would be remiss to point out that this building is hideously ugly, a monochromatic pale orange with vague late-80s cartoon modernist flair. Tracks and the attached motel form a “U” of bad architecture that belies the fact that, inside, you’ll find some of the city’s finest bartenders, sarcastic and firm. 

Appearances can be deceiving. Highly recommended.

[Get your own copy of Noteworthy Dive Bars of the Midway or any other of my dive booklets today!]  


Another Predictable Tragedy Shows Need For Change on West 7th

[Jose Hernandez.]
This past weekend, there was another tragic crash on West 7th Street.

A 52-year-old Saint Paul man named Jose Hernandez had just finished his shift working in the back of the house at Brasa before riding his bicycle home, down Grand Avenue about a mile or two. When he reached the corner of West 7th and Grand, someone driving a beige SUV ran a red light and put Jose in a coma before driving off. Judging by his friend’s comments on Facebook, his chances for survival are bleak.

At one level, something like this seems like a tragic accident, another reckless / distracted /  drunk person driving too fast in the city.

“Senseless. How terrible!"

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the victim. There's nothing we can do about something like this.”

Sure, sometimes people drive in homicidal incomprehensible ways. I remember the guy who drove a truck over the sidewalk back in 2011 by the Franklin Avenue bridge, killing Thomas Malloy, an observant Jew riding his bike home from synagogue on a Friday. How do you prevent that?

This weekend, the crash occurred at midnight in late November, critically injuring a guy trying to get home from a long shift in a busy restaurant. What can we do about something like this?

It turns out that there are lots of things we can do.

For far too long, Saint Paul’s West 7th Street has been a death trap. The design of the old highway through the heart of the city is inherently dangerous, and there are precious few safety features that help anyone on foot or bicycle. West 7th has four 10’ lanes and parking on both sides, a design that creates lots of confusion and encourages people to weave, speed, and drive in other dangerous ways.

[Existing conditions on West 7th by Grand Avenue.]

[The intersection where Jose was struck.]
On top of that, because West 7th cuts diagonally through the rectangular street grid, it creates intersections that have perverse and dangerous effects. The expanse of pavement gives drivers a signal to speed or run red lights. The obtuse angles — called a wide turning radius  — encourage drivers to take corners at high speeds, and lead to a high number of crashes in cases where people on foot or bicycle technically have the right of way.

These dangerous conditions have been in place ever since they removed the streetcar tracks back in the 1950s, and in all those decades there have only been a few mitigating safety measures installed. Most notably, in 2002 the City engineered a 4-3 conversion along most of the urban part of the street.

Tl, dr; there are lots of things we can do to improve safety on West 7th.

[The last few summers, a temporary bumpout has been installed at West 7th and Victoria.]

Here are a few concrete ideas:

Bumpouts or refuge medians: You could install these at a few key points. There’s a “temporary bumpout” already at Victoria Street, for example. It would slow and calm traffic, and at the same time make it much safer to cross the street.

[See my article on some ideas.]
Tightening intersection curb radii: Replacing some of the speed-inducing asphalt with curbs and more sidewalks, especially at the large intersection “squares”, would boost safety and simplify chaotic intersections. 

Reconfiguring angles at odd intersections: One of the most dangerous intersections for drivers is the Montreal / Lexington corner, just on the southwest side of 35E. There are plans underway right now to reconfigure the last block of Lexington Parkway to improve safety. This is the kind of thing we could do at many of these dangerous corners

Closing some intersections to car traffic: An additional safety improvement might be closing off access between some side streets and West 7th, to create more sidewalks and simplify and reduce the number of conflict points at these corners. It would increase the amount of sidewalk space and provide a boost to walking, biking, and on-street parking.

Extending the 4-3 road diet: Why does it stop at Mancini’s? In theory, it could continue all the way to Smith or Grand Avenues or farther. I reached out to Dave Thune, who was Council Member at the time and pushed for the road diet. He told me that engineers claimed there was too much traffic to make the street safer in the Grand Avenue area. Well, sometimes the safety trade-off might trump some traffic concerns.

Replacing parking or a travel lane with bike lanes: This is a pipe dream, officially “banned” by an amendment in the Bike Plan, but if done well, it would be a boost to safety.

[Crossing West 7th sucks.]

What about the Riverview project?

