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‘Extremely affordable’ housing project planned at 45th and Hiawatha

Posted on 28 August 2018 by calvin

Amber Apartments to provide a step between homelessness and citizens who give back to their communities

An “extremely affordable” housing project in Longfellow will bridge the gap for people who are working but still don’t make enough to afford a standard rent payment.

Amber Apartments is being built by RS Eden, a niche player in the development world that provides affordable housing with support services, explained President and RS Eden CEO Dan Cain.

“The expectation is for people to move from a level of dysfunction to function,” said Cain.

The company manages or owns nine buildings in the Twin Cities, totaling 550 units, that help people get off the streets and into stable housing. The company began with just three staff members and now has 180 employees. In each building, there are also services aimed at dealing with problems that contributed to homelessness, including addiction, mental health issues, lack of education, and more.

Photo right: RS Eden Chief Financial Advisor Paul Puerzer (left) and President and CEO Dan Cain hold up an illustration of Amber Apartments, an 80-unit building that will provide extremely affordable housing along Hiawatha and 45th Ave. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

The goal of the Amber Apartments in Longfellow is to provide efficiency, single-occupancy units at about $600 a month.

“We’re not giving people a handout, but a hand up,” explained Cain. “They have to do the work, but we provide the opportunity.”

Low barrier housing
RS Eden employees envision filling Amber Apartments with tenants who are working but don’t make enough to afford market-rate housing—even what’s labeled as “affordable.” Maybe they’re working at a couple of part-time jobs. Or, they work next door at Walgreens or Cub as a cashier earning minimum wage.

“This will allow them to continue in the process of working and being responsible citizens, and not have to spend 50% or more of what little income they have on rent,” stated Cain.

Residents at RS Eden apartments often can’t pass background checks and don’t have high credit scores. So RS Eden offers “low barrier housing.”

According to RS Eden Vice President of Supportive Housing Lois Mueller, “Many of the people we meet have histories that have resulted in multiple barriers to securing housing, making it easy for landlords to screen them out. RS Eden’s commitment is to ‘screen people in.’ We look for reasons to believe that a prospective tenant will make it, and become a good neighbor.”

RS Eden focuses on creating intentional communities in their buildings. “We look for people who have buy-in to a culture of pro-social values and beliefs,” explained Cain. “They may not have always been that, but now they want to contribute to the community and take responsibility for their own lives. There are any number of barriers that people have had to overcome to make that full leap from where they’re coming to where they’re going.”

He added, “It’s breaking the cycle.”

Photo right: Amber Apartments is being named after RS Eden President and CEO Dan Cain’s daughter as a legacy project to honor the 46 years he’s been with the organization. The majority of the $18 million cost of the project will be covered by various grants and low-income housing tax credits, but RS Eden needs to raise $700,000. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Right now there are some people who aren’t being served by the housing projects RS Eden already offers as they aren’t technically homeless because they’re staying with a mom or brother or friend. Amber Apartments will provide a place for those people, said Mueller.

When RS Eden opens a new building, they often find that police calls go up in the area. It’s not because there is more crime in the RS Eden building, but because the residents of the RS Eden building are calling in about the crime they see in the streets around their homes, observed Cain.

One of the first steps RS Eden took in getting this project off the ground was to visit with the Longfellow Community Council and garner support.

“We look for a neighborhood that will support the transition for people to become involved in their communities,” stated Cain.

It wasn’t until the LCC Neighborhood Development and Transportation Committee approved the project that RS Eden purchased the property.

Five-story, 80 unit building
Amber Apartments will be located on the property that now houses the Bell Laboratory building, just north of Walgreens along Hiawatha Ave. and kitty-corner from the upcoming Snelling Yards housing development. It does not include the historic Flair Fountain structure.

The five-story, 53,950 square-foot building will sit on one acre. It will include 80 efficiency units that range from 418 to 518 square feet. A parking lot will have 40 spaces, or about a half space per unit, and there will be inside storage for bicycles. One-third of the property will be green space along what planners hope will soon be the Min Hi Line linear park.

The entrance to the building will be off 45th rather than Hiawatha.

The building will sit directly across from the 46th St. light rail station, and planners expect that most residents will not have a car. It was the proximity to a light rail station and A Line Bus Rapid Transit that drew RS Eden to this site.

“For low-wage workers, the expense of owning and operating a dependable car presents one more barrier to success, but not having a car means not having access to jobs, health care, and other necessary amenities,” remarked Mueller.

Photo left: RS Eden President and CEO Dan Cain hopes the city will consider constructing a pedestrian bridge near 45th and Hiawatha to serve residents, including high-density housing projects at Amber Apartments and the Snelling Yards site. Right now, people regularly cross Hiawatha near 45th instead of walking down to the crosswalk at 46th. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Donations needed
Amber Apartments is being named after Cain’s daughter as a legacy project to honor the 46 years he’s been with the organization.

The majority of the $18 million cost of the project will be covered by various grants and low-income housing tax credits, but RS Eden needs to raise $700,000. Donations can be made via the website at

Planners expect Amber Apartments to be fully funded by the end of 2019, and to start construction shortly after that. It will take 10-11 months to complete.

An affordable housing crisis
Minneapolis is in high need of affordable housing, according to Mueller, who pointed out that the city is in need of tens of thousands of affordable housing units according to a study by the Dougherty Financial Group. The definition of affordable housing is housing costs that are 30% of a person’s income. To afford rent payments of $700-$900 a person must make between $2,100-2,800.

