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 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. Here are the photos:

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Thune Hands Over HRA Chair Gavel

Today was the end of an era at City Hall. Dave Thune, who has been Chair of the Saint Paul Housing & Redevelopment Authority (HRA) since 2008, stepped down and handed the gavel over to Commissioner Amy Brendmoen.

His staff put together a little slide show of some of the highlights of good things that happened in Ward 2 and Downtown during Dave's tenure. There were lots of good things that happened in other wards of the City, like Frogtown Square, Hamms Brewery, Episcopal Homes, Hospital Linen, Old Home Dairy, and many city wide community development corporation projects, but we don't have any photos of them.

Experiencing technical difficulties or to see full screen; click on this link.

Just to be clear, he will continue to be an HRA Commissioner. He is only relinquishing the gavel; not his opinions and ideas.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

September--October Update

Fall National Night Out on Isabel
Pat attended the Isabel/Prospect Park block club National Night Out party and neighborhood pot luck – held just a wee bit later. It was well attended by neighbors and the fall food was way better than the summer food. Thanks Jocelyn Sweet and neighbors!

Fitzgerald Park Named an Official Park
Ward 2 Office has been fielding a lot of calls lately from Fitzgerald Park precinct residents and business owners who are concerned about missing the deadline to officially declare Pedro Park a City of Saint Paul park. The deadline will be the end of May 2014.

West Side Burglaries
Ward 2 Office also received a lot of calls in September and October about burglaries on the West Side. Dave Thune organized a September meeting at Amore Coffee Shop attended by Sgt. Grundhauser from the FORCE unit and Tom Brock, intern in the Ward 2 Office. Then in October, calls came in from the Sidney/Charlton block club, which experienced 3 burglaries, and one attempted burglary in a 5-day period. About 35 people squeezed into a home on the block to talk with Commander Tim Flynn from Central District about actions taken to date to make them safer, and to get some advice on “Crime Prevention Thru Environmental Design” (CPTED). The St. Paul Police Department offers CPTED analyses and suggestions as a service. At both meetings, neighbors were encouraged to call in all suspicious activity to let burglars know that this is not a safe zone within which they can operate freely; however, being a person of color is NOT suspicious activity. It is only activity like seeing people go around to the back to knock on doors of neighbors you know are not home; pounding loudly on garage doors; peeping in your neighbors windows; walking out of your neighbor’s house carrying something wrapped in a blanket; coming out of your neighbor’s open garage door when your neighbor’s car is not in it; dropping their bikes in your back yard and returning for it in 10 to 15 minutes; collecting for vague charities with no ID provided by the group; etc.

Gordon Parks Statue in Landmark Park
Dave attended the Parks & Rec Commission meeting in September with Robin Hickman to talk about plans to install a Gordon Parks statue in Landmark Park. There was general support, especially from Ward 2 Parks & Rec Commissioner David Haley. Nice to see Ward 2 represented so well.

Summit Hill Home Development on Fairmount and Osceola
Several Summit Hill residents called about water and soil run-off from the home construction projects occurring at the old Wilder site on Fairmount and Osceola. The Ward 2 Office put them in touch with the PCA that regulates construction site run-off. They reported back, “Thanks Dave. The neighbors have been in contact with PCA and that is working wonderfully.”

Fully Accessible Children's Playground at Victoria Park
Thune presented his dream for a Fully Accessible Children’s Playground to the Victoria Park Design Committee at their September meeting. Dave brought along this project board to present his idea of a fully inclusive tot lot; one at which handicapped children and their able-bodied brothers, sisters, and friends could all play together on all the recreational equipment in the park. Dave and Councilmember Tolbert would like to see this tot lot installed on the lower portion of the park. There was a great reception to the idea among members of the committee.

Metro Cities Economic Development Task Force
Pat participated in a Metro Cities Economic Development Task Force looking into metro wide housing development and developing agenda items to request from the 2014 Minnesota State Legislature. None of the items required any funding increases. They were all tightening up or loosening up definitions in current law, eliminating some red tape, and having very frank conversations about the definition of affordable housing and workforce housing.