[There are a lot of things we can do for safety if we build a streetcar.[
One reason I’m a fan of the Riverview modern streetcar project is that I'm so dissatisfied with the dangerous status quo. The current design of West 7th is not OK, and has been needlessly killing and injuring people for generations.

Riverview gives the city a chance to change. If done well, with sidewalks, walkability, and safety in mind, the project could solve many of these problems. We’d be reconstructing the street, and that change would allow community members and engineers to re-think many of these dangerous design factors. If done well, the streetcar construction would prevent crashes like the one that put Jose in the hospital.

The tragic injury to Jose Hernandez isn’t an unpreventable accident. Just like many other horrible crashes, it’s a sad predictable result of a dangerous design. For generations, West 7th has been deadly, and we’ve done almost nothing about it.

It’s time for a change.


Check out this wonderful and sad Reuben Rosario column on Jose Hernandez. Also, there is a crowdsource donation page where you can help pay for his family expenses.

More update:

Here's a pic of the Lexington / West 7th / Montreal realignment that I mentioned above:


Sidewalk Poetry #55: Sparkles from the Wheel

Where the city’s ceaseless crowd moves on, the live-long day,   
Withdrawn, I join a group of children watching—I pause aside with them.   
By the curb, toward the edge of the flagging,   
A knife-grinder works at his wheel, sharpening a great knife;   
Bending over, he carefully holds it to the stone—by foot and knee,          
With measur’d tread, he turns rapidly—As he presses with light but firm hand,
Forth issue, then, in copious golden jets,   
Sparkles from the wheel.   
The scene, and all its belongings—how they seize and affect me!   
The sad, sharp-chinn’d old man, with worn clothes, and broad shoulder-band of leather;     
Myself, effusing and fluid—a phantom curiously floating—now here absorb’d and arrested;
The group, (an unminded point, set in a vast surrounding;)   
The attentive, quiet children—the loud, proud, restive base of the streets;
The low, hoarse purr of the whirling stone—the light-press’d blade,   
Diffusing, dropping, sideways-darting, in tiny showers of gold,
Sparkles from the wheel.   

[Walt Whitman, 1871.]


Twin City Doorways #34

[West 7th Street, Saint Paul.]


 [Hamline-Midway, Saint Paul.]

[Downtown, Saint Paul.]

[Whittier, Minneapolis.]

[Hamline-Midway, Saint Paul.]

[Seward, Minneapolis.]

[Red Wing.]


Reading the Highland Villager #194

[Villagers at my local barber shop.]
[Basically the problem is that the best source of Saint Paul streets & sidewalks news is the Highland Villager, a very fine and historical newspaper. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. You basically have to live in or frequent Saint Paul to read it. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free. See also: Three Reasons Why I Re-Blog the Highland Villager.]

Headline: So close you can smell it: 15 haulers agree to provisions for organized trash collection in St. Paul
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: After a long long time at the negotiating table, the 15 companies who collect trash in Saint Paul have agreed to a deal with the city to work together to make the process more efficient. Details are not released yet. If they had not agreed, the city might have opted to just hire one or two companies city-wide. [That’s a big stick! It passed at the Council, with CMs Bostrom and Prince voting against, for presumably libertarian / free market reasons.] Article includes pros and cons of the agreement. [There aren’t many cons.] Quote from company: “All of us support free enterprise and the open market. And the majority of our customers don’t want this.” [This is likely not true, as the majority of Saint Paul voters seem to want it.]

Headline: Cities will leave light on for Super Bowl visitors; St. Paul, Mpls. OK licensing for short-term rental units
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Saint Paul and Minneapolis both have official permitting for airBnB-type stuff now. Some “hosts” are upset because of too many rules. Neighbors are concerned about parking, noise, and “a steady flow of strangers.” [Stranger things!] CM Stark is not worried about its effect on the housing stock, because “Saint Paul is not that tremendous a tourist destination at this point.” [But someday! After all the coastal cities sink into the sea, and Saint Paul becomes a semi-tropical destination.] Article includes details of the new ordinances. CM Bostrom voted against the proposal in St. Paul, while CM A. Johnson voted against in Minneapolis, though for opposite reasons.