Rental vacancies in the Twin Cities have dropped to 2.4 percent while the unemployment rate has dropped to 2.9 percent resulting in low rental vacancies and strong rent growth, according to the Dougherty study. Meanwhile, the compensation for private market workers in 2017 increased just 1.4 percent, making it difficult for low-income wage earners to find housing.

“There has been a lot of attention recently on the homeless encampment along Hiawatha Ave., but we’ve been facing a crisis in homelessness far before those tents went up—it just hasn’t been quite as visible,” remarked Minneapolis City Council member Andrew Johnson. “The Amber Apartments proposal helps address this crisis by creating some units for homeless individuals and families, along with providing necessary support services, such as helping them get and keep jobs. It also creates additional units that help address the affordable housing crisis hitting many major cities, including ours, with runaway rents that push working families out and destabilize their lives.

“We need more development proposals like this and I am thankful to have RS Eden as a partner in these efforts.”


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Residents call for compromise at Hiawatha Golf Course

Posted on 28 August 2018 by calvin

On July 25, the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board of Commissioners passed a resolution directing CAC members to reduce pumping at the golf course while also maintaining a minimum 9-hole course. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

After four years of disagreement, some are optimistic and others apprehensive about new Park Board direction

Neighborhood residents are being asked to compromise and come together over the Hiawatha Golf Course after four years of disagreement.

Standish resident and Hiawatha Golf Course Community Advisory Committee (CAC) member Sean Connaughty pointed out that compromise was achieved by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) commissioners during a 6-2 vote on July 25.

“Although it gives nobody everything they want, it meets the basic needs of all constituents including Lake Hiawatha. Homes will be protected, climate resiliency restored, pollution mitigated and the golf course preserved as a 9-hole course,” observed Connaughty.

“Picture an ecologically run 9-hole course, which maintains the key community asset of Hiawatha Golf Course in a reduced pumping scenario, honors the African American history and provides habitat and public access to spaces unusable for golf.

“I am just one person in this community and an appointee on the CAC, but I accept this compromise,” Connaughty said. “Let’s get excited about the near future. May the CAC move forward now with the business of the master-planning process.”

Photo right: Some wetland areas already exist on the golf course land, including this pond in the northwest corner. Under the reduced pumping scenario, lowland areas of the course will be flooded and unsuitable for golf. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Last year commissioners directed the CAC to begin a master planning process for the golf course property. Some CAC members felt that their official charge was not specific enough, and asked that the board, which had changed following the 2017 election, look at the issue again.

The Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board of Commissioners did that on July 25 and passed a resolution directing CAC members to reduce pumping at the golf course while also maintaining a minimum 9-hole course. Voting in favor were Commissioners Stephanie Musich, Meg Forney, Letrisha Vetaw, Jono Cowgill, Chris Meyer, Brad Bourn; voting against were Londel French and Kale Severson; AK Hassan was absent.

The golf course is currently pumping 242 million gallons of water each year in a circular fashion to keep water from flooding the course, which sits two feet below the lake, although it only has a permit through the Minnesota DNR for 36.5 million for irrigation. Commissioners directed CAC members to reduce pumping by 70% to 94 million gallons.

The revised compromise resolution was drafted by new At-Large Commissioner Vetaw, who resides in Southeast Minneapolis.

Some optimistic
According to District 5 Commissioner Musich, “I am optimistic that the public planning process utilized by the MPRB will be able to proceed in a productive way now that the new board has reaffirmed the decision made by the previous board.

“The adopted resolution respects the past while considering the future of this park land and the need to design an ecologically diverse landscape that reduces pumping while protecting nearby homes from groundwater intrusion, and is resilient to the impacts of climate change.”

Musich pointed out that the property will continue to be operated as it is today until a master plan is adopted by the board and ready to be implemented. The park’s planning division estimates the process, including procuring funds, will take at least five years.

Ryan Seibold of Friends of Lake Hiawatha is pleased with the park board decision.

“I think it is wonderful that plans will prioritize cleaning up the water, adding more habitat for wildlife, and restoring ecosystems in our city and neighborhood,” said Seibold. “The decision to redesign this public space to be flood-resilient and ecologically-driven is the most sustainable decision the board could make. Protecting our water resources and dealing with climate change is important now and in the future. As a community member, I hope that the CAC as a whole will collaborate effectively with the park board on this positive direction forward.”

Some apprehensive
However, some community members remain apprehensive.

“As someone who lives in a former wetland area that has been developed for residential purposes and has personally experienced the cost of fluctuating groundwater levels, I am apprehensive to say that adding more water to an area, allowing it to go back to its natural state, is a good idea—especially, when you are now taking away a floodplain (Hiawatha Golf Course) that has historically protected the area,” stated CAC member Joan Soholt, who resides near Lake Nokomis.

“The concern that was expressed at the meeting is that we do not understand the hydrology in the neighborhood adequately to understand with high enough certainty to assure that pumping at the golf course will impact that water levels in the neighborhood,” pointed out Dana Lonn, an engineer who lives between Nokomis and Mother lakes and supports keeping the 18-hole golf course.

“There is a significant concern that reduced pumping will result in a further raising of the water table which put some homes at risk. Some of the park commissioners see the issue as a very narrow decision as whether we are pumping only to save the golf course. The decision may be that narrow. However, a number of the commissioners and many in the neighborhood see the decision to be much more complex than that,” said Lonn. “We are advocating for a more comprehensive study to understand the implications of reduced pumping at the golf course.”

Residents associated with the Nokomis/Hiawatha Water Sustainability group are asking for an unbiased study from United States Geological Society (USGS) to more fully understand the interrelated issues of water management in the area.

