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Commons at Penn: Workforce housing and food co-op to open in North Minneapolis

The Green Line corridor isn’t the only area of MSP experiencing a boom in community-driven development. Two miles northwest of the Green Line’s Target Field terminus, at the heavily trafficked Penn Avenue/Golden Valley Road intersection in North Minneapolis’ Willard-Hay neighborhood, an ambitious mixed-use project is taking shape: The Commons at Penn Avenue.  
A four-story, block-long structure, Commons at Penn will house 45 units of workforce housing, a host of community amenities and the 4,000 square foot Wirth Cooperative Grocery Store — MSP’s newest grocery co-op. Watson-Forsberg and LHB Corporation are co-developing the project.
Building Blocks, a North Minneapolis nonprofit founded and overseen by native son (and former NBA star) Devean George, designed and financed Commons at Penn. Wirth Co-op is financed independently, thanks in part to a $500,000 federal grant, and will lease space in Commons at Penn’s ground floor.
If the current schedule holds, Commons at Penn and Wirth Co-op should open in spring 2016 — well in advance of the planned Penn Avenue BRT (C Line)’s debut later this decade.
“We’re shooting for an Earth Day opening for the co-op,” says Miah Ulysse, Wirth’s general manager.
The development will join nearby Broadway Flats in providing affordable housing and locally run retail along North Minneapolis’ densely populated Penn Avenue corridor.
According to Building Blocks, Commons at Penn’s residential component will feature a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units with touches common in downtown lofts: hardwood floors and nine-foot ceilings. Amenities include community rooms, an onsite fitness center and three laundry rooms.
Commons at Penn’s first floor will include a Northpoint Health & Wellness office. Though the Northpoint office won’t be a full-service clinic — the focus is on “community outreach with space for events and health education classes,” according to Building Blocks — the design does include two “flexible-use exam rooms.” Building Blocks will office in an adjacent suite.
Wirth Co-op’s arrival is another boost for the area, often considered a food desert: The closest full-service grocery store is the Cub Foods at Broadway and I-94, well over a mile to the east. Corner convenience stores and gas stations stock essentials and plenty of snack foods, but rarely fresh fruits, veggies or non-processed foods. According to TCYIMBY, about 40 percent of Wirth’s fresh food will be certified organic or natural; that proportion could increase as the co-op establishes itself in the neighborhood.
“Locally sourced items will be a huge focus for us, in addition to organic and natural,” says Ulysse.
As of mid-October, the most recent reporting date, Wirth Co-op had about 460 committed members out of a 500-member goal. Membership is $100 (one-time) per household, payable in $25 installments, and $15 for those qualifying for public assistance.

Good Grocer: Food shopping for inside-out empowerment

Good Grocer, an independent grocery store tucked into a low-slung building near the old Kmart at Lake Street and I-35W, has only been open since mid-June. Yet it’s already received coverage in a half-dozen press outlets, from the Star Tribune and the Huffington Post.
What makes Good Grocer different? Founded by Kurt Vickman, long-serving (now former) pastor at Edina’s Upper Room Church, Good Grocer is part co-op, part nonprofit social enterprise and all good.
According to its website, Good Grocer stocks more than 3,000 items, focusing mostly on fresh fruits and vegetables, and minimally processed meats, dairy and baked goods. Unlike a traditional co-op, whose members pay fees on joining, Good Grocer regulars pay for their memberships by volunteering at least 2.5 hours per month at the store: stocking shelves, working checkout, whatever needs to be done. In return, they get 25 percent discounts to sticker price on everything they buy at the store that month. Good Grocer has at least 300 members and counting.
The goal, says Vickman, is inside-out empowerment — the inverse of the standard outside-in, or top-down, charity model. Though Vickman doesn’t keep detailed statistics on members’ economic status, the immediate neighborhood is among Minneapolis’ poorest precincts.
Good Grocer helps locals who “value eating well, but can’t afford the ever-increasing cost of food” to partake in a food quality experience usually reserved for Whole Foods shoppers. By giving members an outlet to give back to their fellow shoppers in a tangible way, Good Grocer is literally helping people help themselves.
“Low-income people aren’t helpless or giftless,” says Vickman. “We all have gifts and strengths within us. It’s [Good Grocer’s] mission to draw those gifts and strengths out of our members and empower them to define themselves in terms of their potential, not their limitations.”
Good Grocer also addresses its densely populated environs’ glaring lack of fresh food options. Its corner of South Minneapolis doesn’t meet the technical definition of “food desert,” but the Midtown Global Market and the Uptown Cub — the closest reliable sources for fresh food — aren’t close at hand.
“We thought we’d get some positive feedback about our choice of location,” says Vickman, “but we were really taken aback by the number of people who came in to say, ‘Man, thank you for opening a grocery store here.’”
Then again, Good Grocer isn’t a straightforward charity. The blocks to the north and west of Good Grocer are economically diverse — and, in some areas, downright affluent — so a fair number of locals can afford to shop at the store without much regard to price. Good Grocer counts on those folks to patronize the store in numbers and pay full price for their purchases. Full-price customers subsidize in-need members who rely on the 25 percent discount and ensure that Good Grocer can afford to stock top-quality food items.
Indeed, Vickman sees Good Grocer as a low-friction way for people of means to give back in a more meaningful way than simply donating some cans to a food pantry or church around the holidays. The store’s motto is “Let us never tire of doing good,” a Scriptural reference to Christians’ charitable duties. That motto neatly summarizes Vickman’s choice to leave his relatively comfortable appointment at Upper Room and strike out as a social entrepreneur.
“I decided that I wanted to spend more of my time living the themes I was preaching, rather than just talking about them,” he explains.
Despite Good Grocer’s ecclesiastical pedigree, the store is strictly non-denominational — non-religious, actually. “No one’s handing out tracts at the door,” says Vickman, who notes that the store’s membership base is a reflection of the neighborhood’s racial and denominational diversity: first- and second-generation immigrants from Latin America, Asia and Africa shop and volunteer alongside the area’s established European and African-American residents.
“We’re not looking for help or support from outside the community here,” says Vickman. “We’re proud to be creating our own solutions.”

