Twin Cities Community News

St. Paul to host President Obama

President Obama will visit St. Paul on Wednesday February 26, 2014.  His visit will be two-fold: first a stop to tour the Metro transit facility that is responsible for light rail operations and then downtown to Union Depot to discuss new job creation measure.

The President's visit will spotlight the new Central Corridor rail line that will finally link the urban centers of Downtown Minneapolis and Downtown St. Paul.  With stops at the University of Minnesota and along University Avenue the new lightrail, dubbed the "green line," will link the downtowns in the same way Streetcars did before they disappeared over 60 years ago. 

The green line is currently being tested and is scheduled to open in June 2014 and I expect it will have a positive affect on the real estate market surrounding its route.  While public transportation has existed between the downtowns since the streetcars left, the light rail will cause home buyers to take a new look at those communities that surround the green line because of the convenience it will bring to those who work and/or play in the downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul.  For many home buyers, they want to live where they can conveniently access the amenities that the downtown centers provide, but they don't want to live "in" those urban centers.


Twin Cities: Live Near a Fire Hydrant? Adopt It!

With all of the snow the Twin Cities area had had recently, officials in communities throughout the metro are asking residents to "adopt" fire hydrants near their homes. Keeping them clear of snow and making sure they aren't blocked by snow banks is a matter of public safety.

Burnsville MN has 4,000 fire hydrants. Eagan MN has 5,000. The City of Saint Paul has nearly 10,000. That's a lot of fire hydrants to keep clear. As a result, nearly every city in the metro has a variation of the adopt-a-hydrant program. But you don't need to officially "adopt" a hydrant to have an interest in clearing snow from one near your house if you see it is buried.

Hydrants that can't be easily seen under snow and those that can't be reached because of snowbanks put lives and property in danger. Prime examples of how this can hamper rescue efforts occurred last week when the Twin Cities was hit with the largest snowstorm in years. Two people died in a house fire in Minneapolis on Sunday and a three-alarm fire ravaged a commercial building at 822 Prior Avenue in St. Paul, which housed Advance Furniture and Leather Repair.

"When we got there, we had difficulty finding the hydrants," said St. Paul Fire Marshal Steve Zaccard. "It delayed some of our operations. Because of the snow drifts, we didn't have the water we needed. Would it have made a difference? I don't want to speculate. But it was a big fire."

Although nobody can directly blame a death or major loss on slow access to a fire hydrant, fire officials have made it clear that blocked hydrants are a big concern. Although participation in the various hydrant adoption programs is low, fire officials hope the message gets out that clearing hydrants is important. One group that has responded is the Elks Club. In Brooklyn Park, the local chapter has pledged to clear...

The Polar Bears are Back in Town!

Buzz and Neil, the Como Zoo polar bears who have been in Detroit for 2 years while their new habitat is completed, have returned to St. Paul. The brother bears are taking some time to get used to their spacious new home, Polar Bear Odyssey

About four times bigger than their old abode, the $15 million exhibit is intended to mimic a Hudson Bay ecosystem. In the new exhibit, there is a large indoor complex, two outdoor areas, a saltwater pool, rock outcroppings, and the habitat is planted with native flora. It's the only polar bear exhibit in the U.S. — and the second in the world after Toronto's — to get the Three Diamond Rating by Polar Bears International.

While the bears acclimate to their new surroundings, the exhibit will be closed. Zoo keepers are expectig it to open to visitors until June 3.

The 14-year-old bears have been a popular attraction at Como Park neighborhood zoo since 2002.

For more information on the features of the Polar Bear Odyssey exhibit, go to

St Paul Private School Ends Nearly 120 Years of Educating

After more than a century of educating the minds of Saint Paul children, St. Bernard's High School will close at the end of the school year.

School leaders blame financial troubles for the closing. Like many inner-city Catholic schools, St. Bernard's has struggled the past 15 years to stay afloat. It closed its grade school last year.

German and Austrian immigrants who settled in Saint Paul's North End neighborhood founded St. Bernard's parish in 1890. They opened the grade school the next year. By 1957, a growing student body and demand prompted the opening of St. Bernard's High.