This issue is being evaluated by the Lake Nokomis Groundwater and Surface Water technical team, which is composed of representatives from the city, the park board, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District.

Lonn worked for Toro Company in Bloomington for 48 years and was connected to the golf industry. “The MPRB has not done their homework on the impact of a golf property,” Lonn maintained. “Properly managed golf is an environmental asset to the community. The view by many is that it is a toxic waste dump. That is just not true.”



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Program focuses on seniors at risk of isolation and loneliness

Posted on 27 August 2018 by calvin

It is nearly 5pm on a Monday, and Longfellow resident Jim Buskirk is anticipating a visitor. He is looking forward to conversation and a challenging game of tic, a card game similar to gin rummy.

Emily Wildberger has finished her work day as a project manager for Target Corporation. She is nearing the due date of her pregnancy and is tired and ready for a nap.

But all those feelings disappear as she looks forward to meeting her friend Jim, hoping that this evening she might actually win a card game with him.

Buskirk and Wildberger are part of a program initiated by Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly (LBFE), 1845 E. Lake St. The mission of the organization is to end social isolation and loneliness among older adults in the Twin Cities.

Photo right: Longfellow resident Jim Buskirk (left) is visited by Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly volunteer Emily Wildberger every other week. (Photo by Jan Willms)

Although the program of visiting companions has always been a part of LBFE, a new project, Neighbor Connect, is starting now in the Longfellow neighborhood.

“Through Neighbor Connect, Longfellow community members will forge a path toward creating isolation-free blocks to ensure everyone, even those who live alone, are connected and feel a sense of belonging,” said LuAnne Speeter, communications director for LBFE.

Both Wildberger and Buskirk can attest to the benefits of connecting with each other. They began their visits last January.

“I found out about the program through the NextDoor app,” Wildberger said. She had started working as a companion in college, so it was something she knew she wanted to do and something she knew was needed in the neighborhood. A native of South Carolina, she moved to the area with her husband, who is Minnesotan that grew up in the Longfellow neighborhood.

“She just started coming every other Monday,” Buskirk said. The pair think Buskirk’s daughter Shelly, who lives in Atlanta, may have been the one who contacted LBFE to find a volunteer to visit her father.

“I have been in this house since 1964,” Buskirk noted. “I was in the army during the Korean War, and I was married for 35 years. That was wonderful.”

He attended Augsburg College, where he met his wife. They raised three children. Buskirk worked as a mailman, later being promoted into management. “I did that for 35 years, also,” he said.

Buskirk has a great love of sports, which he shares with Wildberger. She, in turn, has taught him about her dog and love of fantasy fiction. “Being a mailman, Jim did not like dogs very much,” she said.

Wildberger said she went through some training and received a little bit of information about Buskirk. “We went out for dinner a couple of times, at Carbone’s and Applebee’s,” she said, “so you could see if you liked me. And I guess you did.”

These days, with Wildberger’s advancing pregnancy, they usually meet at Jim’s house and play cards and visit.

“We don’t really have that much in common,” Wildberg said. “But that’s good because we can learn new things from each other. I am learning about baseball, basketball, and football. And Jim is an expert on TV shows.”

For his part, Jim has learned about her husband and the little pink house they share with her dog. And he has met her brother, Drew, who came over to play cards with them one day.

Forming these connections is what LBFE is all about. According to Speeter, the organization started in Paris in 1946 and was first in the United States in 1959. It opened in the Twin Cities in 1972.

As well as helping form friendships between elders and other community members, LBFE has a program called Friendship and Flowers, in which homebound residents receive visits and homemade cookies on a monthly basis.

“We have focused Neighbor Connect in the Longfellow area to try and get as many elders connected as possible,” Speeter said. “There are about 1400 elders over the age of 65 in the Longfellow community who live alone and are more at risk of isolation and loneliness.”

She said the program primarily works with elders who do not have a strong family connection nearby or a strong social network, but anyone who feels isolated can benefit.

“We get referrals from lots of different sources,” Speeter explained. “Sometimes from family who lives out of town, or from social services. Some people just call up and say they would like to have a friend.”

Speeter said Longfellow was chosen as a pilot project for Neighbor Connect because of the number of elders living in the community and also because some tools were already in place, such as organizations like the Longfellow Community Council and Longfellow/Seward Healthy Seniors. “We are partnering with them to focus on this neighborhood, and then replicate Neighbor Connect in other communities,” Speeter said.

“So many people are on social media these days, and you just don’t see them out in their yards and interacting with each other. We hope this program will bring greater excitement and greater awareness among community members.”

For Buskirk and Wildberger, the evidence of the success of the program is already in place.

“I play cards on Thursdays with a male friend, and every other Monday with Emily,” Buskirk said. “I really look forward to those days. The best thing out of the relationship is getting to know her and having a friendship.”

“The best thing is friendship,” Wildberger agreed. “Jim is a part of my community. People at work ask if I have won at cards. It’s fun, and we talk.”

“I don’t think the age difference is a barrier. I think it is nice for us to be this far apart in age. He has raised three children and has grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It is nice to have someone who has experience with family life.”

For anyone in the Longfellow community interested in becoming a part of Neighbor Connect, contact Ann Fosco at or 612-746-0725.

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Dowling Community Garden celebrates 75th anniversary

Posted on 27 August 2018 by calvin

Photo above: Dowling Community Garden was started in 1943, as part of the Victory Garden movement. Home gardening was a way to support the troops in World War II. It freed up canned food to be shipped overseas. The garden today has 190 plots and about 250 gardeners. It’s one of only two remaining Victory Gardens in the country.


