Saturday, December 31, 2011

Paul Koenig Loses Hopeless Appeal

Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, top photo from Koenig's defunct blog, bottom photo from Johnny Northside.

I can't think of a better way to close out the year than to close out yet another chapter in Paul Koenig's ongoing legal failures.  For those unfamiliar with Koenig at all, Ed Kohler of the Deets compiled a list of (at the time) all the northside blog posts about this guy.  Koenig came on to the radar almost a decade ago, buying up tons of vacant land and putting down "Dream Homes," poorly-built houses with six bedrooms, no basement, no garage, and basically destined to be section 8 rentals.  He and his investment partners lied about how much rent they pulled in, were sued, and lost.

Koenig managed to shift the blame onto his partner, picked up many of the Dream Homes post-foreclosure, and started a new wave of slumminess under various LLC's.  Pamiko, Marklee Construction, and MCK Investments were the most prominent of the three.  Despite siphoning off tons of money to fund a lavish lifestyle, (or perhaps because of that) he couldn't make the payments, let his properties deteriorate, and then lost them to foreclosure.

He has since been involved in a legal battle in which he claims that he redeemed several of his foreclosed properties for a dollar each.  In reality, this fight was little more than a charade so that Koenig could continue to make life miserable for Minnwest Bank with the slim hope that he could temporarily collect additional revenue from these rental units.

Oh, and in the midst of his housing hand grenade exploding across NoMi, Koenig was largely believed to have been the primary contributor to the Jordan Hawkman blog.  Good riddance.

Now, about that ruling...

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Bottineau Scoping Process Begins

Post and photo by the Hawthorne Hawkman, top image from the Bottineau Scoping Survey.

When I first heard that the proposed Bottineau LRT project released a scoping survey, I had to wonder what exactly "scoping" meant in this context.  Since the project will likely 1) receive federal funding and 2) have a significant environmental impact, one of its requirements is for there to be a full environmental impact statement (EIS) to be drawn up.  The EIS document consists of three phases:  scoping, draft EIS, and final EIS.  "Scoping" is the preliminary process to allow for public comment and input that will help form the content in the draft Environmental Impact Statement.  Public input during the scoping process is encouraged.

In short, it's the kind of thing Northern Metals should have done.  There will be four public meetings to discuss the scoping aspect of the Bottineau Corridor.  Those dates are in the report for anyone who can't make it to one of the scheduled NoMi hearings.  Monday January 23rd, 4:30 - 6:30 pm, at the Theo Wirth Chalet, 1301 Theo Wirth Parkway or Wednesday the 25th, 5:30 - 7:30 at UROC are the two choices.

As for the report itself...

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Blogging About Recent Shooting

This is just a quick note to readers of this blog.  Since the tragic shooting death of a three-year-old child happened in the Hawthorne neighborhood, and since the aftermath will likely consume a fair amount of Hawthorne staff and volunteer time, I will be writing about it on the Hawthorne Voices blog and not here on North by Northside.

Since Hawthorne Voices does not allow for anonymous comments, people can use this post to do so if they please.  But I am asking that as much dialogue as possible happen on the other site.

And although I'll be blogging about policy-laden things or even an occasional irreverent post, know that like you I am deeply saddened beyond description.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Community Dialoge Continues Around Hennepin County Hub

Post and photo by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

Last night community members met with representatives from Catalyst Community Partners, the Ackerberg Group, Hennepin County, and the City of Minneapolis to discuss the proposed social services hub at Broadway and Girard/Irving.  Other NoMi bloggers who, like me, live in the impact zone, will surely have their say.  What follows is my perspective.

I'm not convinced that the Hub proposal on its face is a good idea for Hennepin County taxpayers - at all, anywhere.

Eric Johnson of the Irving Inquisition blog beat me to the point that what we are doing by decentralizing services from downtown is essentially spending tens of millions of dollars to create duplicate delivery of services.  And after a while budget concerns could drive the county to specialize services by geographic location, making it even harder on those in need of assistance.  Commissioner Stenglein responded that the way they've been doing it until now, with a central downtown location, hasn't been sufficiently decreasing poverty.