Headline: Ford plan opponents petition for repeal; But they may need at least 4,800 signatures
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: People who dislike the the Ford Site plans are still trying to stop them, and are trying to get a referendum on the ballot for the 2018 election. [This “Stop Ford” movement is like the Zombie Pub Crawl: an idea that just won’t go away, and keeps people trudging around the city without hope of a welcoming destination or possible resolution.] Quote from a leader of the group: “This has become a citywide issue in which every neighborhood of St. Paul stands to lose because of the actions of the City council and Mayor … We intend to take this issue to voters and force City Hall to finally listen to the voices of opposition to this project.” [Hm. I am trying to think whether or not any “citywide” event occurred recently where “voters” were able to weigh in on this particular issue. Oh yeah, I just remembered about the mayoral election from last week (!) where Melvin Carter, by far the most supportive candidate of the Ford site plan, got more votes than everyone else combined, including the most votes in actual Highland where these folks live. This is the lostest of causes. I’d love to see some of the people concerned here find a different issue around which to organize, say like reducing car dependence and thus traffic, or promoting street safety and thus reducing traffic, or other things that might actually have some positive effect on the world someday.] They need 8% of the voters who voted in the last citywide election. [The irony here is that, if they had submitted the petition BEFORE the election where anti-Ford people got trounced, they’d only need 2,500 signatures. But because so many people turned out to vote for Melvin Carter, they now need almost twice as many signatures.] Article includes the sentence: “city officials would not comment on the petition drive.” One more quote from organizer: “If we’re not successful in securing the necessary signatures in time for the repeal effort, we intend to launch another petition drive to prevent the city and the St. Paul Port Authority from using public funds to build this project.” [Well, guess what? I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more petitions!]

Headline: New apartments planned for Marshall Ave.
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A developer wants to build a five-story apartment building on Marshall Avenue. Two houses would be torn down. Neighbors are concerned about the kinds of stone used, parking, noise, and sunlight. No zoning variances are required. Quote from a neighbor: “it’s such a drastic change.”  Another quote: “some neighbors thought the design was boring.” The developer suggests that the existing homes that are there now are “not in good condition”

Headline: Mac-Grove seeks to extend student housing district
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A neighborhood group wants to extend the “student housing district” from its current boundaries. More houses have become student housing east of Snelling Avenue, according to one observer. There might be an effect where the original housing ordinance “pushes” students to live outside its boundaries. [That’s exactly what is happening, probably. Fact: students have to live somewhere.] CMs Stark and Tolbert suggested a city-wide expansion instead of a piecemeal. One neighbor called it an “elitist concept,” but another said “its one of the best things the city has done.” [I think before we expand or adjust this morally problematic ordinance, the city should study how it’s working, especially around enforcement, overhead, and location of student housing.]

Headline: City bans flavored tobacco from all but adult-only shops
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: You have to buy Newports at liquor stores now. CM Bostrom voted against the change.

Headline: Council reconsiders notification requirements for backyard chickens
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: New proposal: instead of asking your neighbors’ permission to keep chickens, you simply have to let them know you will do it. [The first time I had a neighbor with a chicken it was the Hmong family renting the house next door in the North End. It was running around. That chicken was "unpermitted", but also did not live there very long. I’m guessing it became dinner shortly thereafter.] Chicken poop might be composed in the future too. The city does not get many chicken complaints. Some people try to get chickens in their yards but neighbors don’t let them. [No chicken puns were harmed in the making of this article recap.]

Headline: Efforts continue to transform old fire station into wine bar
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: And old abandoned fire station that was going to be torn down, wasn’t. Now it is going to be a wine bar surrounded by a hotel. It will not have a kitchen though. It needs a parking variance.

Headline: Commission approves permit for new B&B on Ashland Ave.
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Planning Commission voted that a large home could become a B&B. Neighbors are concerned about parking and “guest behavior.”

Headline: Two longtime Highland Park restaurants prepare to expand
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Tiffany’s and Carbone’s are expanding. [Tiff's is a Packer bar.]

Headline: City approves Marshall Ave. moratorium to study homes
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Nobody can build buildings on Marshall for a year while the city looks at whether the houses are historic or not, and whether zoning changes are needed. CM Stark is hopeful it won’t take too long.

Headline: St. Paul rolling in green with multiple grants for area parks
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city got money from the state to stabilize Lilydale bluffs, the Met Council for trails, and is fundraising for the river balcony. Some other stuff too.

Headline: Highway 110 will be renamed Highway 62 next summer
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The lower number matches the highway in the west metro.

Headline: Police open new training center on Lafayette Road
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A new place for cops to shoot guns and do other training is open now on Railroad Island.