Dowling Community Garden celebrated its 75th anniversary on Aug. 18. The three-acre garden space is located on the grounds of Dowling Environmental School, at 46th Ave. and 39th St. S. Dowling gardeners live in Minneapolis and surrounding communities, are culturally diverse, of all ages and abilities, and come together to share their love of gardening.

Photo right: Jerry Foley (right) was the opening speaker. “Our garden is the granddaddy of the growing movement of community gardens,” he said. “We contribute about 4,000 lbs. of fresh, organic produce each year to food shelves and meal programs.” Pictured at left is State Senator Patricia Torres Ray, a neighborhood resident and longtime garden supporter.





Photo left: Dr. Lloyd Winfield (center) is principal of Dowling Elementary School. He said, “This garden is about community with a capital ‘C.’ We’ve been grateful for longstanding partnership between the garden and our school.”


Photo right: Activities included heirloom tomato tasting and a display of vegetables grown on-site. Dowling Community Garden is committed to organic growing. The low annual membership fee includes access to water, compost, and a variety of garden tools.


Photo left: The day of celebration included kids’ activities, a proclamation delivered by Rep. Jim Davnie from Governor Mark Dayton, and a speech by Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey.





Photo right: A dozen bakers contributed cupcakes for the birthday celebration.




Photo below: Gardener Terry Barnes in the pollinator plot she created as part of her volunteer service hours at the garden. Every gardener contributes four hours of service each summer.



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Local author earns national Pinckley Prize for debut novel

Posted on 27 August 2018 by calvin

Standish resident Marcie R. Rendon won the 2018 Pinckley Prize for Crime Fiction for her debut novel “Murder on the Red River” (Cinco Puntos Press). Her book was also a finalist in the Western Writers of America 2018 Spur Awards in the Best Western Contemporary Novel category.

Photo right: Marcie R. Rendon (Photo by Rebecca McDonald)

On being recognized in two distinct genres, Rendon said simply: “Wow. Wow! I’m happy, you know?” An enrolled member of the White Earth Nation who has lived in the Twin Cities for more than 30 years, Rendon also notes what the awards aren’t: Native American.

“Often our work gets categorized into a Native American category, and neither of these awards is a Native American award.” Not that she wouldn’t also welcome that. But she’s glad her novel “moves outside of a certain box.”

The story follows Renee (“Cash”) Blackbear, a Native American woman entering adulthood after a traumatic childhood, and her longtime friend Sheriff Wheaton, as they work together to solve a murder that takes place along the Red River. More a refined character portrait than a bracing whodunnit, the story moves quietly and deliberately across the Red River Valley—in Minnesota and North Dakota, on and off the Red Lake Indian Reservation.

Rendon paints a landscape both raw and familiar and sketches a protagonist to match. You can see the fields of wheat stubble and dirt caked on the soles of boots, smell the inside of the bar and hear the crack of pool balls on the break. Cash, in turn, is tough as nails, resourceful, edgy and funny.

She’s also a different character altogether than the one Rendon started writing about.

Rendon has been writing her whole life, deciding in 1990-91 to make her living as a writer doing “anything that pays.” This has included journalism, children’s books (she wrote “Powwow Summer: A Family Celebrates the Circle of Life”), plays, and poetry.

A fan of Stephen King, Rendon enjoys reading crime fiction. She started writing a couple of crime novels herself but shelved them and instead set about writing the story of a woman who writes poetry, goes to Nashville and writes country music.

But instead, in came Cash, this no-nonsense character who demanded her story be told.

“Cash appeared, and it was like ‘No, no no no, that’s not the story we’re doing,’” said Rendon. It was a struggle at first, but once she started writing it just flowed. “This was the story that was there to be told.”

Cash is a product of the foster care system, a part of her life the author presents as not something extraordinary, just blunt fact. In writing her story, Rendon didn’t set out to educate people (“I intended to write a murder mystery that anyone could enjoy”), but here it was: Cash’s experience, so commonplace for Native Americans but foreign to most Minnesotans.

“So many people don’t know this history of the taking of native children,” she said, referring to the government practice early last century of sending Native children away to boarding schools and then during the 1950s and ‘60s of adopting kids out to white families.

As described in her Author’s Note in the novel’s end pages, one in four Native children were taken from their families and placed in non-Indian homes or institutions (the percentages were higher on the White Earth and Red Lake reservations) before the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act mandated that welfare agencies work to place Indian children with their biological family first, or an extended family of the tribe.

“When you meet native people, everybody has a story about social workers and foster care,” said Rendon, who lived in the Red River Valley and White Earth area until she was 24 or 25 years old. “I was just writing a part of life… much in the same way that someone who grew up in the Bayou in Louisiana would write about it.”

Representation is important to Rendon. An avid reader when she was growing up, she could never find any books about Native American people like her. It was all Plains Indians and Edward S. Curtis photographs and cowboys and Indians.

“I wanted pictures and stories about who we are now,” said Rendon. “As an artist, writer, who does plays, poetry, now novels, I wanted other Native people to see themselves.”

Her children’s book “Powwow Summer” shows a contemporary family going to a contemporary powwow: people in cars, a mom in shorts putting her child in dance regalia, and going to the powwow.

“I want to be able to do that for us. I think it’s important not just for Native people but for everybody in this diverse world,” she said. “It’s hard to know the value of your existence when you have no picture of yourself. I want to be able to give people that, [the sense that] they do matter, they do exist, that their pictures and lives are just as important and valuable as anyone else’s.”