While Stenglein seemed genuine about his desire for the County to do better in that regard, I'm still not following the logic that decentralizing will in fact give us that specific improvement.  Yes, it's what their clients have said they want, and yes it will make things more convenient for them.  But I haven't yet heard a direct relationship between the hub project and an actual decrease in demand for or use of services.

Asking for the addition of a DMV, passport photos, or other similar services as compromising amenities is pointless.

On multiple levels.  Here's why...

KFC No Longer Bulletproof

They still have the security at the drive-through window.

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

In recent neighborhood meetings about the proposed Hennepin County Hub project, much has been made about how the nearest familiar place for MPS employees to eat lunch is the KFC across the street.  And if this weren't bad enough, folks said, the KFC on Broadway still had bulletproof glass!  I worked at the US Bank off of Lake and Chicago for a good five years, and I remember how unsafe I felt at the KFC there when they had bulletproof glass, and how much more welcoming it was when that was finally removed.

So I set out to take a few pictures of the barrier and put up a scathing blog post telling Kentucky Fried Chicken exactly how they are doing a disservice to the neighborhood.  But I wasn't about to just waltz in there, snap a few photos, and leave.  I felt an obligation to purchase something from them if I was going to put the establishment through the proverbial wringer.  I admit I've never been in this joint before, as I rarely eat fast food.  I thought I'd find something that would go well enough with the spinach-avocado-pomegranate salad back home, take a picture of the bulletproof glass, and be on my way.

Instead, I walked in, saw that the glass has been removed, and decided I no longer needed the karma points of buying something before blogging.  So for the record everyone, the bulletproof glass between the cashiers and customers is no longer there at Broadway's KFC.  From my perspective, this is kind of like adding an in-flight move to the Hindenburg; the experience might be more enjoyable but it's still fundamentally flawed.

And then it occurred to me:  I might be the only person in the history of ever to walk into a restaurant, expect a bulletproof window, then say "oh hell no," before turning around and leaving. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Anonymous Details on 1541 Hillside

3328 E Lake St.
Pre-jump post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, post-jump by an anonymous contributor.  Photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

Much like when I published an exploratory post about Paul Koenig's $2.5-million foreclosure, my post on 1541 Hillside Avenue North prompted a similar outpouring of information.  The delicious irony is that I mistakenly made a few connections of my own on 1541 Hillside by getting it confused with a nearby former Pamiko house, 1547 Hillside.

An anonymous commenter sent me the following information on the property in question.  The one disclaimer is that I have not had time to verify the information here, but it is written and referenced in a way that appears credible.  Our anonymous contributor says...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Faces of Sign Spam - Bob Brenner, RES Realty

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman, image from the RES Realty Group website.

Thanks, Ed Kohler, for the inspiration to directly point out who is putting sign spam up in our neighborhoods.

While driving down Penn and Dowling today, I came across a piece of sign spam that was placed on the corner where a cemetery and funeral home were.  That's low, even for a spammer.  The dilapidated sign was snatched up and taken away.  Then I went back home and searched for the phone number shown, and Mr. Brenner came up right away.  We're usually not so fortunate as to get an image of our sign spammers, but Brenner's big suit came right up.

Searching for more info on Brenner's spamming business brings up all sorts of interesting connections...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Still Not Enough Answers on Penn Redevelopment Plan

Post and photo by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

Today the City Planning Commission met to discuss several items, including both the Penn Avenue Redevelopment Plan.  I was able to stay only for that portion, but noted that Catalyst people were on shortly after that.  (There was a meeting later in the evening about the Hub site, and that will be reported on soon.)  The commission meeting was not open to public comment, but was open to anyone wishing to attend.  City staffers presented the report and were asked some pointed questions about why the plan was being developed and what the framework was for making decisions on certain properties.