Able Seedhouse and Brewery incorporates craft malthouse

There’s something brewing next to the “white hot” Highlight Center in Northeast Minneapolis — but there’s more to it than beer.
Able Seedhouse and Brewery chose to open in MSP’s dense craft beer market, but Able’s concept is unusual even by Northeast’s ambitious standards. Able, which occupies an historic brick structure adjacent to the Highlight Center (just off busy Broadway Street), isn’t only a new Minneapolis craft brewery with a 20-barrel brewing capacity and 100-plus-patron taproom. It’s also a craft malthouse.
Able officially opened its doors in early November and malts its own small grains on site. In other words, the Able crew cooks raw ingredients — mostly barley, but sometimes wheat and rye — in one corner of the facility, then carts the finished product over to the brewing kettles and turns it into delicious beer.
Able isn’t a totally self-sufficient operation, at least not at the outset. Casey Holley, co-founder and co-owners, anticipates the brewery’s initial batches — the first of which started brewing on October 9 — will contain up to 5 percent “in-house malt.” The balance will come from larger, more established malting houses, like Shakopee’s Rahr Malting. Over time, Holley hopes the proportion of house-made malt will increase.
“Producing an entire batch of beer using only our own malt would be something spectacular,” he says.
Holley is particularly excited about Able’s budding relationships with small-time Minnesota farmers. He’s reaching out to family farmers across the state and offering to pay a premium for their barley, which typically commands far less than the corn and soybeans that dominate Minnesota’s agricultural industry. Even though Able’s product is liquid and strictly adults-only, the brewery’s efforts help support long-depressed market for small grains.
“We’re doing our part to rebuild the local food supply chain,” says Holley. “We thought it would be super interesting to tell this story in beer.”
For the time being, the Able team is focused on navigating the opening rush. Eventually, Able’s malting operation could win out. Holley and his cofounders have contemplated serving as a small-scale “maltster” for other MSP breweries, offering an alternative — possibly with a more experimental bent — to major players like Rahr. He’s also game for helping smaller-scale packaged food producers with time-consuming, labor-intensive and frequently expensive R&D work.
“We could be someone that [packaged food producers] come to and say, ‘Can you play with this in the malter and see how it turns out?’” says Holley.

St. Paul's Legendary Commodore Bar to Reopen

Just as two high-profile restaurants in Minneapolis are saying adieu—La Belle Vie and Vincent—a St. Paul institution, long removed from the public eye but operating as a banquet facility, is about to say bon jour! The Commodore Bar, an Art Deco legend once haunted by the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sinclair Lewis—who also stayed in The Commodore’s apartment hotel—reopens to the public on October 27.
“We recently purchased a piece of property adjacent to the Commodore that we can use for a banquet room,” says owner John Rupp. “So it was time to reopen the bar, as we need both of those income streams to make the properties work financially.”
Rupp is also the founder and chief executive officer of the Commodore’s parent company, St. Paul-based Commonwealth Properties Inc. He’s also developed and owns other local St. Paul landmarks in the area, including W.A. Frost, The University Club, the St. Paul Athletic Club, and opening in 2016 Watson’s Manor, a boutique hotel.
“Restoration of a 1920s Art Deco bar? We felt the market would be receptive to that kind of place for a variety of reasons,” Rupp says.
For one thing, there’s the space itself. Meticulously restored, the Commodore Bar exudes luxury, glamour and glitz. “It’s an iconic interior in a building with great social and cultural history, in a historic neighborhood where the founders of many MSP institutions built their homes,” Rupp says. “It’s a real place.”
Because the Commodore historically was a cocktail lounge, “we created a craft-cocktail menu using product from local distilleries” in MSP, Rupp says. “We have deep experience in our talented bartenders at Frost and the University Club, who have contributed to our cocktail list.” Adds Bob Crew, Commonwealth’s director of food and beverage operations, “We want to be the Twin Cities showcase for the best in locally and regionally distilled spirits.” The food will be “creatively re-imagined” American cuisine, Rupp says.
As for entering an ever-shifting restaurant market, Rupp is confident. “Our experience says if we’re in a place that’s very special, we won’t have any problem getting people from a broad geographic area. Just as Frost is much more than a neighborhood bar, drawing people from throughout the metro area, so will people want to experience the Commodore Bar once again—or for the first time!”