Rendon also gives voice to others through the Women’s Writing Project, a COMPAS program in which she and fellow writer/poet Diego Vázquez Jr. teach women in county jails to write. Participants write poetry and read it aloud to each other. Their work is published in a book, and the writers do spoken word reading to other women in jail. It builds confidence and gives them an opportunity to get up and say, “What I have to say is important.”

Rendon sees injustice within the criminal justice system, where for some of the women the only reason they’re in jail is that they haven’t been able to make bail. They’re in for minor offenses, but they don’t have bail money, so their children are either with family or in foster care. The writing becomes a positive outlet.

“Diego and myself, we’re using this writing so that women have some idea that there’s some other thing that they do, that art as itself—whether as writing or visual art or dance or creating videos, hair styling, sewing—all those things are healing,” said Rendon. “The more you can put your energy into creating, your brain doesn’t drift over into the noncreative things you can be doing with your time.”

You can hear more from Rendon as she joins other panelists at PEN America’s “BreakOut: Voices From the Inside” at the Weisman Art Museum on Sun., Sept. 9, 12-4pm. The program is free and open to the public.

Rendon is also bringing Cash and Wheaton back in a second crime book by the same publisher in April 2019.

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Out of deadly tragedy comes a new 100-year vision

Posted on 24 July 2018 by calvin

Architectural concept of the new building at Minnehaha Academy Upper School. (Submitted by Minnehaha Academy)

Minnehaha Academy has finalized its design for re-building the portion of their school that was lost in last year’s devastating explosion. The upper school campus, located at 3200 W. River Pkwy., has been the subject of neighborhood concern since early renditions of the plan were made public in the spring.

On May 17 the Zoning and Planning Committee of the Minneapolis City Council responded to an appeal filed by neighbors over the proposed re-build plan. The appeal was ultimately denied, but updated renderings show that Minnehaha Academy has responded to several neighborhood requests.

President Dr. Donna Harris said, “We believe this design reflects a modern interpretation of our original brick buildings, connecting the past with the future while committing to our vision of next-century learning. Our team and partners have selected sustainable and enduring materials including brick shingles on the top two floors, and a charcoal brick base on the main level. Both materials have natural variation and texture, which will complement the two existing buildings. There will be detailing throughout that respect the character of the campus, as well as the surrounding neighborhood.”

Photo right: Dr. Donna Harris, Minnehaha Academy president, in front of the modular unit that is temporary housing for administrative staff. She said, “Our school is 105 years old. As we’ve come together in this transition to reimagine our school for the next 100 years, we’ve realized that tragedy provides opportunity.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

From the most recent project update, the building height will be three stories (46’). The steeple will measure 59 1/2’ at the tip. The total number of parking stalls will be 209, with additional space for 111 bikes. School bus traffic will be limited to three buses in the morning and afternoon.

The design of the new buildings incorporates bird-safe glass to prevent collisions in the Mississippi River’s migratory corridor. Estimates are that 15 mature trees will be lost; 143 trees and over 700 shrubs will be planted. A three foot high, landscaped berm will conceal the view of the parking lot from the east.

“We hope neighbors can appreciate that our new building relates well to its location on the river,” Harris said. “The plan that we first shared was conceptual, and neighborhood reaction was not positive. We heard clearly that people were concerned about Minnehaha Academy being on the river gorge, which is a migratory bird corridor; that they wanted pollinator-friendly plantings and bird-safe glass. We made several adjustments to our design after hearing neighborhood concerns. It’s important to us that our new school be viewed as a community asset.”

To say that this was an unconventional rebuild project is a gross understatement. “Usually a school would have a couple of years to conduct a visioning process with board members, staff, and families,” Harris explained. “Then a school would run a capital fund drive, and have a reasonable time frame for relocating in the interim, and finally re-building. In our case, the explosion happened Aug. 2, 2017, and within 24 hours, I had communicated with our community saying we’d be in a temporary location on the day after Labor Day.”

Photo left: Architectural concept of the view from W. River Pkwy. (Submitted by Minnehaha Academy)

“What happened next,” Harris said, “was truly extraordinary. We quickly surveyed our parents and learned there was a strong desire to keep all of the student grades 9-12 in one location. Parents were willing to commute 8-10 miles beyond our current location. We settled on the old Brown Technical College site in Mendota Heights, which offered us 55,000 square feet of floor space. Mortenson Construction (who is also doing our rebuild) brought in a team of 42 men and women to do what seemed impossible in just 15 days. They worked 12-hour shifts and were able to repurpose the space to make it work for us. Our parents, our students, and our teachers trusted us. We didn’t lose one single family in the process.”

Harris concluded, “We didn’t handle the design process the way we would have if we’d had the luxury of adequate time. I’ve apologized for this at every public event I’ve attended. We’re committed to ongoing communication within the community—we value being a good neighbor. As we approach the one year anniversary of the explosion, it’s very important for us to reflect on our loss. We are also grateful though, for the sense of community that has been strengthened through this ordeal. We look forward to defining the legacy of Minnehaha Academy for years to come.”

Construction began in June, and the project will be completed for the 2019-2020 school year. Questions about the Minnehaha Academy re-build can be sent through





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Residents design ‘dream playground’ at Longfellow Park

Posted on 24 July 2018 by calvin

Project delayed by unexpectedly long lead times for equipment, but installation anticipated for mid-August

Installation of the new Longfellow playground has been delayed, but planners are confident it will be worth the wait.

Unexpectedly long lead times for procuring equipment have delayed the project at Longfellow, as well as at the Washburn Ave. Tot Lot this summer.

