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.


Home Buyer Advice: What Home Owners Love (and Loathe) About Their Homes

Every house hunter has a list of "must-haves" when it comes to the house he or she plans to purchase. Which features and amenities stand the test of time?

MSN asked readers what they love most about their current home and what they used to love that "was clearly just a passing fancy."

  1. It's not a mansion. According to respondents, it was the small conveniences that have retained luster – like a laundry room near the bedrooms - but the one thing that appears to maintain the most satisfaction are open floor plans with plenty of space - regardless of the actual square footage.
  2. Let there be light. Large windows with a nice view can also make up for a home's shortcomings. Home owners love large windows that allow cheerful sunlight in at various times and spaces throughout the day. A great view outside those windows is an added bonus.
  3. Comfort-adding features. Home owners love their central air conditioning and modernized heating systems for the comfort and convenient maintenance. Of course, storage is a necessity, so plentiful kitchen cabinets and large closets ranked high as well.
  4. Mistake to avoid? One respondent said the mother-in-law suite she was determined to have has created strife for her family. Friends and family that know about the space think it is okay to stay there for extended periods of time. At the same time, when the space is not in use, it adds unnecessarily to heating and cooling bills.

Buying a home is likely the single biggest purchase decision anyone will make during a lifetime. Knowing what types of features people...

July National, State and Twin Cities Foreclosure News

A recent report show that foreclosure filings have declined since last fall. However, this real estate snap shot isn't a completely pretty picture.

RealtyTrack, an Irvine California firm, has reported foreclosure filings have slowed and are down 25% nationally during the first half of 2011 as compared to the first half of last year. The rate is 29% lower compared to the rate from the second half of 2010. Still, a depressing total of 1,170,402 foreclosures were filed through the end of June, 2011.

The length of time from default to foreclosure to auction has grown.  U.S. properties foreclosed in the second quarter were in the foreclosure process an average of 318 days from the initial notice to the completion, up from 277 days in the second quarter of 2010. New York leads the nation in the length of its foreclosure process at an astounding 944 days. Florida was next at 676 days. At the other end of the spectrum, Texas’ process took 92 days.

The longer length of time for the foreclosure process could be a good or a bad sign. On the one hand, banks are still processing a high-number of defaults, which may be slowing the foreclosure process. On the other, many programs are being developed and offered to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. This is also true for Minnesota.

On a completely related note!

The Washington County Library and the Washington County Housing and Redevelopment Authority are offering free foreclosure counseling and information workshops on Thursdays in July, providing advice from trained foreclosure-prevention counselors. The events will include a 45-minute presentation summarizing the foreclosure process. Participants will also have an opportunity to meet individually with a foreclosure-prevention counselor. No pre-registration is required.

"The value in speaking to a county foreclosure-prevention counselor is identifying options,"...

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, Target.com 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 poised for...

Relic of Saint Paul's First Mass-Transit System Found

Crews digging under Fourth Street in downtown St. Paul for the proposed Central Corridor light-rail line unearthed a piece of its 1800s predecessor, the cable car. Officials have decided to preserve the U-shaped "iron yoke" and upon completion of the 11-mile Central Corridor, display it at the proposed Union Depot station in St. Paul.

Unlike electric streetcars or modern light rail, cable cars had no internal power supply. Their systems consisted of narrow-gauge tracks split by an open groove. Under the groove, a single continuous cable ran the entire length of the line, constantly in motion. Cable car operators controlled a device that grabbed the cable, which pulled the car along. The iron yokes sat U-side-up a few inches beneath grade, protecting the cable.

Yes, St. Paul had a cable car system. Though they were invented in San Francisco in the 1870s, they exploded across the United States.  By 1889, St. Paul had two cable car lines operated by the St. Paul City Railway Co. One line ran along East Seventh Street from Wabasha Street downtown to Duluth Street on the city's East Side. The other ran along Fourth from Broadway to Seven Corners, climbed Selby Hill and followed Selby Avenue to Fairview Avenue.

