Thursday, April 24, 2014

Letter from Andover Elementary School

I had fun this week. Received this letter from four students in the Minnesota School of Excellence at Andover Elementary School.

"Dear Councilman Thune:
How are you? We are students from Andover Elementary School. We are doing this for a school project. We need to gather information about you in ward two. Here are our questions."

Dear Four Students:
I received your letter about your school project in Andover to gather information about Ward 2 in the City of Saint Paul. So happy to hear about your interest in Saint Paul. Maybe you will come to visit us one day – or even move here to live when you are an adult. [That was a little politician humor, but Ward 2 is a wonderful, magical place to live.]

You had some questions:
1). How long have I been a Councilmember?
I was first sworn in to that office in January of 1990 and served until January 1998. I was replaced by the current Mayor of Saint Paul. He decided not to run for re-election, so I ran again in 2003 and was sworn in to the office in January of 2004. I know that you have excellent math skills so I will let you figure out that math.

2). How big is Ward 2? How many neighborhoods are in Ward 2?
The ward is 5 miles long, and a little over 3 miles wide. As you may know, in Saint Paul we have named all our neighborhoods because people have been living here a long time. Ward 2 includes four neighborhoods: Fort Road (where I live), the West Side, Summit Hill, and Downtown. My neighborhood has houses still standing that were built before the Civil War, so we are the oldest neighborhood in the city. My ward has more historic homes than all six of the other wards in the city combined; most of them in the large historic districts in Summit Hill. I live in a historic district in Fort Road.
The photo to the right is the Dahl house, one of the oldest homes in the city. We were also home to the Schmidt Brewery (photo on the left), which is on the National Historic Register and is now being turned into artist apartments after sitting vacant for many decades. To give you a history mystery to solve, what was the original name of the City of Saint Paul? Hint: it’s a really funny name.

3). How old was I when I first became a Councilmember?
I was 39 years old

4). How many people live in Saint Paul? How many people live in Ward 2?
We are now four years from the latest census where we would know for sure. The City of Saint Paul estimates the city’s population at 287,151. The company City Data estimates our population at 290,770. We are the second largest city in the State of Minnesota, with about 5,000 people per square mile, as compared to a statewide average of 67 people per square mile. Ward 2 has a population of about 41,281; Fort Road = 11,083 people, the West Side = 15,567 people, Summit Hill = 6,574 people, and Downtown (CapitolRiver Council boundaries) = 8,057, according to Minnesota Compass, a data analysis project of Wilder Foundation. I also have the Union Gospel homeless shelter in the Railroad Island neighborhood, which adds a few people to the population of the ward, but it is nightly population and much more difficult to count.

5). How many schools are there in my ward?
There are five elementary schools, one public junior high school, one public high school, at least four charter schools, two international schools, a couple of satellite college campuses, and a technical college right across the street from my ward.

6)_. How do I like to spend my spare time in the ward?
I am an artist, so I like to create art. Currently I am working with vinyl on glass. I have experimented with other art forms too. And I own an art gallery, which keeps me very busy putting on shows of other artists’ work. I also play lead guitar in a band called Backstreet Boogie Band. A couple of weekends ago, we played at a sock hop for the Highland Friendship Club, a social organization that provides social activities for handicapped children. My wife Sue and I also enjoy riding my vintage Harley motorcycle, and I am a season ticket holder to Wild hockey. My staff will tell you that I mostly do spend my spare time in the ward. I very rarely ever venture out of it, except to attend police and fire academy graduations or volunteer award ceremonies in other city wards.

7). What is the culture like in Ward 2?
Ward 2 is home to Saint Paul’s Cultural Corridor. We have the Ordway, Fitzgerald, Park Square, History, Showboat, and Bedlam Theatres. We have at least four other smaller theater companies in the ward. We are home to the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Saint Paul Opera, Nautilis, Zeitgeist, and dozens of other music venues (Black Dog Café, CSPS Hall, Amsterdam Café, McNally-Smith College of Music, etc). We will soon be home to the Minnesota Museum of American Art which is going into the Endicott

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

January-February 2014 Update

1). Dave met with the former owner of Porky’s on University Avenue who, along with his partner, are interested in opening a new Porky’s bar and restaurant somewhere on West 7th Street.

2). On January 8, Thune stepped down as Chair of the Housing & Redevelopment Authority (HRA) after six years. His staff made a highlight reel video of the Golden Years.