“The long lead times are the result of a number of factors that could include recent economic developments, as well as a huge influx of projects which is causing a backlog of orders for equipment with the playground vendors,” explained Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Design Project Manager Crystal Passi. “Overall, this is a pretty busy construction season.”

Photo right: Work at the site began in June when the old equipment was removed, the site graded, and a fence erected. The pool has remained open during the project. The current playground equipment at Longfellow Park was installed in the late 1980s and had reached the end of its lifespan, according to park board staff. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Installation of the new playground equipment is now anticipated to begin in mid-August.

Work at the site began in June when the old equipment was removed, the site graded, and a fence erected. The pool has remained open during the project.

Over 200 help design playground
When complete, the playground will include the feedback from over 200 people who attended multiple open houses and events. Kids and their grown-ups were invited to share thoughts and opinions.

“Thanks to all the community who came out to meetings and events, and provided feedback and helped to design the playground at Longfellow,” stated Passi.

She appreciated the viewpoint that children brought to the discussion.

“Kids brought some of the best and most creative ideas to the table,” remarked Passi.

“I think kids were most excited by monkey bars and climbing structure options. I think they will really enjoy the climbing and spinning ‘Global Motion’ feature because many kids can play on it at once, and it’s accessible for people of all abilities.”

Passi also believes this Global Motion spinner by Landscape Structures will set this playground apart as there aren’t many in Minneapolis.

Adults pushed for the use of natural colors at the playground, and stressed the importance of providing options for both younger and older children, stated Passi.

Meeting in the middle
MPRB received many comments from residents who wanted the sand surfacing to go away because it gets stuck in shoes and is perceived as messy, explained Passi. At the same time, people wanted a sand play area for younger children because it is such a tactile play element.

Photo left: The upgraded playground at Longfellow will feature a Global Motion spinner, monkey bars, climbing options, little house, engineered wood fiber surface, small sand play area (not shown on rendering) and more. (Illustration courtesy of Minneapolis Parks and Recreation)

“I think we met in the middle by removing the sand as the main surfacing and switching to engineered wood fiber with a poured-in-place resilient surfacing for transfer points and connections to several features,” said Passi. “However, we also included a small separate sand play area that will sit directly adjacent to the playground. (Not shown in the renderings).”

The new playground will be a bit larger than before as MPRB created more space by removing a concrete pathway that used to divide it into two sections.

“This made it possible to fit more equipment into the site even with new fall zone standards that have changed since the original equipment went in,” remarked Passi.

The current playground equipment at Longfellow Park was installed in the last 1980s and had reached the end of its lifespan, according to park board staff. The components and wood structure were worn and began to fail due to age. Some items have been removed over the past few years as they were broken or had safety issues. Because of the age, the parts could not be replaced. Additionally, the equipment is also out of compliance to current Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and ASTM guidelines.

Dream playground
At the community open houses, residents used wood puzzles with equipment pieces made to scale to design their “dream playground.” MPRB staff took pictures of all the creations, and used these ideas, along with hundreds of comments and dotmocracy boards, to design a playground that includes most, if not all, of the features that space and budget would accommodate. “I think people will be pleased with the design overall,” said Passi.

“I believe younger kids will really enjoy the little house for imaginative play,” she added. “I think older kids will find that the large climbing structure has tons of different activities, which is something kids were adamant about.”



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Traffic, parking top list of concerns near Minnehaha and Nawadaha

Posted on 24 July 2018 by calvin

To make the building at 4737 Minnehaha Ave. fit in with the neighborhood, the design includes a landscaped pedestrian frontage with individual sidewalk entries for five homes. Every unit will have access to individual private outdoor space whether that be a porch, balcony, or terrace. (Illustration courtesy of The Lander Group)

Residents offer less input on proposed development; more comments on concerns near Minnehaha Park

Residents are less concerned about what’s being proposed for Minnehaha Ave. and Nawadaha Blvd. as they are about overall traffic and parking issues in the area.
Among the suggestions made at a July 10 Longfellow Neighborhood Development & Transportation Committee meeting were to build a parking ramp for Minnehaha Park visitors and to enforce parking restrictions along the streets.

Michael Lander of The Lander Group suggested that another meeting be held that would look at these concerns specifically before he proceeds with any development at 4737 Minnehaha Ave.

“There clearly needs to be some follow-up regarding traffic,” summed up Lander.

He also observed that 80 percent of the comments at the meeting had to do with the frustration over the planning documents for the area that residents don’t seem to have embraced.

Photo right: Michael Lander of The Lander Group presents his plan for a 30,741-square-foot building at Minnehaha and Nawadaha, across the street from Minnehaha Park where Greg’s Auto is now. It would offer 37 housing units, split between one- and two-bedroom apartments with a few studios. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Building to replace Greg’s Auto
The Lander Group has proposed constructing a $9-10 million, four-story structure at Minnehaha Ave. and Nawadaha Blvd., directly across from Minnehaha Park.

The building would replace Greg’s Automotive Service as the owner retires. “We will be cleaning up the site,” observed Lander.

Previous projects in Longfellow by The Lander Group include West River Commons at E. Lake St. and the river, and Parkway West at 46th and 46th. The Lander Group has also recently completed a project at 38th St. and 28th Ave. which now houses its offices, and will soon be redeveloping the 38th St. light rail station site.

As they always do, the staff at The Lander Group began this project by looking through the various city and neighborhood plans for this area, explained Lander.
However, Lander was cautioned that these plans might not reflect the values of residents.

“Please don’t make any assumptions about what we want because there’s a broad diversity,” stated Neighborhood Development & Transportation Committee member Lisa Boyd.