The answer to the first question was, in part, to help the area qualify for more state funding for tornado recovery efforts.  An unsatisfactory and incomplete answer to the second question led me to recall a favorite scene from the Matrix movies - that of the Merovingian.  (If you have not yet seen this glorious mashup of kung-fu, computers, bullet-time effects, car chases, leather, and philosophy, then I just don't know how else to convey my point.  Go and watch "Reloaded," and then continue reading.)

Everyone else has been waiting two and a half hours for you to finish the movie, and now we all know the scene where our protagonists say to the Merovingian...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fixing Two Misstatements on Hub Project

Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, images from Hub proposal documents.

While I still hold hope that we can treat the county's Hub proposal like a bad musical and make it go off Broadway, I am more committed to remaining as accurate as possible in my posts here on North by Northside.  I have no desire to persuade anyone to my point of view based on false information.  So allow me to fix a mistake I made in my initial column.  I stated that the house on Girard between Broadway and 21st was not included in the development plan.  However, there is a vacant lot to the south of the house that is left out.  In recent presentations, Catalyst has included that house as part of the overall site.

There's another mistake on the county's part that will be explained after the jump, but first I'll get to why my apparently inaccurate assumption was a reasonable one...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hub Project Already a Done Deal? Residents Nearby Disagree

Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, images from the Hub proposal documents.

One of the refrains heard from Don Samuels during the last city council election was that we would not believe the kind of progress and development we would see along West Broadway over the next several years.  And you know what?  He was right.  I can't believe that we are expanding social services along a corridor that should be the central commercial hub of an entire quadrant of the city of Minneapolis.  But it is happening that way, and if not for pressure from concerned residents, we would have been farther down that road than before.

Earlier on Monday, an email was circulated stating that some property acquisitions and service contracts were going to be part of tomorrow's Hennepin County Board meeting.  The email from a Jordan resident stated that these were to be "consent agenda" items, although the agenda itself isn't clear on that.

screen capture used instead of link in case the agenda online changes.
Still, when I pondered in a previous post about the "insider baseball" feeling of these plans, it appears those concerns were more than a little justified.  In spite of the fact that the city's public comment period extends through January 16, 2012, the county, the Ackerberg Group, and Catalyst were prepared to go full steam ahead with the project.

Catalyst has offered to meet with those of us who have concerns.  And I was told that at least some things on my initial post weren't entirely accurate.  I'll be happy to have a dialogue with them, post different viewpoints, and correct any factual errors that might have appeared.  But until that happens, I'm firmly against the proposal as it stands and I plan to keep my foot on the gas pedal.  Picture a social service client racing down Hillside Avenue at 4:28, hoping to sneak in the door before government employees dutifully close up shop at 4:30 sharp.  That's the kind of fervor I have towards making sure this area gets treated right.

So when we heard that the county was about to enter into contracts without hearing so much as a peep from the neighborhoods affected, plenty of neighbors got on the phone and...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Penn Avenue Redevelopment Photo Tour

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

In a previous post, I began to take a look at the city's proposal for what it would consider redevelopment along Penn Avenue.  And while I'm glad to see needed focus placed on a community corridor, I have to question what part of this plan actually constitutes redevelopment.  The redevelopment area will include uses of properties for "housing, commercial/retail uses, and shared parking."  Clearly some of the properties are entirely appropriate for things like retail or parking, such as the two vacant parcels photographed above.  3215 and 3205 Penn Avenue North, just south of Union Liquors, are prime parcels for commercial/retail and parking expansion.

(And while they're at it, I'd love to see that spirit shop go the way of the dodo.  I went in there for the first and last time the other weekend and it was possibly the most distasteful such shop in all of Minneapolis.  I find that some liquor stores have dust on the $50 bottles of wine or the higher-end beers.  Union's level of wine that's too classy to be purchased on a regular basis starts off in the eight-dollar range.  Things go downhill from there.)