Hub for local food production adds The Workhorse deli and café

Mention the FOOD BUILDING and eyebrows invariably rise in concert with the reply, “At the state fairgrounds?”
But as butcher Mike Phillips of Red Table Meat Co., and cheese maker Rueben Nilsson of The Lone Grazer Creamery continue to gain traction—both are housed in Kieran Folliard’s latest venture, the FOOD BUILDING in Northeast Minneapolis—that’ll change.
Plus, in November, the opening of a new deli and restaurant, The Workhorse, which will showcase the meat and cheese being produced down the hall, will bring people in to taste just how fine and fast MSP is growing as a hub for urban food production.
The Workhorse, says chef Luke Kyle (also chef and co-owner of Anchor Fish and Chips), will be a cozy 40- to 45-seat restaurant specializing in slow-roasted meats and potpies. “I’m originally from Ireland,” says Kyle, who as a teenager moved to the Twin Cities with his family, “and one of my favorite things is to sit down with family and friends at the end of the night over comfort food made with good ingredients prepared well.”
The eatery will also have a deli showcasing products from Red Table and Lone Grazer, and grab-and-go food. “We'll be doing classic European-style baguette sandwiches with meat, cheese and butter,” Kyle says. “No frills, just letting the ingredients shine through.”
The Workhorse takes its name from the building’s original use: as a stable and veterinary clinic for the horses that hauled kegs of beer from the local breweries to pubs and stores. “Each horse had its own window on the side of building, for fresh air and to look out, which are still here,” Kyle says.
The horse ties were still on the wall when Kyle and his team—including Geoff King of Scratch Food Truck, who will head up the kitchen, Katie Kyle, who recently left her Spyhouse Coffee Roasters operations and management position, and Anne Saxton, who currently works for Kim Bartmann's restaurants—moved in and started construction. “The Workhorse is a good strong name for the restaurant and relevant to the building,” Kyle says.
If all goes according to plan, the FOOD BUILDING may be welcoming another tenant soon: a flour miller. “So ideally, if they move in, the baguettes, meat and cheese will all be produced in the building itself, which is super local,” Kyle says. “That’s the whole idea behind the FOOD BUILDING,” which bills itself as a “destination food production hub.”
According to Saxton, the FOOD BUILDING is built on foundation brands bound together by a shared purpose: “to handcraft exceptional foods close to the source because food tastes best when it has a ‘taste of place’.” The venture also gives new meaning to “farm to table movement,” Kyle says. “It’s about getting to know where your food comes from, the farmers and animals who make it, and what you’re eating—with no blind spots.”

Tattersall Distillery enlivens craft cocktail scene with local spirits

The bourgeoning craft booze scene in MSP isn’t all about microbreweries, in case you were wondering. Ever since the Minnesota Legislature dropped the fees required to open a craft distillery, then allowed for cocktail rooms in which to serve the liquor produced onsite, distilleries have been popping up around the metro.
One of the newest is Tattersall Distillery, which is tucked into a former manufacturing/event space down a bumpy dirt road behind the Thorp Building in Northeast Minneapolis. In looking for a location, says Jon Kreidler, one of Tattersall’s co-owners, “After seeing Bauhaus Brewery,” which is off Central Avenue behind the Crown Center complex, “we knew it could be done”—meaning a hideaway location was do-able. “Then when we saw the space: wow!”
The cavernous room that once hosted light manufacturing, fashion shows and art sales for Midway Contemporary Art had a lot of potential, which Minneapolis designers Aaron Wittkamper and Amy Reiff fully released. Banks of clerestory windows were uncovered to light up the raw space. A glass wall was inserted between the cocktail room and production area, where the Tattersall logo curves across the back wall.
In the cocktail room, a carved wood mantel anchors the bar against a wall of plywood panels with painted reveals. The chandelier over the bar contrasts with a long cement high-top table, but adds pizzazz to a space also furnished with comfy club chairs. “We wanted to create a fresh and unpretentious space,” Wittkamper says.
In fact, the eclectic furnishings were sourced from 1 King’s Lane and Restoration Hardware—as well as “Craig’s List and the in-laws,” Wittkamper says. Reiff worked on the branding, using the Tattersall plaid not only in the logo but also on the bottle labels and “in subtle ways by using similar menswear fabrics throughout the space,” she says.
As for the booze: Tattersall’s lineup includes vodka, gin, white whiskey and aquavit. The cocktail room’s topnotch bartenders—trained by co-owner Dan Oskey, award-winning bartender formerly of Strip Club Meat & Fish in St. Paul and Hola Arepa in Minneapolis, and partner in the bitters company Easy & Oskey—readily whip up an assortment of drinks with house-crafted infusions.
“When we started designing the space, we knew things weren’t quite right,” Kreidler says. “Then when we brought in Aaron, he totally flipped the plans upside down and suddenly we knew how the space would work.” With a spacious cocktail room overlooking the production area, foodtrucks at the ready outside, an outdoor area for eating and drinking during warm weather, and fresh craft cocktails, Tattersall has set a new standard for the craft distillery movement in MSP.

