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Three zip codes in St. Paul, Minneapolis rank high in Wilder health study

The headlines--like "Key to long life? It may be in ... your ZIP code"--oversimplified the findings in a new report on how physical well being is distributed across the metro area.

The Wilder Research study found a relationship between neighborhoods' cultural and socioeconomic makeup and their scores on health measures. But it's a stretch to claim that your ZIP code determines your lifespan, says researcher Craig Helmstetter.

It's also an oversimplification to say that the populations of city neighborhoods uniformly have shorter lifespans than those in the suburbs. Glossed over in media reports was the fact that three ZIP codes within St. Paul and Minneapolis posted health scores as glowing as any in the metro area.

The three ZIP-code areas are contiguous, in a cluster around the two University of Minnesota Twin Cities campuses: 55414 in Southeast Minneapolis and just across the city line in St. Paul, 55114 and 55108, stretching from St. Anthony Park to Como Park.

None are standouts for household income, yet they rival wealthy suburbs in health measurements, with life expectancies in the 83-years-and-up range.

Helmstetter says Wilder's report, "The Unequal Distribution of Health in the Twin Cities," commissioned by the Blue Cross Foundation, didn't put a spotlight on the three inner-city areas that posted high numbers for health partly because data like death-rates are "unstable" where population sizes aren't large.

But taken together, the ZIP codes suggest to Helmstetter that high education levels are boosting health, along with factors like walkable neighborhoods and "great places to recreate, with parks and amenities."

Source: Craig Helmstetter, Wilder Research
Writer: Chris Steller

Classic urinals stay as Stasiu's becomes Stanley's in NE Minneapolis

The name isn't the only thing to be repurposed at the former Stasiu's bar in Northeast Minneapolis, which this week reopens as Stanley's--the English version of the original Polish name.

The bar's handsome radiators have been refurbished and repainted for new life as bases to high tables where customers' legs will dangle, says general manager Carol Hawley.

Then there are the urinals. The handsome relics reach from the floor to nearly chest height, their undulating porcelain forms harkening back to Victorian times. (Indeed, they're said to have been salvaged from Minneapolis' famed West Hotel.) Their purpose remains the same.

Those and the walls are about all of the physical Stasiu's that persists at Stanley's. Gone is the half-timbering on the exterior. Inside, the building at University and Lowry avenues was "stripped down to the studs," she says.

New street-level windows give the illusion of more room inside and out. ("It was kind of like a bunker in here," Hawley recalls.) But the building hasn't extended its footprint--a new patio to the north notwithstanding.

The crooked floor has been leveled and now holds what Hawley calls "an insanely beautiful bar." Work on a stage will be finished in time for Gospel Gossip, the first band to play in the remodeled bar. Christie Hunt, whose band bookings sparked a new scene in Stasiu's waning days, has the music schedule set into December.

A new set of stairs leads to a second floor space where construction will continue to convert it to a room available for rental for parties or, Hawley says, art exhibits. Farther north than other Northeast spots such as the Sample Room and the Northeast Social Club, which have undergone similar transformations, Stanley's is a kind of "outpost for the arts and food and beverage communities," says Hawley.

Source: Carol Hawley, Stanley's
Writer: Chris Steller











St. Paul's West Side hopes zoning helps bring 100,000 Cinco de Mayo visitors back for more

More than 100,000 people crowd into the West Side neighborhood for St. Paul's annual Cinco del Mayo celebration. The area's appeal as a place for shopping, entertainment and doing business the rest of the year should get a boost, now that the commercial zone collectively called District del Sol has gained Traditional Neighborhood (TN) zoning status.

That's the hope of local businesses and residents who pushed for two years to get TN zoning, says Roxanne Young, commercial development manager at Riverview Economic Development Association (REDA).

A big reason TN zoning has had support on the West Side is the mixed-use development it allows: a veterinary clinic with the doctor living upstairs is an example Young offers. That's a common pattern along St. Paul's most vibrant commercial street, Grand Avenue, she says, and TN zoning has a good track record of encouraging pedestrian-focused development along other neighborhood corridors such as Rice and Arcade streets.