The neighborhood changed over the years as families moved to the suburbs. Fewer residents choose Catholic private schools and growing competition from charter schools were also contributing factors to the school's demise.

The school is celebrated its 119th year Monday.


Are You a Minnesota Snowbird or Do You Know One?

Calling all snowbirds who have flown the coop to warmer climates for winter: Minnesota needs you to fly back home by April 1 for the 2010 U.S. Census. The reason is that Minnesota residents can't simply fill out the census form they get at their winter home. The forms are geo-coded to each address, meaning that filling out a form in Arizona will count toward that state, not Minnesota. And this year, the state has a lot riding on the census.

"If even a fraction of Minnesotans miss this opportunity, we could easily be left with only seven representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives," State Demographer Tom Gillaspy said in a news release. The State Demographic Center estimates that fewer than 3,000 people could be critical for Minnesota to retain its eighth House member.

Additionally, the census numbers affect funding the state receives from the federal government. Every person counts!

"Each resident who fills out a census form is responsible for bringing as much as $14,000 back to the state over 10 years out of the $400 billion the federal government distributes based on census numbers," said Ryan Dolan, campaign coordinator of the 2010 census.

Snowbirds are retirees who leave Minnesota for five or more weeks at a time, starting in November. They tend to accumulate in Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas. The average age is just under 70. They account for about 10% of the state's retired population. That's more than 65,000 people!

If snowbirds are not home before April 1, they will need to obtain a replacement form when they get back. Replacement forms can be picked up at questionnaire assistance centers open from March 19 through April 19. They are located...

I-94 from Downtown Saint Paul & Downtown Minneapolis to be Repaved

The stretch of Interstate 94 between downtown Saint Paul and downtown Minneapolis will get a repaving makeover. The 2-year project will begin this summer.

Crews will complete the $45 million project in two phases, beginning this year with the east section between Hwy. 280 to near John Ireland Boulevard.

The west section, from Hwy. 280 to near 6th Street in downtown Minneapolis, will be done in 2011, said Todd Kramascz, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Crews will remove the top layer of I-94's pavement and lay down new asphalt, while also making improvements to curbs, gutters and guardrails. The shoulders, often used by buses during rush hours, also will be improved.

The 12-mile stretch of road is one of the busiest in Minnesota. It will remain open during construction, but travel will be disrupted by shfiting lane and ramp closures. Alternate routes may be in order sometimes.


Woodbury is Looking Toward the Future

Plans have been proceeding on the Red Rock Territory in Woodbury: A 580-acre stretch of land along I-94 that will hopefully soon be transformed into a complex of office buildings, manufacturing plants, warehouses, stores, parkland, and around 550 housing units.

The site's developer and city planners say its completion will help Woodbury emergence as a major business and manufacturing hub in the Twin Cities. The first businesses could move in and begin adding jobs to the economy as soon as this fall or early 2011.

Red Rock Territory, a named derived from Woodbury's original territorial days, entails nearly 2.5 million square feet of potential building space, plus parking for thousands of vehicles.

It includes a spot for at least one corporate headquarters, an east and west business park, an industrial park, retail sites and two parks on both ends comprising 72 acres. As many as 555 housing units are envisioned. Two new city roads will be built, and a Metro Transit park-and-ride ramp for more than 500 vehicles is in the works.

Woodbury MN has commercial and office developments but offers no central business park like some other Twin Cities communities. Woodbury's largest employers now include the Hartford Insurance Co., Assurant, and the Woodwinds Health Campus that is part of HealthEast. Those businesses are located throughout the city - Red Rock Territory would cluster businesses together.

While there is no detailed blueprint for how each piece of the Red Rock Territory development will unfold, the infrastructure is already in place, so any company with a building project can move on it - like now.

All the planning and infrastructure design will pay off, said Janelle Schmitz, the city's planning and economic development manager. "We're well positioned, or...

Saint Paul's Admission Possible Program Proving Itself, Expanding

Admission Possible, a St. Paul nonprofit that helps low-income students get into college, plans to expand to as many as 10 cities over the next five years.

The organization, which now only operates in the Twin Cities and in Milwaukee, confirmed last month that it will expand to a third site in 2011.