Frogtown Farm: A community vision comes to fruition

For more than seven years, Frogtown Farm has been a community vision slowly manifesting into an authentic project: A 12.7-acre parcel of public land that will include 5.5 acres developed as an urban farm. On Saturday, October 3, at 10:30 a.m., the Frogtown Farm officially opens.
“Our grand opening signifies a herculean effort by community members,” says Eartha Borer Bell, executive director, Frogtown Farm, St. Paul. “I’ve been involved with the project for a year now as paid, full time staff, and it’s constantly humbling how much time and effort, heart and soul, for over almost a decade, the community has put into the project. Our opening is a mark of what can be done when people get together, have a vision and see it through.”

Frogtown Farm is the vision of longtime Frogtown residents Seitu Jones, Soyini Guyton, Patricia Ohmans and Anthony Schmitz. “They saw a great opportunity to increase access to greenspace in the Frogtown neighborhood,” Bell says. After the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation built its main campus on the land, then put the buildings up for sale in 2008, the property was vacant. The visionaries approached the Trust for Public Land to help them raise funds to purchase the site.
In 2012, the Trust, a national nonprofit organization that conserves land for parks, gardens and other natural places, struck a deal to buy the land for $2.2 million from the  Wilder Foundation. In 2013, Frogtown Farm invited the community to help design the site. “We developed a number of community engagement initiatives around what the park and farm would look like,” Bell says. “Over a six-to-eight month process, hundreds of community members became involved. Their input resulted in the design.”
Later that year, the City of St. Paul began discussions with Frogtown Farm about owning the property, in order to keep it accessible to the public. At the end of 2013, the land was later transferred to the City of St. Paul. In addition to the farm, the site includes play areas and maintains a historic oak grove.
“Urban agriculture is really booming in the Twin Cities,” Bell says. “While Frogtown isn’t necessarily a food desert, our community does experience barriers to accessing fresh local food. The farm will help remedy that situation.” The farm will also bring the neighborhood’s various populations together, to grow, prepare and share the food grown on the farm, she adds.
“There are plenty of anecdotes, and there’s lots of information, on how Frogtown is a diverse neighborhood,” Bell explains. “But we keep hearing that there isn’t a lot of interaction between those diverse populations. We do know that people like growing and cultivating a garden or farm, and cooking and preserving food.”
“So our five-year plan includes construction of a building that would serve as an incubator for fledgling food businesses in the community, an education center with cooking classes, and a community center,” Bell adds. “We hope that will provide great opportunities for people of all ages to share food traditions from their diverse cultures.”
The grand opening on October 3 will include a land blessing ceremony (10:30 a.m.), program (11 a.m.), and “Taste of Frogtown” event with tours and activities (noon to 2 p.m.).

Public Functionary expands its footprint and opportunities for "functional philanthropy"

When does growth mean more than increased square footage and financial opportunity? When the organization is the nonprofit art center Public Functionary. PF’s planned expansion into the building it currently occupies a portion of at Broadway and Buchanan in Northeast Minneapolis will lead to more innovative community programming, says Mike Bishop, PF’s director of operations.
Within the three to six months, Bishop says, the organization will move into the north portion of the building “with the mission of making art even more accessible with community events that get people into art spaces. While it’s scary to take on that rent and responsibility, we’re also looking at the expansion as a chance to further develop PF.”
Since opening in 2013, PF has billed itself as a nontraditional arts center with a focus on contemporary visual art, especially by rising national and local artists whose work expresses diversity in background, approach, inspiration and materiality. Exhibitions have also included dance, theater, music and performance art, as well as public participation. “Through our flexible exhibition space, multidisciplinary artwork and events, we’ve seen how important collaboration is to us,” Bishop says.
To further the collaborative impulse, he continues, PF has been “inviting in community groups and letting them use the space as a resource. They bring in their audience, which allows them to get to know PF and get comfortable with contemporary art.” That initiative led to another. “We started thinking about the communities we haven’t engaged with yet, including local businesses in Northeast. We decided to open our space to new and established businesses, so they could become involved with the art in a nontraditional way. We’re calling it ‘functional philanthropy.’”
Financial One, for instance, recently introduced its new brand to its team in PF’s exhibition area. The location “was a great way for the employees to get outside of the office and have their meeting in a creative engaging space,” Bishop says. Other meetings may include an illustrator sketching the session’s outcomes, or PF director and curator Tricia Khutoretsky providing arts-related approaches to problem solving.
“We’d like to help businesses work through solutions more organically using an arts perspective,” Bishop explains. “For example, Liz Miller is an installation artist who has transformed our exhibition area. She comes with an idea, but knows it will always go another way; that she’ll have to work with the space, modify her approach and those challenges will inform final product.”
Rather than a direct sponsorship approach, PF’s “functional philanthropy” offers businesses a way to “give back to their community and get something tangible in return that can come out of meetings and events budgets, and marketing budgets, not just community giving budgets,” Kate Iverson, PF’s development director, explained via email. “It's not only inspiring to meet and develop ideas at PF, but also to explore arts-driven approaches to problem solving, and pass on the value of art and community building to employees and clients.”
In other words, Bishop says, the expansion “will give us the flexibility to push our model further, and become a more fully fleshed out art center.”