Design guidelines that accompany TN zoning will also come in handy as REDA pursues redevelopment of the District del Sol's major intersection at Robert and Cesar Chavez (Concord) streets. It's a gateway from downtown St. Paul just across the Mississippi River, yet with its vacant buildings and vacant land Young says it's been "blighted and underutilized for more than 20 years."

TN zoning has residential and commercial neighbors "looking at opportunities opened up for mixed-use development," she says. That would add a reason for visitors to return to an area where, Young says, for most businesses Cinco de Mayo stands as "one of the main ways to recruit new audiences."

Source: Roxanne Young, Riverview Economic Development Association
Writer: Chris Steller

Friends of Swede Hollow mark another year by coming out to 'Watch the Glow'

It was the way the last rays of the setting sun lit up the red brick of the old Hamm's brewery that struck Murph Dawkins one evening six years ago. "It glowed like a ruby," she recalls. As she stood agape in Swede Hollow, a ravine park on St. Paul's near East Side, Dawkins said to herself, "Wow, I've got to share this."

Dawkins called Karin DuPaul, hoping to spark interest in the wondrous if fleeting sight she'd just beheld. DuPaul, who heads the Friends of Swede Hollow group and is a longtime organizer for the Dayton's Bluff Community Council, is quick to recognize a good idea and handy with a phone tree. "She doesn't need any extreme encouragement," Dawkins says.

The pair dreamed up a community gathering, dubbed simply "Watch the Glow," to be centered on viewing the sun's spectacular lighting of the brewery. The first "Watch the Glow," on a late October day in 2005, drew about 50 people who took in the transitory sight of the glowing brewery then shared a picnic dinner.

Saving the vacant brewery complex was a not-so-hidden item on the revelers' agenda. When brewing ceased in the mid-1990s, private developer Everest LLC took over the property, successfully renovating buildings on the north side of Minnehaha Avenue for artists' lofts and other uses.

But the discovery that the brewery land included part of Swede Hollow itself led the City of St. Paul to purchase the parcels south of Minnehaha that also hold the historic buildings neighbors hold dear. "Watch the Glow" invitations went out to city leaders who then were considering demolition--a threat that has now passed, DuPaul says. The buildings are safely mothballed, and three are poised to house an Asian Pacific Cultural Center when funding is found.

Some years, cloud cover or uncooperative weather mutes the event's eponymous effect. DuPaul recalls one year when the assembled were resigned to the show having been a bust--before the sun burst through at precisely the right moment to set the vacant Hamm's brewhouse ablaze.

This year's Watch the Glow was held last Saturday, preceded by a performance of the operetta "Tales of Hoffmann" in the Hollow. DuPaul was ready to document the glow, should it happen. She snapped a photo from the back of the crowd as they watched the sunset's sudden appearance. By the time they turned to face her for another picture, the show was over.  

Sources: Murph Dawkins, Friends of Swede Hollow; Karin DuPaul, Dayton's Bluff Community Council
Writer: Chris Steller

St. Paul's 505 billboards are 505 too many in 'Scenic' group's eyes

St. Paul may be the smaller of the Twin Cities, but it surpasses Minneapolis by one measure that some of its citizens lament:  population of billboards. According to Scenic Saint Paul, an anti-billboard group, Minnesota's capital city has by far the greatest number of billboards of any city in the state--505 at last count.

It's a number that has dropped slightly as outdoor advertising companies trade existing, traditional-format signs for the right, under a 2007 ordinance, to erect digital billboards elsewhere. A 1990s moratorium on new billboards in St. Paul remains in force but didn't translate into victory for a 1999 initiative to remove half the city's stock.

