Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What is the 8-80 Vitality Fund?

City Council Action: Today the Saint Paul City Council today passed a plan to issue $40 million in bonds to capitalize an 8-80 Vitality Fund. So, what is an 8-80 Vitality Fund?

The 8-80 Vitality Fund is designed to promote economic development by increasing activity and vitality on our streets and in our public spaces for all ages from 8 to 80. Cities need to be interesting, vital places that attract people. The 8-80 Vitality Fund, inspired by the work of 8-80 Cities, includes projects that will attract millennials downtown at night, families to great neighborhoods with world class trails and bike lanes, workers to downtown with an off-street bike loop, travelers to the city with a green "balcony" attached to the Union Depot train deck, and residents and visitors to restaurants and entertainment venues.

Ward 2 Projects:
While there are many items in the 8-80 Vitality Fund for all the wards in the city (including completion of the long-planned Ground Round), we are most concerned about what great things will be happening in Ward 2.
  • Palace Theatre - $8 million
  • Central LRT Station Plaza - $1 million
  • River Balcony Phase 1 - $100,000
  • Jackson Street off-street bike loop segment downtown - $8 million
  • Downtown remaining bike loop design - $450,000
  • Saint Clair full reconstruction from Albert to West 7th Street - $2.5 million
  • Citywide optical fiber infrastructure - $1.8 million

Palace Theatre: Still palatial despite its time-roughened edges, the Palace constructed in 196 hosted the likes of Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers in its vaudeville days before being converted to the RKO Orpheum movie theater in 1947. After the movies stopped in 1982, it was used as a temporary home for “A Prairie Home Companion” through 1984 but has sat dormant since.
River Balcony: The Downtown edge includes areas for redevelopment along the bluff between Robert Street and Union Depot. A continuous River Balcony linking redevelopment sites, including the Union Depot, will create a dramatic public riverfront edge that extends from Lowertown, through Kellogg Park, to the Science Museum. Along the downtown edge, the physical and visual connections to the river will be enhanced by public passageways through new buildings proposed along the bluffs. With panoramic views from a series of “outdoor rooms,” the River Balcony will be a great place to have lunch or to relax with friends.
Central LRT Station Plaza: The small triangle bounded by the Vertical Connection elevator, Minnesota Club, Cedar Street, and 5th Street will be turned into a vibrant plaza. The photo shows the location of the plaza. It is the green space right behind Councilmember Thune and in front of the LRT tracks.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Opus Chosen as Tentative Developer for 7 Corners Gateway Site

From October 16, 2014 Pioneer Press (which is not always available electronically after a time any more):

The city of Saint Paul has selected the Opus Group to develop the Seven Corners Gateway site across the street from the Xcel Energy Center.

Minnetonka-based Opus' plan for the 2.4-acre site calls for a hotel, market-rate multi-family housing, retail and a public plaza. Opus submitted its proposal in partnership with Minneapolis-based Greco Real Estate.

"This is an exciting proposal from two well-respected developers that have produced high-quality, successful projects in the Greater MSP region and beyond," St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said in a prepared statement.

The Saint Paul Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA), which advertised the project in a Request for Qualifications, still must sign off on the plan. The HRA will take up naming Opus' as tentative developer of this site at its Oct. 22 meeting.

"Opus will be a great development partner and I look forward to future iterations of the plan that will give us that "Wow" factor we are hoping for at the entrance to and exit from downtown Saint Paul," said Dave Thune, Ward 2 City Councilmember and HRA Commissioner, in an unprepared statement.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Invitation and Havenbrook Homes in Ward 2

The September 24-30, 2014 City Pages newspaper carried an interesting article entitled "For $ale" about the new mega absentee landlord in Saint Paul called Invitation Homes. Invitation Homes is a division of the Wall Street firm Blackstone Group that entered the absentee landlord game two years ago when they purchased 45,000 homes nationwide in bulk for the purposes of renting them out. They have purchased 1,200 homes in the Twin Cities alone. A quick check of Saint Paul's property inquiry database shows they own 83 homes in the City of Saint Paul, 11 of them in Ward 2.