At least from the exterior, it's hard to see what the city would do with 3229 Penn Avenue North, the duplex pictured above.  A cursory examination of this and many similar properties leads one to believe there is a three-step process in place
  1. CPED acquires a property
  2. ?  
  3. Presto!  Redevelopment.
So before we get too far into the process, the community deserves to hear more from the city about that second step - and we need to be at the table about what that redevelopment looks like and how to get there.  While there are plenty of parcels that make complete sense for acquisition (and some of those for demolition) there are some that leave me scratching my head.  If readers feel the same way, or ideally if this post can be used to educate each other about these properties, please chime in.

And now we continue with the rest of the tour...

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A House Condemned Against Itself?

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

1541 Hillside Avenue, a house owned by the ominously-sounding group "Equitron Holdings" now has a condemnation placard posted on the front door of the lower unit.  The condemnation reason given is "structural defects and lack of maintenance."  And in spite of such potential defects, it appears that the upper unit may be occupied.

Wasn't there a Transformer named Equitron?  Here's hoping this thing changes back into a code-compliant property soon.

Friday, December 9, 2011

1551 Hillside First Sold For...

Post and photo by the Hawthorne Hawkman, image from the Minneapolis Journal archives.

1551 Hillside Avenue North has long been on my radar screen as an amazing hallmark of our historic housing stock in NoMi.  Now that I live within easy walking distance of the place, I've taken even more of an interest in it.  The archives of the Minneapolis Journal, linked above, often contain treasure troves of neighborhood and housing history.  For instance, on February 1, 1903, this house was listed for the whopping price of...

Lowry Bridge Pictorial

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

Every once in a while, I wander around just taking photos of what strikes my fancy, hoping to either make a blog post or be able to use the pictures at a later date.  I did so one day late in the fall when the Lowry Bridge was being connected.  The photos just sat on a camera that I don't use too often, until now.

More pics after the jump.  Enjoy.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Northside Food Market Continues Its Tradition of Excellence

Parody post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

Upper level rental unit "just as safely habitable today" as it has ever been, neighborhood residents claim.

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - The Northside Food Market, a long-standing quality corner store in the McKinley neighborhood, celebrated its thirteenth year in business today.  Honey Buns and Flaming Hot Cheetos will be sold at half-price, and individually-wrapped Swisher Sweets will be literally cut in half, for the on-the-go businessman who only has enough time to smoke a partial cigarillo before hopping on the bus to stay ahead of the hustle and bustle of his job.

"The Northside Food Market has it all," said one of the approximately fifteen tenants living in the one-bedroom apartment above the store.  "A location near a bus stop, brillo pads to clean my apartment, plastic roses that come in utilitarian glass tubes, and the only alleyway in the city of Minneapolis with a 40 mph speed limit."  When asked what the particular employ of this upstanding young gentleman was, he remained effusive, leading residents to speculate that he and his associates must be training for a circus clown car gig - the only plausible way such a small unit could comfortably hold so many people.

The store has long been a pioneering business in the neighborhood, leading the way selling healthy food to the throngs of socially-conscious, committed patrons who visited the store on an almost hourly basis.  While the utmost level of quality slipped briefly at the Northside Food Market earlier this year, the owners quickly promised to make things right.  Gone were the wads of bubble gum occasionally strewn on the sidewalk, and any young rapscallions causing the slightest bit of trouble were sent home with a firm warning and a stern look askance.

"We don't tolerate any kinds of nonsense around here," said the owner, who was dutifully in the midst of marking up the prices on such basic items as aluminum foil.  "And if anything untoward is reported, by golly, one quick phone call from a neighbor to the alderwoman is all it takes to set things right.  She's a stern headmaster, that one."