Battles over billboard have gone on in St. Paul for more than a century, by Scenic Saint Paul's reckoning. The latest salvo came last month when, as The Line noted, a federal appeals court sided with the outdoor industry, nullifying St. Paul's 2006 ban on billboard extensions--those attention-grabbing protrusions the companies sometimes build out from their boards' ordinary flat rectangles.

The St. Paul group has extended its campaign to rein in outdoor ads from the main battleground of the capital city through the formation of another group, Scenic Minnesota, which in turn is an affiliate organization of the national organization Scenic America.

Within St. Paul, the group's volunteers have mapped an uneven distribution of billboards. "If you don't have billboards in your neighborhood, you don't think it's a problem," says communications director Gerald Mischke. He said even with fewer billboards to regulate, city staff in Minneapolis seemed daunted by the group's offer to create a similar map there.

The groups assert that outdoor advertising companies don't have the right to profit off public "viewsheds" or what people see when they simply look around: "Billboard companies are selling something they do not own--the public's collective field of vision."

Source: Gerald Mischke, Scenic Minnesota
Writer: Chris Steller

Whitewater park could cover operating costs, draw 62,000

Steering a kayak through a whitewater rapids within a stone's throw of downtown Minneapolis has been a longtime dream of local paddling enthusiasts.

The idea has been to take advantage of some of the Mississippi River's approximately 50-foot drop at St. Anthony Falls along the river's east bank. A manmade course of restored rapids could be controlled, according to plans, so as to provide the right flow for a range of recreational users, from leisurely rafters to competitive racers.

The concept has received both state and federal support over the last decade or more. Now a redesign of the project by consultants for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is underway, with a draft report due this fall.

Designers are considering a continuous, looping course--using a conveyor to return paddlers back to the beginning --as an alternative to a linear course with start and finish far apart. They are also taking into account changed conditions on the ground like the new piers of the replaced I-35W bridge.

At a progress meeting last week, an expert on whitewater courses presented encouraging numbers: restored rapids in Minneapolis could attract 62,000 people annually. Even the least lucrative of four business models shows that most costs of operation could be recovered. (Construction costs are another matter.)

Project Manager Russel K. Snyder calls the course that the Mississippi River whitewater park concept is taking through the federal system "unusual." But like the whitewater rapids it would restore, the project keeps moving, stirring passions and possibilities.

Source: Russel K. Snyder, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Writer: Chris Steller

St. Paul kicks off yearlong process to put vision for 17-mile riverfront into plan for action

St. Paul's vision for its riverfront can be boiled down to six words: "More natural. More urban. More connected."

Now the city is taking the next 12 months to solidify that vision into a master plan for parks and open spaces for 17 miles along the Mississippi River--with an eye toward economic development as well.

But St. Paul has been studying its riverfront for years. Will a new master plan make anything happen?

Craig Coronato of Denver-based Wenk Associates says "quick successes" are possible.

"They have had a long process and identified a vision," says Coronato. "The people of St. Paul want to see that transformed into real things."

Coronato, an esteemed landscape architect who has worked for 28 years on rivers and cities (including some in China), says tapping new sources of funds could also help spur action.

Exactly what kinds of things St. Paulites want to see is a key question that Coronato's firm--as well as a local firm, Hoisington Koegler Group, and the City of St. Paul Parks and Recreation department--is seeking to discover. They kicked off a yearlong process of citizen engagement Tuesday with a citywide meeting at Harriet Island, with more workshops, neighborhood gatherings, and another citywide meeting to come.

Is there an inherent contradiction in trying to be both more natural and more urban? Coronato acknowledges "some tension" but says the key lies in the last aim: "More connected."

"How do you look at the interface between the natural and the urban, and make it better?" he asks, rhetorically. "They're not mutually exclusive."

Source: Craig Coronato, Wenk Associates
Writer: Chris Steller

Site for I-35W bridge-collapse memorial still in play

A design has been drawn up for a memorial to the 13 people who died three years ago when the Interstate 35W bridge fell into the Mississippi River, but site selection for the project is still up in the air.