And since Blackstone Group is an investment firm, they have securitized this investment and sold rental income backed bonds to their investors. Last year Blackstone Group packaged up 3,000 of its rental homes, pooled them together, and sold them off as a $500 million "rental backed security." Sound familiar? And Moody's, Morningstar, and Kroll rating agencies gave these bonds a triple-A rating. Luckily Fitch and Standard & Poor's have both been more skittish about these untried bonds.

Another me-too company has sprung up recently in the Twin Cities rental marketplace, and now owns 62 rental properties in the City of Saint Paul, 8 of them in Ward 2, in fact all 8 of them on the West Side. Havenbrook Homes was founded by Wall Streeter Oliver Chang, the former head of housing strategy at Morgan Stanley. According to Bloomberg News (Wall Street Aristocracy, Aug 22, 2011), Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke lent banks and other investment companies as much as $1.2 trillion of public money, about the same amount U.S. homeowners owed on 6.5 million delinquent and foreclosed mortgages. The largest borrower, Morgan Stanley, got as much as $107.3 billion, while Citigroup took $99.5 billion, according to a Bloomberg News compilation of data obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, months of litigation and an act of Congress.

Havenbrook's methodology is to make an offer on a home within hours of posting for sale, and then offering less than the asking price, but offering cash for the sale.

Despite the three ratings agencies' triple-A ratings of these rental-backed securities, the Federal Reserve weighed in with a caution: "Despite these benefits, the large-scale rental of single family homes is still a new business with a short track record and, thus, carries significant risks."

Robbie Feinberg, the author of the City Pages article, spoke to Mike Vraa from HOME Line, a tenant's rights group in Minneapolis. Vraa said that Invitation Homes loves fees for everything. They have a $100-a-day late fee, a $250 fee for another occupant, a $50 per day fee for a pet. According to Vraa, many of these fees are illegal in Minnesota, but the company is national and doesn't seem to know about Minnesota laws relating to tenant rights.

Of the 11 Invitation Homes located in Ward 2, nine of them are located on the West Side, one on the West End, and one in Summit Hill. All of Havenbrook's eight homes are located on the West Side. If you have a particular property, you are concerned about, you can call the Ward 2 office at 651-266-8621 to see if your problem property is owned by a national Wall Street backed group.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Palace Rec Center and the Jefferson Avenue Bike Boulevard

Councilmember Thune has been getting a lot of phone calls and e-mails about taking some money from the Palace Rec Center expansion and upgrade in order to complete the Jefferson Avenue Bike Boulevard. Let us provide a little background and some financial information on this subject. It can be hard sometimes to follow the bouncing ball in government finances.

The 2013 Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) that funded the Palace Rec Center expansion and upgrade was always $1.053 million short. It was always anticipated that an additional $1.053 million would have to be added in the 2015 budget, for completion of construction in 2016. Completion of the Jefferson Avenue bike boulevard had cost increases because of difficulties getting the project approved in the Highland Park section of the trail. The Jefferson Avenue bike boulevard took away $91,000 from the 2013 budget for Palace Rec Center. That means that the 2015 budget for that project will have to be increased by $1.144 million now - and not just $1.053 million.

In fact, our City Council Finance staff person informs Councilmember Thune that $92,000 has already been added to the Palace Rec Center project in the latest CIB budget materials that came out after the Mayor's recent budget address at the Schmidt Brewery in mid-August. In other words, the Mayor is recommending replacing that $92,000 immediately.

So, when the City Council votes to adopt the budget for 2015 in December of this year, they will also be voting to add an additional $92,000 to the Palace Center budget, just a little more than what was taken out for the Jefferson Avenue bike boulevard.

Please indulge me while I take a few minutes to talk about the Jefferson Avenue bike boulevard. This project was originally brought forward by West End residents who were concerned that their children do not have sidewalks on Jefferson, that the street lighting there is very bad, and that cars have a tendency to speed down that hill. We worked for years with Public Works until an opportunity to obtain some federal funding for a pedestrian/bike street improvement became available. The residents on Jefferson got on board early in supporting this way to make their street safer for the children, and for all walkers and bikers who use the street. There will also be bump-outs for parking, which will help in getting children into and out of cars without worrying about getting hit from behind by someone coming down Jefferson too fast. And hopefully the bike boulevard itself will make it safer for children to bike to school and other activities.

Happily for the West End, this is not an either/or situation. We will get both a new bike boulevard complete with sidewalks and street lights AND an expanded and upgraded Palace Rec Center. There will just be a few more minor items pushed to the 2016 budget cycle instead of the 2015 budget cycle, and it was always planned that there would be a 2016 budget cycle for Palace.

As always, we would be happy to hear from you on this or any other subject.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Military Blackhawk Helicopters

As many of you know, we all discovered a lot of Blackhawk helicopters flying low over our homes and around the high rise buildings and apartments/condos downtown after dinner time on Monday. I, as the City Councilmember, was not informed that these exercises would be done in Saint Paul. I have since discovered that our police department and our Mayor were made aware of the training exercises many months in advance, but decisions were made not to inform me or you or any residents in Saint Paul. They said they did not want bystanders watching their exercises. However, as soon as they started flying low over downtown, they had bystanders watching them. It's a little hard to hide a giant helicopter flying really fast, really low.

Columnist Joe Soucheray's house apparently also got buzzed by dark helicopters flying low. Click on the greyed out words to read his column.

And blogger Theresa Boardman also had her house buzzed by dark helicopters flying low. Click on the greyed out words to read her blog.

We were all surprised and some of us I think justifiably horrified to hear, see and feel the very loud and violent weapons of war passing through our neighborhoods. Coupled with the government's penchant for mysterious communication and national and world events screaming at us from local news and CNN (no FOX news in this household), I was genuinely pissed off to see Blackhawk helicopters at treetop height and chasing about between downtown highrise housing towers. I wasn't satisfied with initial explanations and still feel that it is inherently unsafe to mix military training with a very dense downtown residential population.

But here's the good news: 1. Contrary to my initial fears the City of St. Paul has not compromised our extremely well trained and dedicated police department by mixing its local law enforcement status with a national police presence. I am completely satisfied that we do NOT collect truckloads of military hardware nor have we any intention of doing so and that our part in the exercises was to secure areas for public safety. 2. Shit happens... it was an honest breakdown in communications that left us surprised and unnerved. In the future, a lesson learned is to keep information-sharing local and not rely on the feds or Minneapolis to share information publicly. 3. Despite the shock and awe, we have a very very well trained and brave national defense force that does need to train for the unspeakably evil purveyors of terror around the world and potentially here at home.

So anyhow, I've come away confident that our local government and law enforcement is indeed local; that we can and should take care to trust the wisdom of our public with information and let the public be a part of making decisions on public safety; and that should bad guys show up at our borders there would be no one I'd trust more to protect us than the guys we saw in action this week.

Finally, we all have a right and duty to insist on good and forthright communication and that its still okay to ask questions and trust... but verify.

Monday, July 28, 2014

May-June Update

New, Yet Old, Restaurant on West 7th
Tryg Truelson, Porkys, called about a variance for a projecting sign. Pat had a meeting with him, City staff from Zoning and the Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) that went well. Tryg left confident he could design a projecting sign that met all the criteria they listed off.

Riverview Corridor Study
Thune met with Rafael Ortega, Tim Mayasich, and Chris Tolbert about the Riverview Corridor study. We will have to ask Dave for a report. He pronounced it a “good” meeting.

HRA-Owned Spinter Parcels
On May 7th, Dave met with PED staff about selling some HRA-owned splinter parcels in Ward 2. They want to list them for sale in October. On that same date, the City Council approved receipt of a Ramsey County hazardous waste clean-up grant for the Saints ballpark, and a $725,000 DEED grant from the State of Minnesota for Custom House – also for hazardous waste clean-up.

Locked Picnic Shelters?
Rick Cardenas called to ask why Parks is locking up the small picnic shelter at Harriet Island – and he sent photos. The head of Operations for Parks said they lock up all the picnic shelters that have a fence around them because they don’t want people who don’t pay to use the shelters. Hhhhmmm.

Lunds Grocery Store Opens
Dave attended the Lunds Store Grand Opening on May 15th. He was able to purchase a can of Spaghetti-Os in downtown Saint Paul. Two days later, he attended the Public Works snow plow drivers and staff appreciation lunch at the Dale Street shops.