Urban Organics expands at Schmidt Brewery site

St. Paul aquaponics firm Urban Organics just finalized the purchase of an 80,000-square-foot building on the redeveloped Schmidt Brewery site, according to Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal. The site will likely house an aquaponic (“aquaculture”) system that produces lettuce and other greens year-round without soil or fertilizer.
Though decision-makers are mum on the details, Urban Organics also appears to be deepening its already robust partnership with Pentair, an MSP-based corporate giant that builds innovative water filtration and recycling systems. (The company is responsible for Target Field’s thrifty irrigation infrastructure, among other highly visible projects.) Pentair designed and built the aquaponics system in Urban Organics’ Hamm’s facility.
According to the Business Journal, the Schmidt Building’s actual buyer is a newly formed entity called Urban Organics Pentair Group. Urban Organics Pentair Group shares an address with a Pentair satellite office, suggesting that the larger firm is playing an active role in Urban Organics’ new project.
It’s unclear whether the Schmidt purchase presages a series of collaborations between Urban Organics and Pentair. In previous conversations with The Line, Urban Organics co-founder Fred Haberman has expressed optimism that aquaponics systems as large as 500,000 square feet — several times the size of the planned Schmidt facility — would be technologically feasible and profitable within a decade.
Regardless of its implications for Urban Organics’ future, the Schmidt transaction adds a second historic brewery location to Urban Organics’ expanding corporate footprint, following the company’s flagship facility at the old Hamm’s Brewery. It’s also a huge win for MSP’s booming urban agriculture scene, and proof that small-scale, sustainable food production systems can play a role in fixing what Haberman calls “the [United States’] broken food system.”
Business is “innovating at the wrong end of our food system,” says Haberman, pointing to heavily processed snack foods with little resemblance to naturally occurring, nutritious ingredients. “The real need is for innovation to create more sustainable modes of production.”
Urban Organics’ food production system is definitely sustainable. According to Haberman, aquaponics uses just 98 percent less water than traditional irrigation. Since much of the United States’ fresh produce is grown in the water-starved Southwest, Urban Organics’ water-sipping, locally operated technology is a huge advantage.
And since Urban Organics uses fish to clear waste from its tanks, the growing process doesn’t produce industrial quantities of harmful runoff — another advantage over non-organic, soil-based agriculture.
“By itself, aquaponics won’t solve the problems facing modern agriculture,” says Haberman. But Urban Organics’ ambitious vision for a more sustainable agricultural future is nonetheless worth celebrating — and the new Schmidt space marks a major milestone on the company’s journey.

Brazilian muralist paints Bob Dylan mural in downtown Minneapolis

Last week, city music fans and cultural mavens were abuzz about news that Eduardo Kobra, an internationally acclaimed Brazilian muralist, would begin working on a five-story mural of Bob Dylan on the west façade of the 15 Building at Fifth Street and Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. As the painting commenced, passersby marveled at the color and artistry — as well as the speed with which Kobra and his team materialized the mural.
Kobra is reportedly renowned for his bright color palette and bold use of line. His work also often pays homage to people with a particular association with a city or place, which is why he selected Dylan. (Kobra is also a fan.) Three Brazilian and two Minnesota-based artists helped with the production.
“Eduardo Kobra’s new mural will add an invigorating and colorful international artwork to the downtown Cultural District and Hennepin Avenue,” says Tom Hoch, president and CEO, Hennepin Theatre Trust, Minneapolis. The mural is a project of the Hennepin Theatre Trust. “At the same time, it celebrates Bob Dylan, who is not only one of Minnesota’s most admired native sons, but also a former owner of the Trust’s Orpheum Theatre.”
Dylan owned the Orpheum Theatre from 1979 to 1988 with his brother David Zimmerman. The 74-year-old icon from Hibbing has performed frequently at the Orpheum including three consecutive shows last fall. The Orpheum, located on Hennepin Avenue, is just down the street from the mural site, so its presence has particular resonance for Hennepin Avenue and for Hennepin Theatre Trust, which currently owns the Orpheum.
“Kobra was collaboratively selected for this project,” Hoch says. “Various people and muralists were under consideration, and Kobra soon became the obvious choice because he is renowned internationally, has a wonderfully colorful palette and great street credentials.”