National statistics show more than 200,000 low-income students every year graduate from high school prepared for college but just don't go. Admission Possible's mission is to identify low-income high school students with the potential and motivation for college and then to provide them with four critical services: ACT and SAT test preparation; guidance in preparing college applications; help in obtaining financial aid; and guidance for the transition to college.

Admission Possible serves nearly 3,700 high school and college students. 98% of high school students in the program earn admission to college. Nearly 80% of those students who enrolled in college are still working toward their degree or have graduated.  

With those results, it is no wonder President Barack Obama singled out the group in a speech last summer as a good model to grow and emulate.
"Admission Possible operates in just two states now. So imagine if it was 10 or 20 or 50," he said.
Learn more about this Saint Paul program at the Admission Possible website....

Saint Paul's Former 3M Headquarters Renamed Beacon Bluff

The old 3M company headquarters on the East Side of St. Paul has a new name: Beacone Bluff. The St. Paul Port Authority also has a new Web site to market the former 3M campus to companies and lure jobs,

The property served as 3M's headquarters from 1910 to 1962. Over the past year, options for the land and reuse of the buildings have been discussed. Last month, the Port Authority closed on the purchase of the last remaining parcels of 3M's former campus.

Finding buyers might be a little difficult because there's a mix of vacant land and buildings with historic pasts. Officials want to see if the buildings can be sold for reuse first, rather than for demolition.


Minnesota: 2010 U.S. Census More Important Than Ever

Though the state gained 35,000 residents last year, bringing its population of 5.2 million, Minnesota is on the cusp of losing one of its congressional seats.

State demographer Tom Gillaspy projected Wednesday that Minnesota could fall just 1,100 people short of what it needs to keep all eight of its seats. A thorough census count next year could be enough to change that. Minnesota last lost a congressional seat after the 1960 census.

Recent estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau showed Minnesota growing more slowly than some western and southern states. Minnesota is among 10 or 11 states likely to lose congressional seats after the census. The demographers analysis puts the state in a dead heat with Missouri, California and Texas for the final seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Fear not, Minnesota has one of the nation's best records for counting its population. Even small differences in the quality of counting in rival states could determine who gets the seat. State officials will be paying close attention to counting people who live in college dormitories and other group homes, snowbirds who fly south for the winter, and new immigrants. New parents need to remember to add infants when they fill out the form.

Households will receive the census form in the mail in mid-March and must return it by April 1. The Census Bureau is billing the 2010 form as "10 questions that can be answered in about 10 minutes."

Besides being used to apportion seats in the U.S. House, the census is also used to redraw the boundaries of congressional and state legislative districts.


Twin Cities Charities Kick It Up a Notch

As mentioned earlier in this blog, Twin Cities charities have been working hard this holiday season. They've been putting in overtime, really, to try and accommodate the increased food, gift, and financial need.

Despite all the extra work, most charities are reporting a decrease in donations. From the Salvation Army to Toys for Tots, donations are down due to the recession. Though there are some bright spots, like “Operation Christmas Child” just broke a record for packaging 110,000 shoe boxes filled with small gifts, most charities have not been as lucky.

In difficult times, more people lean toward strategic giving. That is, they give money to the places they feel will utilize it most efficiently, as opposed to the more emotional style of donation. That means some charities are seeing bigger decreases in donations while some may even see some increase. In response, the Minnesota Charities Review Council has announced that it is asking the state's nonprofits to start rating their "impact on the community."

One way to ensure you get the most bang for your buck would be to donate to the Twin Cities Salvation Army on Tuesday and Wednesday, December 22 and 23. Donations collected on those days in the Twin...

Mortenson Construction to Lead St. Paul Union Depot Renovation

The Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority has picked Mortenson Construction to lead the $150 million renovation of the historic Union Depot in downtown St. Paul. The county's goal has been to restore the depot into a regional transportation hub for trains, buses, bikes and taxis.

The block-long building faces 4th Street and sits between Wacouta and Sibley Streets. County officials estimate the project will bring up to 1,350 jobs during design and construction. Construction is expected to be completed in 2012.

Rail Authority commissioners have also approved giving the Metropolitan Council up to $82,000 for a study of how three additional stations along University Avenue, at Hamline, Victoria and Western Avenues, would affect the areas when the Central Corridor light-rail line is built.