Headline: Handful of local projects remain in running for CIB funding in St. Paul
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There’s still some city money for capital projects. It’ll probably all go to a new park or relocating a fire station or new streets. But maybe also an old theater remodeling project, but maybe not. [See my story on CIB from a while back. The process really pits apples and oranges against each other.]

Headline: Sun helps power four buildings along Green Line on University; IPS Solar completes two-year project to help lower strain on local power grid
Author: Frank Jossi

Short short version: A couple buildings have solar panels on their roof now, about 600 kW total. Article includes lots of details about financing.

Headline: Future of UST lot at Grand and Cleveland still in doubt
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A surface parking lot by the University of St. Thomas may or may not be removed in favor of mixed-use housing. There’s no money for a new building. People who use the lot would like to keep using the lot. Some people want to keep the lot for parking while others do not. Quote from neighborhood guy: “would like to see development sooner than later but understands the need for parking.” [Sounds like a confused young man to me!] Quote from other neighbor: “the issue most of us are having in the neighborhood is student housing.” [As in, there’s too much of it? Not enough of it? The wrong kind of it? Are any students engaged? Do their voices matter?]

Headline: Grants fund I-94 redesign discussions
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Groups are getting funding to do engagement around redesigning I-94. One idea is to put a cap over the freeway for a mile stretch.

Headline: HRA grants loan for Clutch Brewing in old Schmidt keg house
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A new brewery is going to open up in the old brewery. The city is giving them a $75K loan to help remodel the space. It’s part of a larger food market concept.

Headline: St. Paul contemplates raising tax on charitable gambling proceeds
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city might increase its tax on pull tabs to hire a part-time inspector. Quote from pull tab guy: “We already pay high taxes.” The Vikings Stadium is partly to blame. [See also my pull tab apocalypse coverage here at this blog.] There was a “mock obituary” for pull tabs [that I somehow missed].


Even Four Years Later, Minneapolis City Council Still Getting Younger

[CM Gordon is now the oldest elected person at City Hall.]
Four years ago, after the Minneapolis City Election dust had settled, I did a quick analysis of the results and pointed out how there had been a big generational shift at City Hall. With a big influx of under-40 Council Members taking over for older folks, the "average age" of the fourteen elected officials went down that year from 54 to 42, a drop of twelve years. That's about as big a "generational shift" as you can get, especially if you are keeping half the incumbents around.

Here's what I wrote at the time:
Age isn't everything, of course, any many of the incumbents are "young at heart." But sometimes age is important. As everyone who has ever had parents knows, there are big generational differences about the importance of computers, cars, "quality of life", etc. It'll be interesting to see how and if Minneapolis starts to "act younger" with its decision-making as the new council takes the reins.

Well, despite everyone being four years older than they were four years ago, this year's results only continued that trend. Two new council members are under 30, the new mayor is under 40, and here's the updated chart:

(Note: I do not have Jeremy Schoeder's age in here yet. I have reached out to him and will add it when I can.)

For the record, the median age in Minneapolis is 33.7.

That's only part of the picture. The other, much bigger deal, is that the City Council has become more diverse. On one hand, the city's gender parity is gone, and that's disappointing.

On the other hand, there is a big increase in people of color and non-cisgender representation. That is huge.

Here's David Brauer's summary:


Especially when compared to eight years ago, there's been a visible change in the political and power dynamics in Minneapolis City Hall. In an era when cities are under attack on all sides from other levels of government, engaging younger people and historically disenfranchised groups in local politics is a great sign.


Signs of the Times #132


[Sculpture. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.]


you can't use it without
the keys!


[Pole. Northeast, Minneapolis.]


Keep the dogs off
Chain your bike to the bike rack
Put your ciggie butts in the ashcans
Keep your shoes on the sidewalk

 [Tree roots. Location forgotten.]

Obama isn't
the only one
who wants
CHANGE God Bless

[Guy. Downtown, Saint Paul.]

 7:30 Mars
5 mph

[Porch. Location forgotten.]

Share your feelings

[Window. Downtown, Saint Paul.]


[Plants. Lake Harriet, Minneapolis.]


Open By Appoint

[Door. Seward, Minneapolis.]


Loss of a Scene as the Triple Rock Social Club Closes Down

There’s a reciprocal relationship between people and a place that, every once in a while, come together to create a great cultural scene. Every once in a while, the people and the place fit each other so well, it's seamless.