Recent weeks have seen the likely spot for the memorial shift from Gold Medal Park, next to the new Guthrie Theater, to park property across West River Parkway that's actually owned by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

"People are ready to see the memorial," says mayoral spokesman John Stiles, adding that three years after the tragedy is "a decent time" for plans to proceed.

In the days after the bridge fell, the then-newly built artificial hill at Gold Medal Park drew crowds seeking a spot from which to survey the scene of the disaster--to mourn, to witness or simply to pay respects. Tom Oslund, the park's landscape designer, also designed the memorial.

But Gold Medal Park is not a real city park. Instead it's property belonging partly to the city and partly to the Guthrie, leased for 10 years to the William W. McGuire and Nadine M. McGuire Family Foundation for operation as a park.  

That means that in 2017 Gold Medal Park could become something else. So city officials have been looking at an alternative location across the street that could accommodate a somewhat downsized version of the memorial.

Park board president John Erwin says by removing "weed trees" and relocating planted crab apple trees, the new site could offer a similar view of the bridge site for the memorial--"in perpetuity."

But Gold Medal Park isn't completely out of the picture yet. "Nothing's off the table," says Stiles.

Source: John Stiles, City of Minneapolis; John Erwin, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board
Writer: Chris Steller

Site that sparked Minneapolis' riverfront renaissance back in play

A court ruling blocking a proposed development last week has put the fate of a key site in the renaissance at Minneapolis' downtown riverfront back in the hands of the Minneapolis park board.

Members of an ad hoc group have been working toward this moment, studying the past and considering the future of the original Fuji-Ya restaurant property. A meeting between the 30-member unofficial committee and park officials is set for July 23.

To say the late restaurateur Reiko Weston was ahead of her time in 1963 when she built the Fuji-Ya on the foundation of an old mill next to St. Anthony Falls is an understatement. People considered pioneers of riverfront redevelopment were latecomers by comparison, getting projects going a decade or two later. Weston actually bought the property even earlier, in 1958, says Rhys MacPherson, an architect at MS&R and a member of the ad hoc group. He has assembled a timeline showing how the site has been used since 1870. "It has been a process of continuous change," he says.

Now a narrow wedge of sloping riverbank between First Street and W. River Parkway, the site appears to contain little beyond the spare white walls of the former Fuji-Ya above a 19th-century limestone base. But below ground, says MacPherson, are four stories of fascinating mill infrastructure--some of it collapsed due to disrepair on the Fuji Ya's roof.

Weston sited her restaurant well, MacPherson says: You can hear the roar of the falls and gaze at bridge upon bridge, up and down the river.

Source: Rhys MacPherson
Writer: Chris Steller

State law restricting development along 72 miles of metro riverfront getting an overhaul

How high buildings can rise along the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities metropolitan area is one of the questions at issue as a state law, called the Critical Areas Act, gets an overhaul this year.

Since 1973, the law has required each city along the 72-mile urban and suburban riverfront to establish plans for protecting its stretch of the river. Those plans are supposed to tell developers about restrictions such as height, setback, and density.

But just as the river itself sometimes turns stagnant and cloudy, the Mississippi River Critical Area Act had by many accounts turned into a confusing and spottily enforced provision in recent years. That inspired the state legislature to order first a review and then a reform of  rule making under the law. By the end of 2010, the National Park Service will have drafted new rules for districts within the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.

Some buildings, such as the Carlyle and Riverwest in Minneapolis, found a way around height restrictions. Reform will help in cities like Minneapolis that have riverfront rules in place, says Irene Jones, program director at Friends of the Mississippi River, a local nonprofit advocacy organization, by making state law "generally easier for the city to enforce, less arbitrary."

In St. Paul, the 740 River Drive tower, which predates the law by a decade, offers a vision of development without state restrictions. To see how the law protects the river gorge, Jones points to the relatively undisturbed view downriver from the Marshall Avenue/Lake Street bridge.

Source: Irene Jones, Friends of the Mississippi River
Writer: Chris Steller
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