The 11-mile Central Corridor will connect downtown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis and is expected to begin running in 2014.


Saint Paul Takes Steps Against Emerald Ash Borer

The St. Paul city council introduced an ordinance Wednesday requiring homeowners to remove ash trees infested with emerald ash borer once a city forester discovers them. A similar measure involving Dutch elm disease is already on the books.

The proposed ordinance would allow Saint Paul city foresters to enter private property to inspect trees suspected of being infested with the beetle. Any tree discovered with the beetle would promptly be declared a nuisance and would have to be removed within 20 days — or as few as seven days in an "emergency," such as a season in which the beetle is about to mature, according to the ordinance.

A mature ash tree can cost thousands of dollars to remove. Though the ordinance mentions offering possible financial help for the cost of removing trees to residents, no specific funding source has been identified. The ordinance also states city could cut down the trees of unresponsive property owners and bill them for the expense.

Since the emerald ash borer was first discovered in in St. Paul's St. Anthony Park neighborhood in May, 80 infested ash trees have been cut down because of an emergency state order. One Saint Paul neighborhood, Como Park, is even attempting an ash tree-less experiment.

"Eventually, all the ash trees (in St. Paul) are going to be gone. That's the reality. ... I don't think people realize yet what this could mean," Hahm said.

An estimated 20% of St. Paul's trees are ash. Emerald Ash Borer has also been discovered in ash tree-rich Falcon Heights.


Twin Cities Charities Need Your Help

Organizers of holiday food and toy drives in the Twin Cities metro area are gearing up to give away more turkeys, food baskets and toys this year than ever before, despite the difficult fundraising climate.

First and foremost, since it is deer hunting season, hunters can easily help the hungry. Minnesota food shelves are eager for venison donations. A state venison donation program accepts whole deer carcasses, complete with the hide and registration tag. Donated deer must show no signs of illness, decomposition or contamination.

Armful of Love, a holiday charity run by the Community Action Council in Burnsville, matches sponsors to families in need. Sponsors are given a list of the client's needs and wants for Christmas, including gifts for children  and help for the parents. The sponsors go out and buy gifts, wrap them and bring them to the Armful of Love warehouse, where the families in need pick them up.

Guests of the Minnesota Zoo during the holiday season can get admission discounts if they bring along a food donation for Second Harvest Heartland. For each donation of a nonperishable food item, guests get a $2 discount on adult admission and a $1 discount on child and senior admission. The most-needed items include meats and fish, fruits and vegetables, boxed meals, grains and pasta, hygiene products and cleaning supplies. The discount runs through December. The discounts are valid only one per person.

Some northern Twin Cities metro programs are looking for help as well. The Community Emergency Assistance Program (CEAP) in Brooklyn Park, has seen 25 to 45% jumps from 2007 in the number of families...

Emerald Ash Borer Found in Falcon Heights

The emerald ash borer has been discovered in a tree on the University of Minnesota campus in Falcon Heights MN. The location is about a mile from the insect's first confirmed appearance in Minnesota, in the Hampden Park neighborhood of Saint Paul. Emerald Ash Borer now threatens the state's 900 million ash trees.

In the days after the bug was confirmed in St. Paul, foresters removed 68 infested ash trees in and around the Hampden Park neighborhood. They also removed 46 other obviously declining ash in a ring outside "ground zero," and found only one infested.

Testing by the U.S. Department of Agriculture has determined that the borers entered St. Paul trees in 2006. The tree in Falcon Heights appeared to be healthy, indicating it was a recent attack.

The discovery means Falcon Heights city officials may now tap into a $1 million state fund that pays for immediate municipal response to ash borer infestation. Until now, St. Paul was the only city eligible for to apply for the funding. ...

Ash-less Experiment in Saint Paul's Como Park Neighborhood

Many of the trees in St. Paul's Como Park neighborhood are ash trees. Neighbors on two blocks of West California have agreed to a radical city plan to remove 40 trees and plant new ones, instead of allowing them to languish due to emerald ash borer. Work will start next week.

Though ash borer bugs have not been found in the area, the ash trees are already declining. St. Paul is the epicenter of Minnesota's emerald ash borer infestation. Because getting rid of the pest is not an option, city officials are simply trying to slow its spread.