3). Pat met with Shirley Erstad and Peggy Lynch from Friends of the Parks about Pedro Park and the approaching time limit this coming November to make it a park. Sent Shirley a copy of the City Council resolution and the signed legal agreement between the City and the Pedro family.

4). Dave met with Karen Reid about development on Cesar Chavez and Robert Street.

5). Dave met with PED and City Council finance staff about this year’s TIF informational report from PED. The same day, Dave met with Tony Vavoulis and Terry Hayden about Hazelden’s expansion plans in Fort Road. The current plans call for big improvements in parking through a parking lot expansion.

6). Meetings, meetings. Dave has been having a regular monthly meeting with JoAnne Hawkins from CapitolRiver Council. Pat and Tom Brock met with Patrick McCutchan about Art Crawl and the feasibility study to explore an arts community center/hacker space in the Met Council Train Shed in Lowertown. Pat toured the Schmidt Brewery – saw completed construction in the Bottle House which is now about 90% leased, and in the Castle which is still undergoing construction and will be complete in June.

7). Fire Blotter ARSON – On January 14 at 11:44 p.m. on 2xx Goodrich Avenue fire companies were dispatched to a report of a vehicle on fire behind this address. Fire companies extinguished the fire quickly. This fire is under investigation. Damage is estimated at $2,000.

8). Pat has also been meeting with City Council staff, Mayor’s staff, the police, Parks & Rec, and DSI noise variance staff about Festivals/Runs/Events on Saint Paul city streets and in parks. The issues are frequency on any one route (especially the overly-used Summit/MLB, Shepard Road route), noise, notification, fees, timing of when notice is given to the City Council and to District Councils, and City Council participation on the events committee.

9). Dave stood in for the Mayor welcoming the crowd to the Winter Carnival Queen Coronation. For a former West Wind and his lady Wind, this was a dream come true.

10). The Ward 2 office was busy in January passing out information to local businesses about how the city-wide bike plan will affect their businesses on St. Peter and 10th Streets. The City has done a stellar job of letting the bicycling community know about the plan and seeking their input; not such a great job of informing small businesses who will lose one full lane of parking to this plan to create an off-street bike lane which will be located on the street. To make it off-street, it will be completely separated from traffic lanes by bollards or be up on a curb. If you have not sent in comments yet, review the draft plan, and comment on Open Saint Paul. The comment period ends April 30, 2014.

Dave is particularly interested in your thoughts on the 10th Street alignment vs. an 11th Street alignment on the north end of the downtown loop. Let us know your opinions as well at

11). Thune met with Chris Tolbert, Pat Harris, Todd Hurley, and Mike Hahm to discuss the fully accessible tot lot at Victoria Park. Following discussion of all the fees collected by Parks & Rec in Ward 2, Director Mike Hahm agreed to find some money to prepare a donor brochure that Thune, Harris, Tolbert, Rene’ Pritzker, and John Marshall can take to potential donors to raise funds for the playground.

12). Pat called Mike Rogers with Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority to tell him about Neal Gosman’s discovery on a recent trip to Seoul, Korea. They have an airline counter at the Seoul Train Station, so you can get your seat reservation, check your bags, and get on an express shuttle to the Incheon International Airport. The shuttle is the A’REX Airport express train. At the airport, you check in at a special counter where you don’t have to do anything but the metal detector and you can get right into the airport waiting lounges. Mike was interested.

13). Pat handed out Neighborhood Honor Roll awards at the ceremony. Honorees included Rick Cardenas, Don Oberdorfer, Bill Pesek, and a West 7th resident named Mark Haugen who was chosen by CapitolRiver Council. Bill Thurmes also got an award, but was vacationing in the Caribbean and could not be there to accept it. Pat offered to personally deliver it to him in the Caribbean, but Lantry said no. Pictured here l-r: Mark Haugen, Doug Rzeszutek, Rick Cardenas, and Bill Pesek.

14). Carol Neumann met with Thune several times to discuss a shortage of affordable, aging-in-place housing options on the West Side. Carol was recently appointed to the Mayor’s Council on Aging.

15). Summit Hill neighbors e-mailed about a proposal to install six (6) wireless antennas, six (6) remote radio head units, and one (1) raycap surge protector box on the roof of an apartment building at 1160 Grand Ave, with twelve (12) lines of coax and one (1) hybrid cable running from the roof into the basement equipment room of the building. Plus a condensing unit located on the ground at the rear of the building to cool the basement equipment. This issue has gone to the Zoning Committee and the Planning Commission, which both approved it. Because it is still an active issue, the Ward 2 office must keep an open mind and not comment on it one way or another.