One and two bedrooms
The proposed 30,741-square-foot building would offer 37 housing units, split between one- and two-bedroom apartments with a few studios. Configurations within the L-shaped structure would range in size from 550 to 1,062 square feet.

Every unit has access to individual private outdoor space whether that be porch, balcony, or terrace.

Rents are expected to be market rate at $1.80 to $2.60 per square foot with no income or rent restrictions.

To make the building fit in with the neighborhood, the design includes a landscaped pedestrian frontage with individual sidewalk entries for five homes.

Photo right: “Please don’t make any assumptions about what we want because there’s a broad diversity,” stated Neighborhood Development & Transportation Committee member Lisa Boyd, who cautioned The Lander Group that the plans on file for the neighborhood might not reflect what people want. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Lander pointed out that the entire area along Minnehaha is used currently to access the service shop, and the proposed design would make it safer for pedestrians who would not be competing with vehicular traffic.

The design includes 27 underground and ten at-grade parking spaces. Parking is accessed from an existing alley to the east. One bike spot per unit may be added to the wall in the parking garage.

Clem Paschal is concerned about how this will affect traffic in the alley and on his neighborhood streets, pointing out most families have two vehicles, not one. “Traffic has been really bad,” he said, since the park board fixed up the park.

Carleton Crawford owns the house adjacent to the proposed development site and noted that when he moved in two years ago, he expected there to be redevelopment.

However, he questions putting a 50-foot wall next to his backyard and how long the shadow will be from a four-story building. He suggested that the L shape to the north be removed instead of using every bit of the property for the building.

Construction likely in 2019
The target market is expected to be seniors and empty nester/boomers, both likely living in or near the neighborhood in single-family homes. The location of the building and nearby amenities such as light rail and bus access, as well as the parks and shopping being added along 46th, is likely to appeal to younger mid-career professionals seeking a more mature neighborhood setting, according to planning documents.

Apartments will feature open floor plans, abundant natural light, and modern kitchens and baths.

While many of The Lander Group developments include commercial space on the ground level, 4737 is all residential. Lander pointed to the large development with a grocery store, restaurant and more being constructed along 46th, which will be within a block of this space.

The project will incorporate stormwater best management practices (BMPs) on site. The BMPs will be designed to reduce peak flow runoff rates and provide water quality treatment before connecting to the city storm sewer, and will be coordinated with the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District. Other sustainable features include: solar energy panel allowance; LED lighting; low water use plumbing fixtures; and high-efficiency heating and cooling.

The current project timeline would start construction in February 2019 and end in May 2020.

‘Million dollar site’
“You’re trying to make Minnehaha Falls like Lake Calhoun,” stated lifetime Longfellow resident Mike Foster. “It’s going to be all big buildings. This is arguably the premier park in Minneapolis.”

Meanwhile, resident Matt Brillhart pushed for higher-end housing at the site because of its proximity to Minnehaha Park. “I’m a little underwhelmed by this design,” stated Brillhart. “This is a million dollar site.”



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Local sites buzzing as Minnesota Bee Atlas nears completion

Posted on 24 July 2018 by calvin

Every two weeks, Longfellow resident Kathy Swenson packs her data recording sheet, magnifying glass, and flashlight, and heads over to the Minnesota Bee Atlas test site at 36th St. and W. River Pkwy. Swenson is a volunteer monitor at one of two test sites in South Minneapolis; the other site is at the Nokomis Naturescape Garden on the northeast shore of Lake Nokomis.

Each site has what’s called a bee block on it: a chunk of wood with holes of different diameters that make channels for wild bees to lay their eggs in. The bee blocks were mounted on poles and put in place by Britt Forsberg, program coordinator for the University of Minnesota’s Extension Service, which is responsible for creating the bee atlas.

Careful monitoring of bee blocks across the state will provide new evidence as to which wild bees live where, and how they are doing.

Photo left: Minnesota Bee Atlas monitor and Longfellow resident, Kathy Swenson, checked the bee block at 36th St. and W. River Pkwy. She said a lot of people who think they’ve been stung by bees have actually been stung by wasps. Wasps are smooth-skinned, carnivorous predators that live primarily on aphids, caterpillars, and other insects. Bees are hairy and live on pollen and nectar. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

“I started monitoring the bee block in April,” Swenson said, “in-between blizzards. The first two times I went, all of the drilled holes in the bee block were empty. The third time I went, nine of the holes were filled, which meant that wild bees had laid eggs and deposited pollen sacs to nourish their young when they emerged.”

Forsberg, who is coordinating the making of the bee atlas, said, “This project is happening because the Extension Service received a four-year grant from the state’s Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund. We’ve engaged 150+ volunteers across the state to act as citizen scientists, gathering information about Minnesota’s wild bees through observation. Once completed, the online bee atlas will be hosted by the Bell Museum. Our goal is to have all of the data on wild bees in one place, where it can be accessible to the public as well as to researchers.”

The Prairie Oak Savannah and the Nokomis Naturescape Garden sites were chosen because they have a rich variety of native plants, which provide a variety of food sources for wild bees. Native plants rely on native pollinators; native bees need native plants to nest in and to eat.

Minnesota has an estimated 400 varieties of wild bees, and there are an estimated 20,000 varieties of wild bees worldwide.

Why should we care about wild bees? Forsberg said, “Wild bees are prolific pollinators, and are known to pollinate several types of plants that honeybees can’t. For instance, plants in the squash family can only be pollinated by a certain type of wild bee called the squash bee.”