There will likely be more artifacts found. Tracks from streetcars that ran along University Avenue remain and were simply submerged when the roadway was paved over years ago. If the light-rail project moves forward, those tracks are scheduled to be removed once the digging begins.

Cold facts: Cable cars were heated in the winter by small coal-burning stove.


Minnesota Housing Fix-Up Fund Offers More

With the help of federal stimulus funds, Minnesota Housing is offering rebates to homeowners that make energy saving updates in when they make home improvements using loans through the state's Fix-up Fund. Homeowners may receive an Energy Saver Rebate for 35% of the cost of eligible improvements financed with the Fix-up Fund loan, up to $10,000.

The Fix-Up Fund offers affordable, fixed-rate loans to eligible homeowners to make home improvements. The rebate program is designed to help homeowners with household income up to $96,500 improve home energy efficiency. Owner-occupied single family, condominium, duplex, triplex, or fourplex homes are eligible for the program.

Homeowners may be eligible for rebates by installing select energy-efficient furnaces, boilers, and central air conditioners, replacement exterior doors and windows, and light fixtures. Other improvements including wall and attic insulation in conjunction with attic air sealing and water heaters meeting certain conditions are also eligible improvements for the energy saver rebate.

These funds are first-come, first-served, so contact a participating lenders soon!

Interested homeowners can visit www.mnhousing.gov.


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.


Holiday Train is Rolling Through the Twin Cities

The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train will be rolling into the Twin Cities on Saturday.The train will bring Santa, live music and an opportunity to donate money and goods to local food shelves to four local metro stops.

Treats will be available to help raise money, including coffee from Caribou Coffee, hot chocolate from Tinucci's Restaurants & Catering, baked goods from SuperMom's and hamburgers from Culver's restaurants. About 1,500 free glow sticks will be given to children.

Last year, the train's Cottage Grove stop was the top fundraiser out of 130 scheduled stops across North America. 6,000 donors raised about $51,000.

The four stops on Saturday are:

  • Hastings, 4:15 to 4:45 p.m., at the Canadian Pacific Depot, 500 E. Second St.
  • Cottage Grove, 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., at West Point Douglas Road South
  • St. Paul, 7:15 to 7:45 p.m., upper-level ramp of Central Parking System at Kellogg Boulevard and Broadway Street in Lowertown.
  • Minneapolis, 9:30 to 10 p.m., Canadian Pacific Shoreham Yard, 2800 Central Ave. N.E.

Canadian Pacific ran its first Holiday Train in 1999 and added U.S. stops in 2001. In all, about $4 million and about 2 million pounds of food have been raised for food shelves. Go to www.cpr.ca for more information.


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...

The Hamline-Midway Neighborhood of Saint Paul

The Hamline-Midway neighborhood of Saint Paul can be found in the northwestern portion of the city.  It is bordered by Pierce Butler Route to the north, Lexington Parkway to the east, University Avenue to the south, and Cleveland Avenue to the west.  The name Hamline-Midway comes from the fact that the neighborhood is midway between the two downtown centers of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The Midway neighborhood is home to 75,000 people and employs 50,000.

Hamline-Midway is a bustling urban neighborhood with a mix of both residential and commercial properties. It includes St. Paul's primary warehouse district, a passenger rail terminal, and Midway Center, one of St. Paul's key shopping districts. Residents enjoy the convenience of being within bussing and walking distance of shopping and dining. The neighborhood's main commercial districts are along Snelling and University Avenue. Grocers, department stores, small shops, quality restaurants, just about everything you want or need can be found within its borders. In keeping with Saint Paul custom, there are also a number of great neighborhood parks here.

The Hamline-Midway...

The Great Minnesota Get-Together

This week on Thursday begins an event which many people wait for all year.  It’s commonly called the Minnesota State Fair and often referred to as the Great Minnesota Get-Together but I think most people can agree it’s the 12 Best Days of Summer.  Beginning August 21 and going through September 1, you can get all manner of foods on a stick, music concerts and entertainment, exhibits, and more.  Last year the Minnesota State Fair was attended by nearly 1.7 million people.  Each year it seems to grow as one of the largest attended state fairs in the nation!