The 15 Building is currently owned by R2 Companies and AIMS Real Estate, a business unit of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, which was involved in Kobra’s selection. The 15 Building is an historic Art Deco office tower constructed in the 1920s. More recently, it has become home to many creative loft-office users including Channel Z, Hunt Atkins, Bloom Health and Assemble.

Highlight Center brings new synergy and office space to "white hot" Northeast

“Northeast is white hot right now,” says Scott Tankenoff, managing partner, Hillcrest Development, about the Minneapolis neighborhood. Hillcrest redeveloped the historic Frost and Crown Center buildings adjacent to Broadway and Central avenues, and will officially open the Highlight Center (a former GE Mazda light bulb factory, and more recently workshops and administrative offices for the Minneapolis School District) on Tuesday, September 15.
“The job and labor markets are unbelievably tight,” Tankenoff continues. “People are looking for commercial, office and retail space that’s high quality and durable. If you can add bicycle storage, showers for commuters, common areas lots of people can use at one time, a distinctive micro-brewery that tenants and visitors will use, rooftop garden areas and patios, lots of free parking and retain the building’s character within the existing fabric of the neighborhood, you’ve got a good mix.”
The Highlight Center does all that. Sport Ngin, which makes software for managing sports league websites, is one of the building’s main tenants, occupying about 30,000 square feet. Other tenants will include a law firm, Internet radio company, furniture rep and MyMeds, a cloud-based web and mobile application that helps users manage their medications.
“Space is moving fast,” Tankenoff says. “Many creative class-type companies would have looked in the North Loop but they like the price better here, and there are parking lots and other amenities nearby.”
In an adjacent building, also redeveloped by Hillcrest, Able Seedhouse and Brewery is setting up operations. “Able will have unique large taproom, and produce and distribute their product, but will also source locally grown ingredients like hops,” Tankenoff says, putting the new micro-brewery in good company alongside the likes of Bauhaus Brew Labs (in Crown Center) and Sociable Ciderwerks (down the street).
“The synergy creating by the tenants is critical to creating buzz and a community within the building and in the adjacent neighborhood,” he adds. “People want to be part of a collective.”
They may also want to work in what Tankenoff calls “the last great building in Northeast near downtown.” The brick and timber frame structure, built in the 1920s, “was a disaster” when Hillcrest took over, he says, as it had been used for storage, and for plumbing, key, maintenance, carpentry and electrical shops. The former 807 Broadway is “right on top of good, future mass transit, and is a large building that allows for patios, rooftop gardens and gathering spaces.”
The Highlight Center includes a common room for the community to use and will eventually incorporate solar panels for generating electricity. RoehrSchmitt Architecture and Tanek Architecture and Design collaborated with Hillcrest with the project.
“The process was all about retaining the character of the buildings, while adding a whimsical twist with materials inside,” Tankenoff says. “Our goal is to express the classic nature of historic buildings while making them relevant, modern, appropriate and fun for today. Both those architecture firms clearly understand that.”

Midway Murals and Little Africa celebrate Snelling redo with arts festival

After moving to and buying a house in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood five years ago with his wife, Jonathan Oppenheimer was inspired to create “a dream project.”
“I thought: ‘Wouldn't it be awesome to transform Snelling Avenue, then highlight the changes to transform the public’s perception of it,’ ” he recalls. He had in mind a half-mile stretch of Snelling, the visible and highly traveled portion from I-94 over the Green Line and north toward the State Fair.
“The area suffers from rampant graffiti,” Oppenheimer says, “and the business owners in the area, many of them immigrant business owners, would like to change people’s perception of that stretch of Snelling. I also wanted to help bridge the stark divide between immigrants and residents, economic classes and race, by doing something creative and productive.”
So Oppenheimer founded Midway Murals and in 2014 received McKnight Arts Challenge to complete the project. A launch party in February brought 300 people into the Turf Club “to show folks it’s really happening and get them excited about it,” Oppenheimer says.
On Saturday, August 29, the Midway Art Festival, co-hosted by Midway Murals and Little Africa, celebrates the murals’ completion, from 12-6 p.m., at Hamline Park on the corner of Snelling and Thomas avenues.
The event includes live and interactive art projects from Rogue Citizen, Dim Media, Streetcorner Letterpress, the Poetry Mobile, and Fluid Ink; music from Superbrush 427 and River Beats Entertainment; and an overall celebration of the newly reconstructed Snelling Avenue. Also on the docket are tours of the four murals created by four local public artists: Lori Greene worked in mosaic; Greta McLain in paint and mosaic; Eric Mattheis in spray paint; and Yuya Negishi in traditional and spray paint.
“Each artist created a separate mural, while working over several months with area business owners to craft an idea,” Oppenheimer says. “The murals reflect the changes in culture, residents, infrastructure and imagination that are forever occurring in the city, as well as the promise and struggles that the community navigates over time.” All of the artists worked with a central theme: starting anew.
“I always wanted to be involved in neighborhood activism, to take stock of what was wonderful and the places needing improvement,” Oppenheimer adds. “And I wanted to start a conversation around a public art project, as public art has the unique ability to bring people into contact with things they wouldn’t otherwise see.”
Oppenheimer is also thrilled that the completed murals, and Midway Art Festival, will occur just as renovations to Snelling Avenue are completed, including new decorative lighting and sidewalks. “People are excited because Snelling has a fresh look,” he says. “We’re hoping the arts festival and mural projects will also better unite the neighborhood, spark conversations and inspire people to continue improving the area.”
According to the Midway Murals website, the initiative “will serve as the cornerstone for a new public art workgroup housed in the Hamline Midway Coalition, the neighborhood’s non-profit district council. This group will bring together community members of diverse backgrounds to meet regularly to brainstorm new ideas and locations for public art; ensure upkeep and maintenance of existing pieces; and curate and oversee the expansion of this art corridor in future years.”