Trash Container at 10th & Cedar Bus Stop
Minnie Cardenas called to thank Councilmember Thune for getting a trash container put in by her bus stop on 10th& Cedar. We love thank you calls!

Sixth Annual Hot Iron Pour
Dave Thune and his band played on at the 6th Annual Hot Iron Pour at the Schmidt Brewery (Randolph Ave side) the last weekend in September. Pat attended, along with a couple hundred West Enders and arts supporters. Anyone who is an artist, or thinks they are an artist, can participate for the cost of a sand mold.

CapitolRiver Council's "Future of Arts" Committee
Pat attended CapitolRiver Council’s “Future of Arts” committee meeting. It was a great open discussion about the role the arts can play in the life of Lowertown, and how to incorporate those ideas into the strategic plan the Council is currently exploring. Thanks to Chair Tessa Jones for a great meeting. Pat also attended a listening session the following week that CRC put together to gather further ideas for their strategic plan.

NeDA Finishing up Work on Historic 639 Humboldt
Gail Merriam gave Pat a tour of 639 Humboldt Avenue, an historic, yellow-brick Queen Anne house that Thune saved and NeDA is in the process of renovating. This is the “before” photo. That house will be incredible when it’s done. The master bedroom has a sun filled dressing room attached in a little room at the head of the stairs. You have to see it!

Schmidt Brewery Now a Planned Unit Development
The City Council approved a Planned Unit Development District for the Schmidt Brewery that would include a liquor license for the historic Rathskeller. Fort Road Federation is in the process of locating a hospitality business that would like to operate a wedding reception/convention/ event center in the Rathskeller.

Heritage Preservation Commission to Study Public Art in Historic Lowertown
On October 7th, the City Council approved acceptance of $93,500 in Federal Transit Authority funds to create development design guidelines for the Central Station block, and to revise and update the Lowertown Historic District Design Review Guidelines. According to Director Amy Spong, the new design guidelines will include criteria for evaluating the placement of public art in the historic district. On a related note, the City Council approved the re-appointment of West Sider Robert Ferguson to the HPC. If you want to see first-hand why that was such a good idea, ask him about his review of Ramsey County’s application to expand the historic district at Union Depot.

Minnesota DEED Awards $1 Million Clean-Up Grant to Saints Ballpark
The City Council approved acceptance of a DEED (State of Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Opportunity) grant of $1 million for hazardous material clean-up at the new Saints ballpark. The site had previously been an industrial manufacturing facility.

Little Bohemia Petitions for Fort Road Federation to be Named Tentative Developer
On October 2nd, a hardy band of Little Bohemians trekked to City Hall to support Fort Road Federation’s bid to become the tentative developer of the remaining city-owned lots in Little Bohemia. Fort Road Federation partnered with the city in 2007 to engage in a community process to plan out what to do with over 20 properties picked up by Invest Saint Paul when the bottom fell out of the real estate market and one bad landlord walked away from over 30 properties in the area. They have renovated and sold four houses, and are in the process of starting work on another eight (8). To get the full report on the HRA meeting, visit another item on this blog. Warning: the videos are kind of lengthy.

Pat & Tonya Nicholie Walk Problem Sidewalks in West 7th
Pat went on a walk with Tonya Nicholie, immediate past President of the Fort Road Federation, around her neighborhood to see the locations where neighbors are having sidewalk and street parking issues. It was a productive walk. It’s always good to see problems from the ground level.

Dave Meets with Glen Terrace and Benson Ave Residents
In September, Dave met with three residents from Glen Terrace and Benson Avenue who are having severe problems with trucks from neighboring industrial properties trying to use residential streets that are too narrow for them. Public Works was also represented at the meeting. We left thinking we had a handle on the problem. But then the police department got involved and it got worse. Even more people from Glen Terrace were calling in October. Thune, Pat, and Public Works Engineer Paul St. Martin met the neighbors on Glen Terrace to walk the street and discuss the problems they are having on Glen Terrace, Benson, and Dealton. We discussed some traffic calming techniques like traffic circles, and placing 15,000# weight restrictions on trucks using some portions of Benson, Dealton, and Glen Terrace. Even though this walk took place on Halloween, it was not scary at all.