16). Dave met with Robin Hickman, Jack Becker, and Joe Spencer about the Gordon Parks statue in Landmark Park. Joe indicated that cultural STAR dollars could potentially be available for the statue.

17). Dave spoke at the Penfield Grand Opening on February 6th. He particularly addressed the wonderful public art included with the building, and thanked Joan Mondale for all her work in getting the 1% for the arts funding passed. Dave told me later that Joan Mondale showed up herself at the Saint Paul City Council, walked around to each Councilmember’s office to talk to them personally about the importance of public art, and testified at the Saint Paul City Council hearing to encourage passage of the 1% for the arts city ordinance. He was super impressed and became a huge Joan Mondale fan.

18). Thune has been working to support Catholic Charities’ ReVision plan to expand the Dorothy Day building to a continuum of care campus that will take the city from overcrowded mats-on-the-floor conditions to dignified shelter, permanent homes, and connections to hope and opportunity. Many people do not know that 40% of the homeless population actually have jobs; many of them full-time jobs at minimum wage. The homeless population in Saint Paul jumped by about 50% after the stock market crash in late 2008; from a one-night population of 7,751 then to a current one-night population of 10,214. Because of a lot of NIMBY by some Saint Paul elected officials not on the City Council, the Mayor moved the location from Grove Street to the same location Dorothy Day is in today - in consideration of the time pressure to get it funded this legislative session.

BTW, Nancy Homans said nice things about Thune in an explanatory memo to the City Council: “Before I close, I want to take a moment to thank Councilmember Thune who, while he was enthusiastic about the opportunities at the 321 Grove site for those struggling with homelessness, immediately embraced this change as the most direct path to meeting their needs.” Click here for the full report.

19). We instituted odd-side only parking in Saint Paul until the snow melts (sort of, mostly, except when it isn’t, but nearly always). That ended on March 27th.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Sewer Connections for Newly Vacant Lots

On February 5, 2014 the City Council approved a Thune amendment to the 2014 Legislative Agenda to provide a city program to assist purchasers of newly vacant city lots re-connect their also demolished sewer and water connections. (Some Category 3 vacant houses, and their sewer and water connections, were demolished after the foreclosure crisis.) The vote of the City Council on Councilmember Thune's amendment was 7-0. Senator Sandy Pappas introduced the bill in the 2014 legislative session.

This replicates an existing program that assists homeowners who need to replace already-in-place sewer and water connections. There are several areas of the City where sewer and water connections are more expensive than average due to a rocky topography. This program can be of enormous help in that situation.

The City provides the up-front capital to install the sewer and water connections, which the homeowner pays back as a voluntary special assessment on their property taxes with interest over 20 years.

March 21, 2014 Update: Thanks to some excellent work by Sen. Sandy Pappas and the City's Sewer Utility Division of Public Works, it was determined that replacing a sewer and/or water connection on a lot on which a now-demolished house had once stood, is indeed a replacement and not a new service. This means that the existing program can be utilized as a funding mechanism to help new lot purchasers who are surprised by the high cost of drilling a new sewer pipe to connect into the sandrock sanitary sewer under their properties in West 7th/Fort Road. This cost can be four (4) to five (5) times higher than reconnecting sewers in parts of the city where the substrate is nice black dirt instead of limestone rock. Sen. Pappas was informed that the bill was no longer necessary. If you just purchased a newly vacant lot in Fort Road on which you plan to build your dream home, and you would like information on this program, call 651-266-6230.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

$91.4 Million in Economic Development in Ward 2 in Calendar Year 2013

As part of the City's Early Notification System (ENS), we report on commercial construction permits over $50,000 issued each week. The graph below shows construction activity by ward. As you can see, Ward 2 has the lion's share of economic development activity in 2013. Largely this is because downtown is in Ward 2. However, even removing downtown from the total would put economic development activity in the ward $18 million above the next closest ward. We learned from a recent Ramsey County study that Saint Paul has lots of jobs; we just import too many workers from the burbs to fill them.

What is surprising is how little economic development activity in a year is subsidized by the City, or are projects like libraries and parks owned by the City. Less than 11% of all Ward 2 projects fall into those two categories. The subsidies ranged from 1% to 50%. Generally the 50% match projects are the small STAR-funded projects like Bedlam Theater and Summit Brewing's added brew tank. Schmidt Brewery (2012 permit) received a 4% subsidy.