Today the Northside Food Market rolled back its doors for what is perhaps its most comprehensive refurbishment in the business's full-bodied history, and residents were duly thrilled.  Said one resident, "I love the new aisle layouts!  Everything is so conveniently located, the products they now sell attract the best customers, and the facade looks better than ever!  I just hope it stays this way for a long time to come."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Public Hearing Set for Former Fuji-Ya Site

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

The former site of the Fuji-Ya restaurant could become a new downtown riverside park, and a public hearing to begin that process is scheduled for December 15, 6-8 p.m. at the Mill City Museum.  The Park Board press release is already renaming the site the "Water Works Site" in recognition that the city's first water supply and fire pumping station were located there.  That's a neat tidbit of history I wasn't aware of, but I still bristle at how quickly we are distancing ourselves from the contributions of Reiko Weston and the Fuji-Ya restaurant.

Especially in that area, the Mississippi riverfront is full of sites, structures, and features that pay homage to the period that "Water Works" also references:  the Stone Arch Bridge, the Mill City Museum, the Mill Ruins Park, the Water Power Park, the Pillsbury A Mill--heck, an entire district is named the Mill district.  What do we have as a place name anywhere in the city of Minneapolis that is a tip of the hat to the contributions of Asian Americans?  If there's something out there, please enlighten me.

I understand that the way the site was forcefully acquired from Weston could be a sore spot.  And I would also be understanding if local Asian Americans weren't overly interested in this site as a place or forum for their cultural heritage.  Weston and the architect were Japanese and much of our Asian population hails from southeast Asia instead.  It could be seen in a similar way as (hypothetically) using historical references from Brazil or French Guyana to pay tribute to the contributions of a Mexican.  Technically it's all Latin America, but the cultures, locations, and languages are all quite distinct.

But has anyone even asked an Asian American cultural group here in the Twin Cities if they would like to participate in the process?

Reiko Weston wasn't just a pioneering minority businesswoman in a time where race and gender stacked the deck against her from the start.  She was also a visionary who saw the appeal of the riverfront when the rest of the city had turned its back on the area.  She preserved the history of the site while incorporating styles from a minority architect who would become well known in his own right.  Whatever form the new development at the Fuji-Ya site takes, those contributions must be recognized, valued, and preserved to the fullest extent possible.  I would hope that we do so by preserving the structure, reaching out to minority populations, and pursuing a site name that reflects the full history that transpired here.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Proposed Redevelopment Along Penn Ave N

 Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman, map from the city of Minneapolis.

In my previous post, I pointed readers to proposed changes along West Broadway.  The city is also planning to designate a redevelopment area along Penn Avenue and several intersecting cross streets.  The plan's language seems somewhat innocuous in this initial stage, although it's unclear yet how it could affect the various D2 light rail designs.  What has me worried though, is the language on the final page of the document, which states:
Minnesota Statutes Section 469.002, Subdivision 14 includes in its definition of a redevelopment project “any work or undertaking to acquire blighted areas and other real property for the purpose of removing, preventing, or reducing blight, blighting factors, or the causes of blight.”

A “blighted area” is defined in Minnesota Statutes Section 469.002, Subdivision 11 as “any area with buildings or improvements which, by reason of dilapidation, obsolescence, overcrowding, faulty arrangement or design, lack of ventilation, light, and sanitary facilities, excessive land coverage, deleterious land use, or obsolete layout, or any combination of these or other factors, are detrimental to the safety, health, morals, or welfare of the community.”

The proposed Penn Avenue North Redevelopment Project area is determined to be a blighted area, based on the characteristics described above. Indicators of blight observed in the project area include deteriorated or damaged building elements, underused or vacant land, poorly maintained premises, unoccupied residential properties, evidence of tornado damage, buildings in need of major repair, physically and/or functionally obsolete buildings, and lack of adequate parking for commercial operations.

Redevelopment activities in the project area will remove blight and facilitate the implementation of City land use policies and redevelopment objectives.
What's so scary about that, you may ask?  Well...

Can We Get Something OTHER Than Non-Profit Development?

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

Word came out this week that changes are being sought to the Let's Just Give All of West Broadway to the Ackerberg Group Because We're Not Doing Redevelopment Anyway Plan.  The proposed changes can be found here.  While I have sung the praises of Ackerberg and Catalyst before, and I'm thankful for their ongoing commitment to NoMi, I have some deep reservations about this proposal.