She continued, “With all of the talk about colony collapse in the last several years, most of the media attention has been on honeybees. The factors that are threatening honeybees (climate change, habitat loss, and pesticides) are the same ones that are threatening wild bees. Our citizen scientists are adding to the existing data about wild bees that has already been collected by the DNR and the U of M Bee Lab.”

The site at 36th St. and W. River Pkwy. is focused on stem-nesting bees, which are bees that lay their eggs in plant stems. An easy way to attract stem-nesting wild bees in the home garden is this:
—plant native aster or cup plants;
—after they’ve bloomed in the fall, cut the stems off at 15- 18“; and
—let the stems stand over winter, and into the next spring.

New growth will soon be much taller than the old stems, which can provide nesting habitat for wild bees while remaining invisible.

Once all of the data has been compiled, the Minnesota Bee Atlas will help to answer questions about wild bee behavior from “where do wild bees live,” to “when are they most active?” Little is known about how wild bees are responding to the overgrowth of buckthorn in Minnesota forests—among other things. Information gathered from bee block sites may provide new insights into a changing environment.

Swenson, who is a retired National Park Service ranger and volunteer coordinator with the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, said, “This is my first year as a site monitor, and I’ve enjoyed being part of a real research team. Citizen scientists don’t create or evaluate a scientific project, but they do contribute in meaningful ways.”

For more information, visit



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Architect saves classic homes; gives them new life for the 21st century

Posted on 24 July 2018 by calvin

The little house, sitting midblock on 13th Ave. in the Hale neighborhood, had seen better days. Built in 1924, it had been the home for families who came and went, but when the last owner lost her husband, she began to collect items—lots of items. When she finally sold it last summer, junk and all, it became the beginning of architect Eric Hanson’s plan to save older homes by remaking them for modern families.

Hanson had watched as dozens of urban homes were sold and then torn down, with huge mansion-like houses replacing them. The new houses are, he insists, often too big for the lots on which they sit and too big for their neighborhoods, dwarfing nearby homes. “Teardowns are happening like there is no tomorrow,” he says. “I am trying to save houses instead, remodeling them to fit into the neighborhood.”

Photo right: The little house on 13th Ave. is still in the ‘before’ stage of remodeling. (Photo by Stephanie Fox)

He searched neighborhoods from South Minneapolis to the Wisconsin border until he came upon a one-story 867-square-foot home, on a tiny .12-acre lot, a block from Minnehaha Creek. And, he says, he immediately saw the possibilities. Partnered with former client Steve Aldrich, the two acquired the house last summer for $165,000 and started to plan.

The house, Hansen says, was filled with enough stuff for him to recognize it as a hoarder house.

“It was kind of sad,” he says. “After the owner’s husband died, she just couldn’t throw stuff away. We bought it ‘as is.’ There were a lot of dumpsters filled with things and a lot of trips to Value Village.” After donating the furniture, books, and antiques to a charity, he began the rehab, starting by tearing apart the interior.

Hansen has an abundance of ideas for the tiny home. He wants to move upward by adding a second story, making the 2-bedroom home into a 4-bedroom home. He wants to move the front door to create the main entrance off a patio on the side of the house, to refigure the layout and maybe, finish the basement. The house may end up with 2,500 square feet, but the footprint of the house won’t change, he says. Hansen blanches at huge homes on little lots and, he hopes, this home will be an example for others who want to live in South Minneapolis and elsewhere in the Twin Cities but want a larger home.

Photo left: Architect Eric Hanson has big plans for the little house and for the future of smaller older homes in the Twin Cities. (Photo by Stephanie Fox)

JK Carpentry, who has worked with Hansen on some other projects, has signed on. “We’re taking the existing house and reviving the foundation,” says builder Jeremiah Kunde. “We’ll make it a family home. We’re trying to save stuff that might otherwise go into a landfill, and with this house, we can reutilize material and turn it back into the home. We can make it so the house will still be here 100 years from now.”

“The basement is a big room, rehabbed in the 1960s,” Hansen says. “We’ll find a way to raise the low ceiling, add drain tile it so it will be a nice dry house, maybe make it into one big family room and add colored concrete floors.”

The kitchen, he says, will have southern rooflines and lots of sunlight. ‘We have this house set up for full solar,” he says.

The plan also includes keeping the two-car garage but allowing the possibility of expanding it upward.

Projects like this, Hanson says, can take months but he hopes to sell it in the fall. But he says, what would be ideal would be a homebuyer who bought the home this summer and became part of the planning process. The home is currently on the market, even as the work on it continues.

Steve Aldrich, Hanson’s business partner in this project, claims he has only a small role in the project, besides buying the home. But, he is putting in hands-on work on the rehab. “I cut a lot of the little trees and hauled out a lot of garbage,” he says. “I’ve been mowing the lawn there.”

“Eric did work on my house in St. Louis Park about five years ago, and we talked about buying something like this and making it into something beautiful. The whole idea is to have a buyer to who understands our vision,” he says.

He says that rehabbing existing small homes is the future of residential neighborhoods in the Cities. “My first house in 1987 was only four blocks away. I love that neighborhood, near the Creek,” Aldrich says. “In 10 or 15 years, the streets around here will be filled with houses that have been rebuilt. “Everyone wants to live in nice houses while being closer to the center of the city.”

Hansen says that it would take a special kind of person to sign on now. “A lot of people don’t have the stomach for the remodeling process,” he says. “But, we are trying to engage the public.”

“Remodeling is harder than doing it from scratch,” he concludes. “But we are trying to do something different. It’s going to be beautiful.”



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