By neighborhood, the $91.4 million breaks down as follows:
  • West Side = $9.239,748, or 10.1% - largest projects were schools
  • West 7th = $29,306,644, or 32.1%, largest projects were hospitals
  • Summit Hill = $616,521, or 0.7%, largest project was Minn. History Center
  • Railroad Island = $5,230,680, or 5.7%, largest projects were hospitals and offices
  • Downtown = $47,002,976, or 51.4%, largest project was the Ordway
Let's look at what types of businesses were building or renovating in Ward 2 last year. The breakdown by business type is shown in the graph below. Arts & Culture is the largest category, mostly due to the on-going almost $30 million dollar construction at the Ordway. Landmark Center also did a major renovation last year with no City assistance. Schmidt Brewery and the Penfield obtained permits in 2012, making Multi-Family Residential smaller than one might think this past year. And Industrial is just the little growth engine that could every year.
The graph below looks at Ward 2 economic development from the standpoint of the type of work performed. The largest category of work is interior remodeling/renovation at $37.4 million, or 41%. The next category is the construction of new additions at $35 million, or 38% of the total. That category is composed of one building addition at $30 million and a lot of very small additions in a lot of places. The third largest category is Exterior Remodeling at $6.9 million, or 8%; mostly roof and window replacements. The fourth category is tenant build-outs at $5.4 million or 6%. This is a very important economic development indicator because tenant build-outs are only done for new tenants who are leasing that space for the first time. We don't have any way of telling if they are new businesses or businesses expanding from one Saint Paul location to a larger Saint Paul location. Either way, it's good news. That category is followed by new construction at $3.3 million (mostly warehouses); demolition and grounds improvements at $2.3 million; and combined exterior/interior remodeling at $1.1 million. Those last three categories make up 7.3% of the total.

This was a good note to go out on as Chair of the Housing & Redevelopment Authority (HRA). But rest assured, economic development continues in Ward 2. We have had over $6.5 million in commercial construction in Ward 2 in the first two months of 2014; again the most of any ward in the city.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

LRT Vertical Connection to Skyway

More photos of the groundbreaking of the new publicly owned vertical connection between the downtown LRT station at 5th & Cedar and the skyway system. This public access will help, not only those with mobility issues, but everyone gain full access to the skyway system during its full hours of operation from 6 am to 2 am. Total credit for even having this vertical access go to Rick Cardenas with ACT Together for his tireless work on this issue at the legislature over the past two years.

Starting at upper left and going clockwise in a spiral: (1) Councilmember Thune with Rick Cardenas; (2) Sen. Jim Carlson (Senate sponsor of funding bill), Thune, and Met Council Board Member Richard Kramer; (3)Sen. Jim Carlson and Rick Cardenas with shovels; (4)Groundbreaking with Jim McDonough, Rafael Ortega, Sen. Jim Carlson, Rick Cardenas, Mayor Chris Coleman, Dave Thune, Met Council Board Member Jon Commers, CapitolRiver Council Executive Director Melissa Martinez-Sones with shovels (note that only Thune actually got any dirt on his shovel); and Mark Hughes with the Mayor's Council on Disabilities with Rick Cardenas with ACT.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Icy Cup/West Side Farmers Market Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting

And here is another one I forgot to post up from back in August. West Side Growing started a movement to encourage community gardens, boulevard gardens, public space fruit trees, and to create a local West Side Farmers Market. Maureen Hark and Barb Rose were two of the very many guiding lights behind this effort. Pompeyo Sanchez, the new owner of the former DQ on Stryker and George, agreed to host the weekend Farmer's Market in his parking lot. Dave Thune agreed to sponsor a STAR grant and loan for a new arbor, bike racks, and public art. Greening the Avenue stepped in to provide technical assistance and grant management. They chose local West Side artist Caprice Glaser to create the public art mural on the Stryker side of the restaurant.

On a beautiful August Saturday, Pompeyo and Greening the Avenue held a Grand Opening and ribbon cutting. Everything is just stunning!

In fact, we were moved by the creativity of everyone at the Farmer's Market that day to create a movie of the event:

Hot Iron Pour 6

Just noticed that I had not posted photos from the Hot Iron Pour 6. The hot iron pour took place in the industrial buildings off Randolph at the back of the Schmidt Brewery site the last weekend of September. There were about 200 people who arrived at dusk to watch the spectacular show when the workers pour hot iron into the sand molds artists have made over the previous day and a half. The first photo is of workers preparing the sand molds for the hot iron. Here are the photos: