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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.”

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.”

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.

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.”

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.”

Dance, law and beer grow on the Green Line

Along the Green Line light-rail corridor, which opened in June 2014, business continues to grow as arts organizations, breweries and small offices either set up shop or expand along University Avenue. In St. Paul, they include the multi-cultural modern dance company TU Dance; the Mendoza Law Office, which specializes in nonprofits and cable/telecom communications; and Lake Monster Brewing, which joins the brewery boom in the Creative Enterprise Zone. Here’s what they have to say about being an invested part of the Green Line community.
TU Dance
As The Line reported in 2013, Toni Pierce-Sands, co-founder of TU Dance, rode the bus to dance classes as a child. “So when she and her husband, dancer and choreographer Uri Sands, were founding their St. Paul-based dance company TU Dance in 2004, Pierce-Sands says she ‘envisioned young kids waiting on the corner for a bus that would take them to our dance school.’”
Today, that school is called TU Dance Center. And the kids ride not only the bus, but also the light rail. Founded in 2011 in a rehabbed former woodworking and cabinetry shop, the professional dance school is located between a Subway and an auto-repair shop on Green Line. Since opening, the center’s programming has been steadily growing to meet the needs of students seeking out the Sands’ singular mix of creative movement/drum classes, and ballet, modern and West African dance.
So much so, that the TU Dance Center has added another 2,000 square feet of space upstairs. Known as TU Dance Center Studio 2, the second floor includes a new dance studio with a sprung floor, ballet barres, piano and drums, and sound system; new restrooms and changing rooms, and administrative offices.
“Having grown to more than 150 students in our youth programs, our current expansion to a second studio space meets a critical need for offering classes at multiple levels and techniques in the limited after-school time slot that works for families,” says Sands. Rather than move to a new location, the couple decided to remain in their current building and expand.
“We believe the opportunity to experience dance is transformative — for audiences, for students, for our community,” explains Pierce-Sand. “To make that opportunity real, dance classes need to be accessible. Our location on the Green Line is one key aspect of that commitment."
Mendoza Law Office
“I have a lot of optimism about the Green Line corridor and how the area is going to grow in the coming years,” says Tony Mendoza, who recently moved his law practice, Mendoza Law Office, LLC, into the 1000 University Avenue building. While looking for a new location for his growing practice, which was previously located along the Blue Line, Mendoza studied the avenue and noticed “buildings being refurbished and lots of new businesses,” he says.
University Avenue also offered the convenience of hopping on the train to either downtown Minneapolis or St. Paul for meetings. Then he noticed 1000 University. The 1929 building has exposed brick and timber beams, as well as spacious common areas. “We were also able to design the space we wanted,” he adds.
After law school, Mendoza joined Fredrickson & Byron’s advertising and entertainment group, and began working in communications. He later worked for the administration of Governor Ventura as a deputy commerce commissioner for telecommunications. Eleven years ago, he opened his own practice specializing in cable, telecom and entertainment law.
“There’s a lot regulatory uncertainty and change right now in the area of broadband development,” Mendoza explains. “Comcast is one of my clients. They’re spinning off their systems here to a company called GreatLand Communications, which has generated quite a bit of work in terms of getting regulatory approvals for the transfer and spin off, and franchises they have to negotiate with cities where they operate, many of which have been coming up for renewal to provide their video services.”
Mendoza also works with startups, small businesses and nonprofits. “We’re getting involved with the Midwest Business Association with the hopes of helping more local businesses get started and organized,” he says. “We’re looking for symbiotic relationships where we can help each other grow, especially along University Avenue.”
Lake Monster Brewing
After scouting dozens of locations for Lake Monster Brewing, which he co-owns with Jeremy Maynor and brewer Matt Lange, Matt Zanetti decided on the 550 Vandalia Street property adjacent to the Green Line. Located a block off I94, in the Creative Enterprise Zone, Zanetti was taken with the convenience of the site, as well as with the massive building itself.
“We’ll have a 170-spot parking lot,” he enthuses, and the brewery, which may open this fall, is also a block from the Raymond Avenue stop on the Green Line. “The building itself is historic and amazing, with red brick and steel girders.” What about all of the other new breweries in the area, including Bang, Urban Growler and Surly?
“The day after we signed the lease we took a case a beer and went to Urban Growler and Bang,” Zanetti says. “We’re really excited to be a part of the growing microbrewery scene in the Creative Enterprise Zone. We’re another destination people can enjoy.”
Lake Monster will also be the first and anchor tenant in the building (owned by First & First), which Zanetti says will create a lot of buzz. “Our tanks have arrived, but a lot of site work still needs to be done,” he says. “We’ll have two patios, as well as a 2500-square-foot taproom. We’ll have a nice big bar, soft spaces for relaxing, high tops, low tables… we want our taproom to be approachable!”
In addition to its two flagship beers, the Calhoun Claw Pilsener and the Empty Rowboat IPA, the brewery will also begin working on crafting some traditional beers with new twists.

Cooperative real estate model goes national

Three years ago, the Northeast Investment Cooperative (NEIC) was created to allow people to collectively buy, renovate, and manage commercial and residential property. Despite a mix of restaurants and retail businesses on Central Avenue in Northeast Minneapolis, and the adaptive reuse of former industrial buildings into the immensely popular 612 Broadway and Crown Center nearby, the area has a history of rundown storefronts and absentee landlords. NEIC is changing all that.
With nearly $300,000 in member investments, and having transformed 2504-06 at the corner of Central and Lowry avenues into a successful building with thriving tenants, NEIC is sharing its innovative cooperative model nationally. Already, in New York City, inspired residents formed their own co-op modeled after NEIC — NYC Real Estate Investment Cooperative — and more than 200 people immediately invested.
In February, an article in Yes! Magazine about NEIC went viral. Since then, the first commercial-property cooperative in the United States has been happily fielding inquiries from groups across the country, and board members will be speaking at conferences in St. Louis, Phoenix and Milwaukee on NEIC’s innovative business model. The appeal, explains Loren Schirber, a NEIC board member, is the opportunity to make a difference locally.
“People who have a vested interest in their neighborhood see the cooperative, commercial real estate model as an accessible way to make that difference and get a lot of other people involved,” Schirber says, and there’s more. “Kickstarter, Go Fund Me, Facebook and other social media and crowdfunding sites have changed how we do marketing and communications, so real estate investment opportunities are becoming more localized and accessible to people. This is the next logical step, because people don’t simply donate, they see where their money goes, what it’s doing and take ownership in the process.”
The cooperative real estate model also takes our new cultural emphasis on the local and bespoke — whether beer, food or handmade goods — further, Schirber continues. “How you save for retirement or invest is a logical extension of trying to be more conscious of what to do with your money and the influence you have. So with NEIC, we tackled an eyesore in the neighborhood we wanted to see changed. That resonated with local people…. and word traveled.”
Through NEIC’s cooperative structure, any Minnesota resident could join for $1,000. They could also invest more by purchasing non-voting stock. After a year of seeking investors, NEIC purchased two buildings on Central Avenue. Aki’s BreadHaus and Fair State Brewing Cooperative opened in 2014. NEIC’s partner, Recovery Bike Shop, is located next door. In total, the project represents more than a million dollars in new investment on Central Avenue.
“We spent thousands of hours getting started, fine tuning our bylaws, figuring out our structures, setting things up,” Schirber says. “Sharing that information with other groups, to make the process easier for them, is a principal of cooperative ownership.” So far, groups located in places from Seattle to Silver Spring, Maryland, Northern California to Cincinnati, Ohio, Texas to Washington D.C., have contacted NEIC for information.
Meanwhile, NEIC is avidly seeking a second property to bring to investors, and holding three information sessions and happy hours to discuss past successes and future plans: 
June 4: Info session at Eastside Food Co-op (7-8 p.m.), happy hour at Fair State Brewing Co-op (8-9 p.m.)
July 16: Info session at Narobi Market (7-8 p.m.), happy hour at Fair State Brewing Co-op (8-9 p.m.)
August 13: Info session at TBD (7-8 p.m.), happy hour at Fair State Brewing Co-op (8-9 p.m.)
“People have plenty of opportunities to become a minority investor,” Schirber says. “But from a tenant, investment and neighborhood standpoint, a cooperative model offers people more accessibility, control, ownership and a tangible reason for success.”