North Loop's lumbersexual vibe gets boost with conversion of Jackson Building into Hewing Hotel

After months, even years, of speculation, the historic Jackson Building in Minneapolis’ North Loop, most recently home to the IPR (Institute of Production and Recording) College of Creative Arts, is slated to become a boutique hotel. “The neighborhood is spectacular,” says Tim Dixon, owner of Fe Equus Development, LLC, which is taking on the project. “It’s rocking. Empty nesters are moving back to the city. Millennials are embracing the area. The food scene is spectacular. We’ll add value to the neighborhood with an experiential hotel that will bring in the locals.”
Based in Milwaukee, Fe Equus is best known for transforming a 200-year-old downtown building into the Iron Horse Hotel. “The Iron Horse Hotel fulfilled the growing demand for experiential hotels and the need for additional rooms generated by its neighbor, the Harley-Davidson Museum,” according to the Fe Equus website. “Unlike any modern luxury hotel today, this brand new concept pairs high-end accommodations with special amenities for motorcycle enthusiasts.”
The Jackson Building will be renamed the Hewing Hotel, in a nod to the area’s milling history, which began with lumber. To “hew” is to cut or to fell. Think axe to tree. Which will fit right in with the area’s growing lumbersexual vibe apparent at Marvel Bar, Spoon and Stable, and Askov Finlayson.
In the late 1880s, many Minnesota trees were hewed to create the sturdy timber frame of the Jackson Building, which also has exposed brick walls and wood floors. Built on spec by Henry George Andrews (in collaboration with John Pillsbury, Thomas Andrews and Woodbury Fisk, Dixon says, the building initially had two floors. But as the area boomed, ceilings were ripped off and floors added. An addition was made to the building, as well.
“We thought about calling it the Convolution Hotel,” Dixon says, with a laugh, “because of the build out. On nearly every floor, it’s clear they took the roof off and put new floors down, over and over again. In the basement, which has really high ceilings, they used to pull a train in.” In previous lives, the building functioned as farm implement showroom and a warehouse.
The Aparium Hotel Group of Chicago will work with Fe Equus on the building’s conversion into a 120-room hotel with a restaurant and bar. “We start with the history and the building, then investigate the neighborhood and the city,” Dixon says, “to create food and beverage services that embrace the community and attract the locals. As we’ve proved with other projects, once you bring in the locals you become part of the fabric of the community.”
Dixon is currently living in North Loop, were he’s soaking up the ambience 24/7 in preparation for the historic building’s redesign. “It’s no fun going into the middle of a cornfield and coming up with something creative and beautiful,” he says. “It’s more satisfying, and you’re forced to be creative, when working within the barriers presented to you, from structure and materials to existing urban neighborhood. Our team at every level — operationally, design, food and beverage — will integrate it all to ensure the Hewing Hotel experience is consistent and unique.”  

Little Mekong Night Market moves and expands in August

Last summer, the Little Mekong Night Market, a project of the Asian Economic Development Association (AEDA) in St. Paul, debuted, introducing the Twin Cities to the vibrancy of the markets that are a common occurrence across Asia. “There’s a unique vibe and energy that happens when people are hanging out at night, in the summer, at a festive event that’s intergenerational and family friendly,” says artist organizer Oskar Ly, who helped coordinate last year’s night markets.
In fact, MSP’s first night market, Ly recalls, was such a hit that “people kept coming back with their families and friends to check out all the night markets in Little Mekong. People have said they felt as though they were transported into a different country for the evening.”
This year, the Little Mekong Night Market will be held Friday, August 7, from 6 p.m. to midnight, and Saturday, August 8, from 4 p.m. to midnight. The location, however, has changed. “We’re moving the night market from the parking lot behind Mai Village to the street, and closing off Western Avenue from Charles to Aurora,” says Jeffrey Whitman, event manager, Little Mekong Night Market, AEDA.
“We’re also moving the main stage across the street into a parking lot, so we have more space to spread out,” he adds. “Last year, we were really tucked into a nook. Surveys showed that people needed more room, and also wanted to have greater exposure and catch more passersby off the Green Line. We listened.”
This year’s vendors will include Dangerous Productions (a nonprofit performing arts group), the fashion truck Style A Go-Go, novelty accessories by Designs by RedFireFly, Luce Quilts, Nuclear Nectar’s hot sauces, Pho-Ger’s kimchee fries, Lilly Bean Ice Desserts, LolaRosa's Filipino-inspired food, RedGreen Rivers’ traditional Hmong fair trade crafts, and Silhouette Bakery’s sweet and savory Japanese buns.
Also, Ly says, “We’re expanding the diversity of arts that will be showcased. We have 100 groups of artists, art activities, and traditional and contemporary performances planned.”