Bike Trail on Kellogg or 4th Street?
Brian Horst called wanting to know the case for putting the downtown bike trail loop on Kellogg. He is getting a lot of lobbying to support the “4th Street Greenway.” Pat called Reuben Collins, PED bike coordinator, who said they chose Kellogg mostly because it is wider. He said Public Works also had some questions about how the pedestrian flow would work if they removed the sidewalks and opened up the area ways. They needed more information about what that would look like and how it would function, especially for the handicapped.

Dorothy Day Center New Shelter Building
Dave participated in a community meeting with his neighbors in Irvine Park about the new expanded Dorothy Day in light of some issues with panhandling, and camping overnight in back yards around Irvine Park. Tim Marx from Catholic Charities offered to work with community on finding solutions, and committed at the meeting to hiring outreach workers to locate the camps and try to get them into Dorothy Day. Since then, Mr. Marx has back-pedaled and now says Dorothy Day will not hire any outreach workers. Rosemarie Reger-Rumsey from Listening House pointed out that a recent survey of the homeless in Saint Paul and Minneapolis revealed that only 10% of the people who hold up signs on street corners begging for money have ever tried to access any homeless services. They are not locating near homeless services because 90% of them do not use those services.

Pat attended the preliminary site plan review for the Dorothy Day shelter. She talked to Steven Hardie, Director of Facilities, about the possibility of Dave Thune walking around Old Main with Steve to see if there are any architectural details and/or features that could be save and re-used as a piece of public art in the plaza of the new shelter. Steve was very open to that.

What Can Happen at an HPC Award Dinner
Dave attended the Heritage Preservatoin Awards dinner. He wandered off script and spoke about how he had met the partners from Dominium at a Heritage Preservation Award ceremony several years ago, and chased them down as they were leaving the building to beg them to get involved with the Schmidt Brewery. They did, and look at what beauty happened there! Video of this digression.

Bus Shelter in Front of River Park Lofts?
Lydia Wong, and 38 more people at River Park Lofts and around Lowertown, e-mailed in opposition to moving the bus shelter on 6th Street to the River Park Lofts corner. Lydia said her condo lost 30% of its value in the stock market crash and she cannot afford another loss of value. Joe Spencer from the Mayor’s office attended the CRC Special Development Committee at which dozens of angry River Park Lofts residents came to complain about moving the arterial bus rapid transit shelter to the front of their building – for some right in front of the window to their home.
There has been a move, supported by Thune, to slow down on implementation of any rapid transit options on West 7th Street until all the current studies of BRT, streetcars, and the Riverview Corridor Study are all completed. Since the large bus shelter was part of the arterial BRT implementation, that has been delayed for a global transit solution on West 7th. So, the bus stop (without a shelter) will be in front of the ramp on 6th Street for the time being.

Council Rides the Green Line LRT
Dave and Pat got a ride with all the other City Councilmembers, staff, and Mayor Coleman on the not-quite-open-yet Green Line LRT.

Schmidt Artists Straw Bale Garden
Pat handled the straw bale garden location issues. Public Works marked off space they can occupy right across the street from the Schmidt Brewery. Schmidt Brewery Lofts residents cleaned up the lot, cut brush and prepared the straw bales for gardening. Parks stepped up to clear away the brush, and Public Works provided a step-down hose system from a nearby fire hydrant. The straw bale gardeners are already harvesting their summer bounty.

Good-Bye Children's Play Space; Hello Depot Tot Lot
The awkwardly named Children’s Play Space officially got a proper name on May 28th. The Capitol River Council started the ball rolling by hosting a contest. Their winning entry went to the citizen Parks and Rec Commission, which in turn forward the name change to Depot Tot Lot to the City Council.

Arbor Day at Linwood-Monroe
Dave participated in the Arbor Day celebration at Linwood-Monroe Arts Plus Elementary School, at which a new tree was planted. The teachers send the students off on Friday afternoons with the most wonderful song.