SPRC's 4th annual Placemaking Residency focuses on healthy cities

“The connection between place and health isn’t an intuitive one,” says Patrick Seeb, executive director, St. Paul Riverfront Corporation (SPRC). The fourth annual Placemaking Residency hosted by SPRC, May 11-15, hopes to forge that connection in the Twin Cities.
Titled “Moving the Twin Cities to Better Health,” the weeklong event will explore the relationship between urban design and population health through workshops, walking and biking tours, presentations and social events. Events will take place on St. Paul’s East Side, along University Avenue and in the Ecodistrict in Downtown St. Paul, as well as in the East Downtown area of Minneapolis and the South Loop of Bloomington.
“Well be out in the community, moving around the Twin Cities throughout the day and into the evening, in order to be interdisciplinary and so that participants — including urban planners, community activists, health experts and policy makers — can find different ways to engage,” Seeb says.
In past years, the residency has featured one key speaker focusing on a single topic. Last year the focus was on walkability and bikeability in the cities. The year before, the residency topic was place as a driver of economic investment. The first year, arts and culture as a strategy for place was the focus.
This year, three residents — all from the San Francisco area — will “enrich the conversation,” Seeb explains. Dr. Richard Jackson is the author of Designing Healthy Communities and the host of the PBS series of the same name. “He’s made a career out of studying the built environment and its impact on health,” Seeb says.
Gehl Studio is the San Francisco-based office of Gehl Architects. The firm’s work is cross-disciplinary, and incorporates architecture, urban design and city planning in projects around the world. “The studio focuses on changes we can make right now,” Seeb says. “Rather than thinking about long-term change, the studio specializes in immediate solutions. The Open Streets movement came out of their shop.”
The third resident, Dr. Anthony Iton, is senior vice president for healthy communities at The California Endowment. “His work helps people understand geographic, racial and wealth disparities throughout the U.S.,” Seeb explains. “He’ll present data about how your zip code can predict your expected lifespan.”
“In the past 40 to 50 years, the focus on cars, people feeling unsafe walking or biking to work or school, and food deserts are among the concerns that have emerged relating to health and cities,” Seeb says. “There’s a whole field of thinking that says we can change all that; that we can reduce childhood obesity if neighborhoods and streets are safe for kids to walk or bike to school, where they have access to healthy fresh local food.”  
“With this placemaking residency focused on healthy cities, we hope to expose people to the topic and get them to look at MSP and the choices we make in our cities through the lens of health,” Seeb continues. “The question is: How can we be much more intentional about creating a safe and healthy future in our cities?”

MTN joins creative mix in Northeast Minneapolis

After 22 years in St. Anthony Main along the Mississippi riverfront in downtown Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Television Network (MTN) is relocating to Northeast. On April 1, MTN will be joining the other entrepreneurial businesses, artists and creative industries currently in the Thorp Building, which is also a hub during the annual art festival Art-A-Whirl.
“As a creative media organization with a long history of serving the various communities in Minneapolis, we’re excited to move to the Thorp Building in Northeast in the middle of a thriving arts district,” says Michael Fallon, MTN’s executive director. Northeast Minneapolis was named the best arts district in the U.S. by USA Today.
“There’s so much potential for us in this neighborhood as we’ll be right in the thick of things, serving the community in the way public access television is meant to serve,” Fallon adds.
MTN’s mission is to “empower diverse Minneapolis residents seeking to connect to the larger community through the media,” according to its website. “We provide low-expense training for anyone who wants to learn to use the media,” Fallon adds.
MTN is largely supported through the Public Access Education and Government Channels (PEG) fees attached to cable subscribers. Over the years, the organization has given artists, comedians, community activists and numerous groups a platform for their work.
MTN’s studios have launched such talents as Fancy Ray McCloney, Viva and Jerry Beck (of the show “Viva and Jerry’s Country Music Videos”), Rich Kronfeld (of “The Choo Choo Bob Show”), “Mary Hanson (of “The Mary Hanson Show,” which is “one of longest running public access talk shows in the country,” Fallon says) and Ian Rans (of “Drinking with Ian”). MTN also broadcasts city government meetings and has given the growing Somali community a place to produce public-affairs shows that reach other immigrants. 
The new space will include staff offices; equipment rental; two fully equipped, community-focused television studios (with cameras, lights and a green screen) and video editing suites; a Youtube set-up for fast and easy studio productions; and a multipurpose classroom and public gathering area.
“We already been reaching out to the Northeast community and potential collaborations and we’re working on a partnership with [the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association] NEMAA,” Fallon says. “ We expect to fit right in and to become an essential part of the Northeast’s creative mix.”

Youth responses to art and identity enliven MMAA windows

The Pioneer Endicott in downtown St. Paul has undergone a significant transformation in the last year. The three-building complex includes the two, six-story Endicott buildings constructed in 1890 — and designed by renowned architect Cass Gilbert, who officed there for 20 years — on either side of the Pioneer building, which was built in 1889 to house the St. Paul Pioneer Press. All of the buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places.
While the upper floors have been renovated into apartments, and the second is home to a wine shop, the street level in the Pioneer is home to the Minnesota Museum of American Art (MMAA). Since moving into its “project space,” MMAA has mounted a number of significant exhibitions. But the museum has also creatively networked with an array of St. Paul organizations to expand its presence throughout the city — including co-presenting a theater production last summer that occurred on and around the Green Line light rail.
On view until mid-April, in the Pioneer Endicott’s large windows, between 4th and 5th streets, is another of these efforts: the photographic results of a collaboration among the museum and two youth-oriented non-profit organizations, St. Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN) and In Progress. The photographs were created by teen participants in Set It Up (a SPNN afterschool program), after they met with St. Paul artist Julie Buffalohead.
The students visited an exhibition of Buffalohead’s work, titled “Coyote Dreams,” at the MMAA, and talked with the artist about her process and artwork. (The show closed February 22.) “We had the students work with Julie because her art deals with themes that are very relevant to teenagers, such as feeling left out of cliques, not being good enough, struggling with identity,” explains Christina Chang, MMAA’s Curator of Engagement.
Buffalohead’s work, which has been exhibited throughout the U.S., also playfully and pointedly deals with motherhood, American Indian identity and popular culture. “SPNN has limited access to real working artists, exposure to whom is really crucial to young aspiring artists,” Chang adds. SPNN offers Set It Up youth various opportunities to use media and communications to empower themselves. While the program focuses on video production, it has evolved to include other media such as photography.
At the end of the exhibition tour and discussion, Buffalohead suggested the students create a photo project that reflected “the playfulness of childhood.” After meeting with mentors to brainstorm ideas around the theme, each student submitted a photo in response to the exhibition. The MMAA then worked with In Progress, a youth-oriented nonprofit that offers large format printing at a reasonable cost, to produce the final works for the windows.
One of the students, Darartu Tashoma, says that, “For me, it was inspiring to think back to my own childhood, and to think back on some of the stories of what I did as a kid. Julie’s art made me think about all our similarities that we have when we're children."
Adds Kevin Kalla, SPNN’s Youth Programs Coordinator, “Meeting Julie and hearing about her work was inspiring because she was very real in the way she talked about her art. She talked about the struggle of figuring out your identity, of being torn between two cultures and not being fully accepted by either. She talked about art as a way to process some of these emotions that are difficult to express. And she also talked about motherhood and how having a child inspired some of the more playful aspects of her work. I think that many of the youth in Set It Up found something to relate to in what she said, and were interested in the way that art could be used to explore some pretty complex ideas.”
The collaboration with MMAA was a first for SPNN. “While Set It Up has done photo projects in the past, this is the first time we've done a photographic response to an art exhibit,” Kalla continues. “The youth in Set It Up were able to have an authentic connection with an artist. They were able to collaborate with a local arts institution. And they had the honor of having their work displayed in public.”
“This project was a tremendously valuable experience for the young people in Set It Up, and that final piece — visiting the museum again and seeing their work on display in the windows — really made them feel like they were part of something bigger.”

A prize-winning proposal for an unused Midway site

An unused parcel of land between the Gordon Parks Alternative High School and the High School of Recording Arts in the Midway area of St. Paul has become the site of a prize-winning vision for community redevelopment. Pablo Villamil of Wold Architects & Engineers and David McKay of Strand Design, both in St. Paul, recently won First Place in the 2014 AIA St. Paul Prize design competition for their proposed outdoor education and community space. The design “is about making a place for the people who live there,” Villamil says.
Villamil and McKay entered the competition because “both of us are familiar with the area,” Villamil says. McKay lived in Midway for many years. Wold Architects & Engineers designed the Gordon Parks school. “So we know the layers of community and history in the area, as well as the users,” Villamil says. “That was a big part of our design: identifying and creating a park for the community.”
The 2.44-acre parcel, which is surrounded by the schools, retail stores, warehouses, office buildings and parking lots, includes a large hill. “We had to figure out how to make the site function across that elevation change, and make it accessible so residents and people from the schools can meet and connect in the space,” Villamil says.
The team’s vision includes an enclosed classroom recessed into the hillside for the Gordon Parks school. A second outdoor classroom for interactive education would allow the school and the public to focus on renewable resources and energy. The team also proposed an outdoor amphitheater terraced into the hillside for the Recording Arts school. The site would also include fields of native prairie plants and flowers, a playing field and plazas.
“Education is a big part of the project,” Villamil explains. “We wanted to create places the schools could share, spaces that function for the individual schools, and areas in which residents could receive public education about native habitats, green technologies and renewable resources.” The team’s vision also invites the surrounding community into the space for gardening, gatherings and events.
As for whether the team’s vision will be fully realized, that remains to be seen. As winners of the St. Paul Prize, Villamil says, he and McKay will be interacting with stakeholders at formal events and at informal gatherings. “We’re really looking forward to their feedback."