Those reservations are not around the preservation of housing stock in the proposed development area.  There are a series of homes and other land that will need to be assembled, and that's a part of any such project.  If anything, the quality of housing that was demolished for the MPS building next door was far higher than this and I wish some of those homes would have been moved instead of demolished.  There are 11 parcels being added to the site plan, starting with...

Monday, November 28, 2011

New Mural at Plymouth and Washington!

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

Many NoMi-ites have watched a mural slowly make its way across the north end of the building off the northwest corner of Plymouth Ave N and Washington Ave N.  If anyone has more information about the mural or the artist, please share.  For now, at least it's better than what you see when you turn north coming off the freeway exit.

More pictures after the jump...

The 411 on How LRT Impacts Streetcars in NoMi

Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, image from the city's Streetcar Final Report.

At last month's meeting to discuss possible LRT routes along Penn or Oliver as alternatives to the "D1" route that would go through Theo Wirth to Highway 55, I asked a very specific question of our moderators.  How would the various D2 options affect the proposed streetcar alignment along West Broadway?

After all, numerous streetcar corridors were proposed and only a few were approved.  The approval process was based on some rather objective criteria, such as cost and total ridership.  The streetcar route along West Broadway would go from downtown up Washington to Broadway, and then up to the Robbinsdale Transit Center.  If light rail comes down Broadway to Penn, then the proposed streetcar line would presumably stop at that intersection.  And if that were to happen, then the ridership on the streetcars could drop to a point where the Broadway alignment no longer qualifies.

Aside from the appropriate preservation of housing, my other main desire for LRT in or around NoMi is that we don't eliminate other viable transit network options.  So when I asked Bobby Joe Champion and Ray Dehn whether the D2 routes would affect streetcar proposals at all, and if so then how, their answer was...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Buy in NoMi on Small Business Saturday

Post and image by the Hawthorne Hawkman, image initially from the West Broadway Business & Area Coalition.

If you believe the big box retail industry, customers are clamoring for earlier and earlier opening times for Black Friday.  And in their benevolence, they have responded by taking their employees away from their families on a holiday so that stores can open at midnight as Thanksgiving turns to Black Friday.  Remember, they're doing it just for you!

Or if you're like me, you can express disgust by closely tracking which stores open at midnight, and vowing not to shop at any of them in between November 25th and December 31st.  And if that's the case, you may be looking for deals at your local small retailers.  If any other local businesses want to be written about here, use the comment section or contact me.  The West Broadway Business Coalition sent out an email listing deals from NoMi businesses on Saturday, November 26th.

The deals are as follows (click for more, as the deals aren't fully shown in the image above)...

Friday, November 18, 2011

Do We Want the Central Corridor on Penn or Oliver?

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman

Yesterday I was in St. Paul and snapped these pictures near University and Snelling.  While it can be unfair to judge a project before it's complete, these pictures do give us an idea of what LRT could look like coming down Penn or Oliver.  Is this really a good fit in NoMi?

LRT does cut off plenty of cross streets.  Even on a commercial corridor like University Avenue, I'm not so sure this is a good idea.  Along a residential corridor, the effects would be even more dramatic.  I've been reading up on walkable communities, and believe the LRT would either decrease walking along the corridor or it would increase pedestrian accidents.  Yes, people can walk an extra block or few to the handful of designated crossings, but will they really?  I can think of any number of scenarios, from a tired grandmother to an anxious kid to a scrapper with a baby carriage full of stolen copper where people will cross wherever they think is convenient.  And we certainly don't want grandma or the grandkids to get hit by a train.

So I encourage neighbors to take a hard look at the University Avenue corridor.  That's what we'll have in NoMi if any of the D2 options come to pass.  LRT can do many excellent things to revitalize a community, but I don't think those fit along the D2 route here.