Cultural STAR Grant Awards
Also on May 28th, the City Council approved allocation of Cultural STAR funding. Ward 2 organizations receiving grants:
  • Bedlam Theatre = $35,000
  • Lowertown Guitar Fest = $20,000
  • MN Museum Amer. Art = $100,000
  • Disability Film Fest = $5,000
  • Gordon Parks Statue = $15,000
  • Zeitgeist Music Cabaret = $7,500

Grand Avenue Not-So-Grand Moments Mary Hartmann called about Grand Old Days. She said a stranger opened up the gate to her fence, came into her yard, and pooped there. She is grossed out and wants to know what can be done about that? Another resident said an inebriated young person from Grand Old Days came inside his fence, and walked into his home.

Grand Opening of Cardenas LRT Connection Dave participated in the Grand Opening of the Cardenas LRT/Skyway Vertical Connection at 5th & Cedar on June 5th. Rick Cardenas was the first person to enter and use the vertical connection. In May, Dave received a copy of a resolution from the Mayor’s Council on Disabilities requesting that the LRT vertical connection be renamed the Cardenas Connection. The Ward 2 office is exploring who the actual owner of that tiny building is.

Construction Silt and Water Run-Off at Wilder Site Several Summit Hill residents called about the ongoing problem of construction sand and silt running off the Wilder construction sites on Fairmount. She asked the developer, John Wall, and contractor to clean it up. They told her they didn’t need to; the City would tag them, they would pay the tag, and proceed to finish the houses on time. The younger neighbors on Fairmount have been shoveling that stuff up all summer and taking it back to deposit it on the construction sites – not just stuff in front of their homes, but also stuff in front of the homes of two elderly neighbors who are not physically able to shovel anything and haul it uphill. They are all getting bone tired after all the rain we have had this year and need some real enforcement of the Pollution Control Agency laws prohibiting construction dirt/sand/silt run-off.

George Latimer Central Library Named Dave and Sue attended the event at which the Central Library downtown was renamed the George Latimer Central Library. George is always entertaining and he did not disappoint on this occasion either. He was also deeply touched. Many commentators noted his long career in public life and his commitment to libraries and to education; but no one mentioned that he began his public life by serving on the Saint Paul School Board. Not enough gray hairs around.

Bigger, Better Hazelden/Betty Ford Building Dave participated in the ground breaking ceremony for an expansion at Hazelden/ Betty Ford Center onto what was until recently a polluted roofing company construction yard. The June ceremony was particularly poignant for Dave because his long-time friend and neighbor Mark Mishek is now the CEO of Hazelden and they were able to throw a little dirt together on a great development project. Al Carlson Retires from PED Pat attended Al Carlson’s retirement party. Al, a lead staff at PED, has been a great partner with Thune on most of the larger development that have occurred in Ward 2, and has always found a way to make them work. No one knows all the places that development money might be hiding in other government agencies the way Al did. He will be missed.

Liquor Barrel Going Old-School with Pylon Sign Thune has been working with Duane Weinke and Greening the Avenue’s Jon Kerr on a STAR application to rehab the retro pylon sign at his corner; Pat and Jon met with his son Christian (who is this store manager) on site to discuss their plans. He is even going to replace the old neon with some LED lights that will mimic the former neon arrow.

Dave Gives Tours of Ward 2 Dave and Pat took Matt Freeman from the Mayor’s office on a requested ride-along in Ward 2, stopping for lunch at Bay Street Grill.

Central Block Club Rocks Duffy Pearce invited Pat to the Central Block Club’s June meeting. Pat did attend; however she missed the cash mob at Icy Cup followed by a demonstration march to the Stryker Market. There was a drug bust at Stryker Market in June – and even more exciting news in July.

From Custom House to Post Office to Custom House Jim Stoplestad who is developing the old Post Office on Kellogg Boulevard into the Custom House (its original name), came before the HRA on June 18th for creation of a tax increment finance (TIF) district. The dollars will be used for (1) interior demo, and (2) public realm improvements like sidewalks, double globe street lights, and a reconfiguration of Kellogg for a drop-off. He will have to return to the HRA to get the funding for the TIF district approved; this just makes it possible for one to be set up.

Yacht Club Plans "Art Day on the River" Pat Boule’, new Yacht Club commodore, wants to reach out to Thune regarding the Yacht Club’s plans to host an “Art Day on the River.” We can never have too much art in Ward 2.