Both sides of the relationship are vital. You need the people: the fashion, the vibe, the crowd, the affect, the regulars, the giant bouncer that remains on his stool for a decade.

But you also need the spaces where the people can feel at home and flourish. Without the lived-in walls, the room, the booths, the bar, and the sidewalk on the corner where people smoke and stare at the dull freeway, what do you have? What is a player without a stage?

Sometimes the place and the people come together in harmony, each seems like it was made for the other, and the people and the place become almost interchangeable. That’s what the Triple Rock Social Club was like, and the loss of the Cedar Avenue bar and venue on the fringe of West Bank seems right now like it’ll displace an entire scene.

I made it over there for one last show a little while ago, to see a young rock band from L.A. called Girl Pool. The whole place was full of Radio K twenty-somethings, which is perfect, because that’s how old I was when I formed some of my favorite memories of the Triple Rock.

For example, the Triple Rock bar used to have a great juke box by the back door, the old-school kind with buttons and labels full of punk songs. I didn’t know anything about punk, but I remember really liking the scene inside the bar. So much so that I once took fifty of my precious cents over to the juke box and searched around for a song. Not knowing anything, choosing purely by the names, when I saw “The Descendents — I Like Food” I thought, that’s the one!

I hit the buttons and as the song started to play, sat down on the bar with a smile on my face and turned to my friends to listen.

The song turned out to be 15 seconds long, and was over before I could say anything. I got punked!

Speaking of food, the Triple Rock was unique in the Twin Cities for having the weirdest mix of crusty-punk-vibe yet-often-meat-laden huge-portion’d staple food. The kitchen at the place was a tiny hole in the wall by the bathroom, and I have no idea how they got so much food out of there.

The Triple Rock was famous for their po’boys, which were these mammoth vehicles for potatoes and were nothing like a New Orleans po’boy. A half order was enough for two people, and eating a full "sandwich" would literally put you on your back for 24 hours. It was the kind of food that you’d want after a week of camping. Their poutine was the same way, and their $7 happy hour burger special was an amazing deal.

The place was vegetarian friendly, and yet I remember when they had a brief foray into an “all-you-can-eat bacon night,” where if you sat down the would keep bringing you baskets of the world’s worst bacon until you cried “uncle” and screamed for it all to end. They had huge starchy breakfasts on weekends, which along with a bloody mary, would cure any possible hangover.

There was nothing like it.

[Girl Pool.]
Once you walked out of the old bar and into the back, the music space seemed like a paradise for punk, metal, and rock music. It’s as if someone gave a punk nerd permission to design their ideal world, and then the fanciful fever dream came true.

The entire room was black, and large noise-deadening cloth things hung on the wall that served to make the room great for music while also allowing unruly musicians to bounce off them without fear of injury. The bowl in front of the stage was depressed, and ringed with little ledges, and in the back the aloof could loiter by the bar and merch table. The place was perfectly designed, and there’s not another stage in town with better sight lines or acoustics.

[Not only does the Triple Rock have a vending machine for guitar strings, cords, and drumsticks, but it only takes $1 bills.]

[Cedar Avenue, 1890s and today.]
Finally, the geography of the venue was a perfect fit for the music. The Triple Rock was literally next to the freeway onramp. Before the freeway, Cedar Avenue had a contiguous row of bars and shops running from seven corners all the way to Franklin (where the railyard used to be).

But the freeways obliterated this old street, and left the remnants of  the old bars and buildings in tatters. In fact, little amputated bits of Cedar like the Cabooze and the Joint are still floating around, offering refuge to bikers and other small scenes, and the Triple Rock was one of these, like a lighthouse of punk on the edge of an ocean of cars.

I’m thankful for the owners, who created such a harmonious place in which to tell the world to fuck off. Running the joint for twenty years is quite a gift to the city, and according to the articles, they just ran out of energy and (presumably) got a retirement offer they couldn’t refuse.

The building is slated to become a restaurant and banquet hall / event center. I am sure it won’t be anything like what it was, and I hate to see a perfect scene disappear. Check it out one last time before it closes for good.

[The bar scene.]
[Bathroom graffiti.]
[Soup of the day is whiskey.]
[A pre-war photo, BOTC awards, Lando Calrissian, a Colt .45 ad, and the Triple Rock's first dollar.]