Soon after the ash trees and stumps are removed, Redmond Linden and Sienna Glen Maple will be planted in an alternating pattern. The new trees will be about 2 inches in diameter, and it will probably take about 10 years for them to provide good shade....

Saint Paul May Get Second Off-Leash Dog Park

On Wednesday, the Saint Paul city council will hold a public hearing and vote on changes to an outdated master plan for the Lilydale segment of Lilydale-Harriet Island Regional Park. Among the changes is the designation of an 8.5-acre area where dog owners could have an off-leash dog walking area.

Though off-leash dog parks are growing in popularity, St. Paul currently operates only one, in Arlington/Arkwright Park on the East Side.

The city's Parks Commission has signed off on the plan, and approval appears likely from the city council. Next, the Metropolitan Council will have to vote on it. ...

All Aboard Saint Paul - Next Stop Duluth or Chicago

Last month (I guess technically last year!), a report was released that indicated ridership on Amtrak rails in Minnesota is up.  The Empire Builder gained about 10% more riders in the 2008 fiscal year, which ended in September.  The Empire Builder is Amtrak’s line which travels from Chicago to Saint Paul before heading west through North Dakota and Montana into Washington and Oregon. At its largest stop in Minnesota, which is St. Paul's Midway station, 147,791 people boarded or departed Amtrak trains in the fiscal 2008 year. That is about 14,700, or 10 percent, more than in 2007.

At that pace, a high-speed train service between Saint Paul and Chicago may be in our future. Additionally, a Northern Lights Express line between Duluth and Minneapolis is already moving forward.

It’s no fluke, either.  The Empire Builder is on its sixth straight year of ridership growth.  Whenever services are added to the line, they fill up almost immediately.  Proponents of the rails believe that if the trains can be faster and more efficient, even more people will choose to ride.

Overall, Amtrak gained nearly 2 million new passengers in the fiscal year, with the high cost of gas the most likely contributor to the influx of new rail travelers. Amtrak and other rail services’ sudden popularity has...

Let It Snow

The season of Snow Emergencies has started! After 9:00 PM on days like tonight, where several inches of snow have fallen, St. Paul officials are sticklers when it comes to clearing the roads quickly.  This tends to result in hundreds of vehicles being towed to the impound lot and it costs nearly $300 to get your car back. In these rough economic times, that money could be used for other things.

If you’re a Saint Paul resident and you’ve been expecting a phone call to let you know that you need to move your car, it’s never going to come.  St. Paul has canceled the Code Red automated system that would call residents to notify them of snow emergencies. 

Interested in knowing more about the parking rules of St. Paul after a snowstorm?  We know just where you can find Saint Paul snow emergency information.

Other communities throughout the Twin Cities metro area, like Minneapolis, have different rules for parking in snow emergencies. Most restrict or prohibit evening and overnight parking on the street after large amounts of snow have fallen so that plows can clear the streets. Check your specific city’s website to find out if street parking rules apply to you.


Winter Carnival Rice Park Holiday Tree for 2008

The 2008 Rice Park holiday tree was transported to its festive destination on Saturday.  The park becomes a hub of activity during the holidays and the Winter Carnival, an annual St. Paul event. The 90-foot-tall, 27-foot-wide blue spruce is the third Rice Park holiday tree. 

There is some Minnesota local history attached to this particular, which made it perfect to serve this purpose.  Peder and Karla Christensen planted the tree in the early 1900s when they moved from Denmark to America and started a rose nursery in Maplewood.  Several generations had grown up with the tree just a short distance away from the home the Christensen family continues to own.  But now the 27,000 pound tree had overgrown its environment and posed a threat to the home should a storm ever topple it.  Because members of the family had worked with the Saint Paul Winter Carnival for over 30 years, donating the tree was the perfect solution. 

The Christensens' application to donate the tree was one of 150. Another 90-foot tree was in the running, but that owner decided to keep it. The Christensens' tree fit the bill — it was the right height and right type and the owners were ready part with it.

A 6 foot tall star stands atop the tree, which sits in a 4-foot hole reinforced by a 78,000-pound concrete anchor....

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