Performances by Mayda, Str8 2th, Hmong Breakers Leadership Council, Kalpulli Yaocenoxtli, Capoeira Fitness Academy,
Hmong Cultural Center Qeej Troupe, Xibaba Brazilian and World Jazz are scheduled. The arts activities will be spearheaded by Humans of Night Market by Hmongkee Business, Greetings from Night Market by Hmongkee Business, SparkIt,
Chicks on Sticks, Hoop Jams and other groups.

The Little Mekong Night Market was started last year as part of AEDA’s mission to help small and micro-businesses take off and flourish. “The night market is really about buying local, from people who live in the neighborhood,” Whitman says. “Some of the vendors come from outside the community, but the majority of them live and work right here. The market supports the neighborhood and brings in people to see what Little Mekong has to offer.”
In addition to functioning as an economic development initiative, Ly adds that the market is also a “placemaking effort for Little Mekong. It’s part of our rebranding of the district, in order to further revitalize the area, bring in new visitors, and entice people to come back—again and again.”

Fort Snelling's historic Upper Post to be transformed into workforce housing

If the criteria of marketable real estate — “location, location, location” — still holds true, then a prime parcel in the Twin Cities has it all. Open space. River views. Recreational fields. Historical resonance. Old-growth vegetation. It’s minutes from light rail and freeways, and is adjacent to a state park with a lake, bicycling and x-county ski trails, hiking paths and an interpretive center.
Most likely, you’ve sped past it en route to MSP International Airport or the Mall of America. Or maybe you’ve played ultimate Frisbee, baseball, soccer, golf or polo on the site. Or even, having taken a wrong turn, found yourself in a ghost town with crumbling houses, grand dilapidated structures and overgrown thoroughfares that begin and end seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
Welcome to the Upper Post of Fort Snelling. Home to buff- and red-brick buildings — including an imposing headquarters with a grand clock tower, rows of barracks, and a lane of once-stately officers’ homes with columns and porches — the Upper Post is a National Historic Landmark, and part of a larger National Register District that includes portions of the Mississippi River and its environs.
For years, however, the buildings have languished. Owned by the State of Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Upper Post has been largely used for parks and recreation. But in 1998, the DNR hired Miller Dunwiddie Architecture, Minneapolis, to access the buildings’ structural integrity and potential for reuse.
By 2006, a Save America’s Treasures grant secured by Hennepin County paid for the buildings’ stabilization. Work included re-roofing buildings, patching holes in the walls, sealing up windows and doors with plywood, and covering up porches.
But the structures’ only hope of long-term survival rested in their adaptive reuse. Many developers floated ideas. But only Dominium’s recent proposal to transform the structures into an affordable–housing community has generated true excitement.
“We’ve taken on similar adaptive reuse projects with lots of challenges,” says
Russ Condas, development associate, including St. Paul’s Schmidt Brewery on West Seventh Street and the Pillsbury A-Mill in Minneapolis—both of which have been developed and designed as affordable artist housing in conjunction with BKV Group. “But, as always, the Upper Post will pose its own unique challenges.”
Hennepin County, the DNR and other stakeholders “have done a good job of protecting the buildings,” he says. “They’re in decent shape because they were well constructed and feature strong architectural features from the late-1880s. But they’re old, weathered and in need of attention.”
The approximately $100 million project will be financed through a combination of Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, Federal and State Historic Tax Credits, and other sources. “These tax credits make the project feasible from our perspective,” Condas says. Dominium specializes in affordable and workforce housing, as well as the adaptive reuse of historic structures.
“Projects like this one take an incredible investment from a construction cost standpoint, in order to make them work,” Condas says. “Without that stack of tax credits, the project wouldn’t be do-able.”
The project includes 26 buildings on the site, “which we’ll treat as one apartment community,” Condas says, with approximately 190 units of affordable housing. “While most buildings will provide housing, we’re also looking at other structures for amenities.”
According to Dominium, the Upper Post redevelopment “will meet a strong demand in the market; research…shows that in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, there are only 34 apartments that are affordable and available for every 100 residents making less than $20,000 a year.”
With the site’s location near the Mall of the America and international airport, the need for workforce housing is acute. The site is a half-mile from the Blue Line light rail. “We feel there will be a strong demand for these apartments, which will offer a great opportunity for people to live affordably in a beautiful location and easily commute to work.”
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