Entertainment at the 2008 Minnesota State Fair includes more than 100 acts at eight free venues, and a lineup of top stars that includes Toby Keith, the Backstreet Boys, and the Black Crowes.  The Great Minnesota Get-Together also features more than 450 food choices.  Let’s not forget the hundreds of agricultural, educational and commercial exhibits and attractions.

It also has a long and deep history.  After four years of territorial fairs, the first Minnesota State Fair was held in 1859 near what became downtown Minneapolis.  That was just one year after Minnesota was granted statehood, which means watch out for next  year’s State Fair celebration when it celebrates its 150th anniversary!

Anyways, back to the fair.  During the fair's early years, the site of the exposition rotated with stops in Minneapolis, Saint Paul,...

The Macalester-Groveland Neighborhood of Saint Paul

The Macalester-Groveland neighborhoods of the city can be found in west central St. Paul. Its boarders are Summit Avenue on the north, the Short Line and a segment of Interstate 35E on the east, Randolph Avenue on the south, and on the west, the Mississippi River. The neighborhood is primarily residential with some commercial areas.

Macalester-Groveland neighborhood is upscale with a mix of families and students.  Due to its close proximity to the Mississippi River’s edge, the area is very beautiful. With its scenic river landscape, diverse variety of residents, and outstanding academic institutions, this neighborhood is the perfect location for couples, families, and retirees alike to set down roots.

Mac-Groveland boasts many schools for its comparatively small area, meaning a good education is nearby for students of all ages. The public schools here are Groveland Park Elementary School, Randolph Heights Elementary School, and Ramsey Junior High School, all of which are a part of Saint Paul Public Schools.  There are also quite a few private and parochial schools from which to choose.  Three private colleges make their home in Mac-Groveland: the affluent Macalester College, the University of Saint Thomas...

Saint Paul Foreclosure Prevention Workshops

The City of St. Paul and the Minnesota Home Ownership Center are sponsoring a series of foreclosure prevention workshops. The meetings are for people who are concerned about making mortgage payments, know someone who is in financial trouble, or just want more information.  

Mortgage lenders and community-based organizations will be available to offer free advice and answer questions, and attendees will be able to hear short presentations on legal rights and the foreclosure process.  Two similar workshops last fall drew more than 250 people each.

The next scheduled workshop will be held on Thursday, June 5 from 4:30–8:30 p.m.  It will be held at the Eagan Community Center, 1501 Central Pkwy, Eagan.

For more information, call the Home Ownership Center at 651.659.9336 or go to www.hocmn.org.  St. Paul mortgage foreclosure prevention counselors are available at 651.266.6626 or www.stpaul.gov/foreclosure. Renters with foreclosure questions can call HOME Line at 612.728.5767.


Butterflies at Como Park Zoo

Right here in our own Saint Paul, visitors can see hundreds of butterflies from around the world.  People can view butterflies from Asia, North, Central and South America flying freely in a new indoor, temporary exhibit at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory.  Como’s Blooming Butterflies opens June 6 and is open daily from 10am to 6pm through September 7.

Over 100 species from around the world will be exhibited throughout the summer.  Each visit will offer a new experience!  At any given time, up to 500 butterflies can be found within the habitat. These colorful creatures are curious and approachable. It is not uncommon for them to rest on visitors as they walk through the garden.  You will leave with a greater understanding of these fragile insects and an appreciation for the importance of maintaining their habitat to ensure their survival.  Visitors can chat with volunteers about butterflies, their life cycle, and importance to the ecosystem. Or, you can simply come in and enjoy the beautiful garden and butterflies.  The best days to view the butterflies are warm, sunny days that translate to optimum butterfly activity. 

While a few of the butterflies exhibited are found in Minnesota, the bulk of them are not native.  Como holds a special permit to exhibit these non-native butterflies.  Most butterflies are short-lived.  The average life span of the butterfly species being exhibited is two to four weeks.

Since many natural habitats have been lost to urbanization and other development, a home butterfly...

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