HWY North popup brings locally made to Hamline-Midway

“It's hard to put into words what feeling we are going for,” says Emily Anderson. “Fun, unique items that make you smile and want to do a happy dance.” Do not, however, expect any mass-manufactured Snoopy’s in Anderson’s new pop-up shop in the Hamline-Midway area of St. Paul. Her new popup shop, HWY North, only carries locally made goods that Anderson carefully curates.
“I am emphasizing Minnesota made goods because a) it resonates with my desire to buy local, b) supports our neighborhood artists, and c) hopefully creates a space where the many creative geniuses in our awesome cities can come together, share their talents, and perhaps collaborate to make something bigger than would otherwise have been possible,” she explains.
Anderson opened HWY North after noticing a retail space for rent in her neighborhood. A crowd-funding campaign helped cover the costs of setting up shop. Anderson has a background in visual art and public art, with an emphasis in art education and museum studies. She explains that she’s “always been driven through the arts, but over time I've realized that more than being an artist, I am an appreciator of the arts.”
For a long time, she envisioned opening a shop “that offers the public a place to see the talent within the immediate area, as well as a place to come together, have a sense of community and make.” To that end, HWY North has a regular schedule of classes for kids and adults ranging from sewing a tote bag to creating a Ukrainian egg ornament to making holiday cards.
The workshops, Anderson says, “encourage others to become makers by showing them new/old/forgotten skills, and by getting them ready to continue making beautiful things with their hands. Did you know studies have shown that being creative is essential to mental health? We bump that up a notch by also providing a fabulous community for making. It's all pretty great.”
Anderson finds HWY North’s bespoke shirts, jewelry, toys, art and home furnishings through local craft fairs. “But people are starting to contact me directly, which is exciting,” she says. She and group of collaborators discuss which items fit best with HWY North’s aesthetic, a continual work in progress, she says.
HWY North’s lease runs through March, Anderson says, “however, I would love to extend the lease if the store is successful.”

Union Depot muralist honored with installation and exhibition

In 2005, Atlanta-based painter Ralph Gilbert received a fellowship in mural painting from the National Academy of Design Museum. His topic was the multicultural history of Minnesota railroads. The destination for his six murals was St. Paul’s Union Depot. After Gilbert conducted extensive historical research, he spent seven months painting the panels, working on them at the same time to ensure continuity in style.
On Thursday, from 6-8 p.m., the Minnesota Museum of American Art (MMAA) will guide visitors from its Project Space in downtown St. Paul to Gilbert’s murals, which are on display on the west wall of the Grand Waiting Room at Union Depot. Concurrently, MMAA is showcasing an exhibition “Ralph Gilbert: Studies for Union Depot,” through December 7. The show includes selections from Gilbert’s preparatory work including 10 drawings, four watercolors, four oil sketches on panel, and nine oil paintings.
The niches at Union Depot that hold Gilbert’s murals are tall and narrow, measuring 16-feet high by six-feet wide, with arched tops. “The challenge for Gilbert,” according to a press release issued by MMAA, “was developing each composition within the unconventional proportions.”
The concurrent exhibition at MMAA’s Project Space, says Christina Chang, Curator of Engagement, MMAA, “presents a very small selection of Ralph’s extensive process, and also shows how he worked through ‘problems’ or compositional challenges. It’s a unique opportunity to see these materials so close at hand to the finished work.”
Gilbert’s subject matter includes the Mississippi River and the Dakota tribe that made way for white settlement; Union Depot’s historical connection to the former Rondo community; the arrival of European immigrants to Minnesota via Union Depot; and the deployment of soldiers from the Union Depot during two world wars.
MMAA’s collaboration with Union Depot represents a long-held desire to engage the Depot’s commitment to public art with MMAA’s dedication to strengthening its connection to Lowertown, Chang says. “The exhibition presented the perfect opportunity to do so. It’s rare to have an exhibition of preparatory work so close to the final piece, especially with public art, so we’re hopping visitors will take advantage of the opportunities to see both venues on the same trip.”
Chang adds that mural installation, in concert with MMAA’s exhibition, brings well-warranted attention to Gilbert and his work. “So often, artists are lost in the history behind public art.”
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