Convenience Store Licensing Ward 2 has been working with Ricardo Cervantes, Director of the Department of Safety and Inspections, about creating a general convenience store license and creating a penalty matrix or other enforcement tools. They are working with the City Attorney’s office and the Police in development of this potential enforcement tool.

Schmidt Sign Comes On at GermanFest Dave Thune got to throw the switch to turn on the refurbished flashing “SCHMIDT” sign at the Schmidt Brewery during the first annual GermanFest. Shown here with Dominium Director of Development Mark Moorhouse, and the two principal partners Paul Sween and Armand Brachman. Dave’s band also played prior to the lighting ceremonies. Churches in Permit Parking Zones Pat called the traffic engineer in Public Works to ask about how we treat churches in permit parking zones. She said that is covered in Ordinance #164. Churches have unlimited parking on regular church dates (usually Sundays), and Public Works has authority to issue special permits to churches for other events. Permit parking may not work well in Tom Hernandez’ case. She suggested looking at no parking on one side of street, but then that would inhibit the neighbors from parking there as well. This was all in response to several citizen complaints about a West Side church that takes up a lot of on-street parking and seems to meet all day into late at night every day of the week.

Panhandling on I-35E and Randolph 32). Thune met with Catholic Charities, Listening House, South Metro Outreach Team, Assistant Police Chief Todd Axtell, Commander Paul Iovino, Betty Moran, Laura Pietan, Nancy Homans, and Councilmember Dai Thao to talk about ways to curb aggressive panhandling, especially organized pan-handling near residential properties. Thune is particularly interested in the corner of Randolph and the I-35E entrance ramp. There were many heroes in the police department at a recent sweep following allegations of a kidnapping at the panhandlers camp on the corner of I-35E and Randolph. To all the police officers involved: you have our admiration and thanks for the great work you did that day and every day to make Saint Paul a better place for families to live.
WSCO Crime Prevention Picnic Dave and Sue Thune, and Pat all attended the West Side Neighbors’ Picnic at Cherokee Park sponsored by WSCO’s crime committee on June 26th. It was great fun seeing old friends and meeting new ones.
Green Wrought-Iron Bus Shelter Demolition George Serumgard, Met Council, called. He said his contractor doesn’t think it is possible to move the bus shelters at 5th & Minnesota. I asked him if his contractor was a mover. He said, no, his contractor is a demo contractor. I said that if the only thing his contractor knows how to do it demolition, then I am sure that every structure he looks at, he thinks cannot be moved. Maybe we should talk to a house mover. George was skeptical and didn’t seem to want to pursue anything. Joe Landsberger is trying to get those bus shelters to Highbridge Park.

Over-Served Liquor on Grand Avenue A Summit Hill resident called to talk to Dave about an incident at her home. She and her husband heard a disturbance in their home late at night, and upon investigation found a drunk, naked young man about college age passed out on their living room couch. They called the police, who took him away to detox. However, when they called to find out which liquor establishment had over-served said young man, the police told them that they never asked that question. This has been a long-term frustration of Thune’s; it is also difficult to get the police to ask where an inebriated person involved in a car accident was served that much alcohol. This is a problem.
Urban Flower Field at Pedro Park Pat attended the Grand Opening of the Urban Flower Field at Pedro Park, had some lemonade, and painted some rocks.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Penfield Grand Opening

On May 15th, Councilmember Dave Thune had the pleasure of seeing a long-term dream of his for downtown realized. He participated in the grand opening of the Lunds Store. He was able to purchase a can of Spaghetti-Os in downtown Saint Paul at a full service grocery store for the first time in several decades.

Because we just realized that we never included video of his speech at the Grand Opening of the market-rate apartments at the Penfield earlier in the year. Dave used some of his time to thank Joan Mondale for the all the work she did to get a percent for the arts requirement in all City-owned buildings passed by the City Council. Even though she was the wife of the Vice President of the United States, she walked the halls of City Hall lobbying each member of the Saint Paul City Council for their vote for this important piece of public policy. And the public art at the new Penfield is a testament to how important her work was and is.

Click here for the video.