Monday, October 5, 2015

Prayer Vigil Planned for Penn Ave Fire Victims

By now the tragedy that took three young lives needs no introduction.  This is the second such loss north Minneapolis has endured in recent years.  There will be more to elaborate on in regards to the landlord's potential culpability and what city policy responses may be needed.  For now, we grieve.

Yesterday I was pulling in all the remaining herbs and peppers from my garden, knowing it would the the last warm day on which I would have time to put these vegetables to use.  Ready or not, they were getting picked.  Whether the produce had fully become what it was meant to or not, it was coming off the vine.  I couldn't help but see the parallels between my garden and these three young lives lost.  Lost before they could become doctors or lawyers or athletes, community leaders, teachers, friends, parents, or so many other roles where they could have thrived.

Let's just say those plants got a little extra water while I was out there.

I don't have the words to say that might be of comfort.  And I've always found statements that it's part of God's plan or that the children are in a better place to be useless and even condescending.  But as a person of faith, there is one verse I keep coming back to at times like this...

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Does an Infamos Slumlord Want Out of North Minneapolis?

3127 Morgan Ave N

As a Jordan neighborhood homeowner and avowed mortgage geek, I take it upon myself to know as much as I can about the local housing market, and I frequently scan the MLS for interesting tidbits.  One such listing popped up a while back.  A house at 3127 Morgan Ave N has been listed for sale with a purchase price of (drum roll, please) $1.45 million. 

I briefly wondered if this was something similar to the $2.5 million house that signaled the downfall of the Paul Koenig/Pamiko empire.  But the listing itself states that the seller is looking to unload a total of sixteen properties, is willing to barter each on an individual basis, and will give a steep discount to someone who is buying all of them at the same time.

The owner of record, according to the city's website, the owner of record is an obscure entity called Entrust Midwest LLC.  Right away, I recognized this as being owned by the notorious BMG, none other than...

Monday, June 29, 2015

New Parking Rules not Ready for North Minneapolis Implementation

Stock photo of a parking lot across the street from my home.
At a recent Penn Avenue Community Works meeting, I was asked how I felt about the removal of some parking spots along the corridor.  My swift response was, "North Minneapolis is too addicted to its parking spots and on principle I support any action that reduces parking in this part of the city."  (After that, I did dial it back a bit and got into an actual conversation about the issue.)

So with that as my starting point, I heard some rumblings over the past few weeks about a change in zoning that would eliminate certain parking requirements.  My knee-jerk reaction was the same.  If it gets rid of parking over here, so much the better.  And maybe it could help attract a developer to the fallow land currently owned by the Minneapolis Public Schools just off of Broadway.

But then I read a quote from Council President Barb Johnson, who said that she'd be shocked "if there are fifteen people in north Minneapolis who know about this."  That piqued my curiosity and I decided to bring that number up to sixteen.  I didn't just read a newspaper article on it though.  I read the staff report, the public comments, reviewed the maps and watched the Zoning and Planning Committee meeting.  After immersing myself in the topic, I am not sure I support the ordinance at all and I fully support President Johnson's proposed amendment to exempt north Minneapolis from the change.

Here's why...

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Where to Go After West Broadway Fire

Author's note:  much of the post was initially written shortly after the fire, and put on hold as I didn't have time to finish the article.  Since then, the city has said they will not initiate demolition, and the post has been edited to reflect that change.

On April 16, 2015 a fire broke out on the 800 block of West Broadway, rendering much of the block uninhabitable and unusable at least for the time being.  There are a number of things that cause serious concern here.  First and foremost, I am glad that no lives were lost and that no serious injuries were sustained.  I hope that the businesses and organizations affected, like Brix Meats and Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, will be made whole again.  I mourn the loss of history within these buildings--even if they are restored there will be some aspects that cannot be completely reconstructed.

More to the point, however, I am saddened at the potential loss of what these buildings could be restored to.  Properly restored historic storefronts along West Broadway remains the best way to naturally grow our business corridor through small incubator projects.  One of the principal reasons, demolition aside, that I had a negative reaction to the Satori development was because it took that kind of organic, grassroots development off the table and made everyone focus on the new bright and shiny toy in the room.  More on that later.

After the initial shock wore away, what lingers for me is a mystified reaction as to why people were so quick to...

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Where have All the Bloggers Gone?

Facebook.  That would be the short answer.  But the answer deserves some elaboration on a personal and community level.

The Adventures of Johnny Northside recently went about two months without a post, and has announced a blogging retirement of June 15, 2015.  This blog has had a similar gap.  The Deets is back with some new content, but had been dormant for a while too.  Sure, other blogs have started up (or kept on going); "Hearts and Hammers," and "My Blonde Life in the Hood" come to mind.  But these are primarily personal, navel-gazing pieces and not tackling broader community or institutional issues as their primary focus.

While I can't speak for others, I can talk about my personal choices and what I see as a vastly different landscape for writing and dialogue on community issues.  A little over a year ago, a close friend told me I should "blog less and get out and meet people and do things more."  More often than not, when I'm presented with a good idea, I dismiss it out of hand at first.  But the seed was planted...

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

How I'd Fix the Orth House Process Shortcomings

First off, I have to give major credit to my council member Blong Yang over the Orth House.  This isn't because of his vote, although he was one of two to vote against its demolition.  It's because after my last post, he did something that should be far less rare among our elected officials:  he responded publicly and directly.

On my personal Facebook page, he posted a link to the Zoning and Planning meeting where the Orth House demolition appeal was granted.  At issue for the preservationists has been a sense that the appeal wasn't handled in a fair enough manner.  The city staff position was not in favor of a historic designation that would have made demolition far more difficult for the owner to obtain.  And while the staff person did present the Heritage Preservation Committee position, and in some detail, many feel that position was not defended as vigorously as it should have been.

There are two reasons why a better defense of the Orth House was warranted, and one way that similar situations can be avoided in the future.  First...

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Years Later, Terrell Mayes Jr.'s Murder Still Unsolved

It's been three years, two months, and twenty-three days since Terrell Mayes was killed by a stray bullet.  Sixty thousand dollars in award money has been added to that time, but we are still waiting for enough information that leads us to his killer.  About a week and a half ago, Terrell's mother posted in North Talk that nothing has been happening regarding this tragedy.  I gave my word that I would write up a post.  I'm late on publishing it, but there are personal reasons why this is a difficult post to write.

A little over a year ago--January 10th, 2014 to be exact--I received news that my ex-wife's youngest son passed away unexpectedly.  While he wasn't my biological son, I loved him as if he were my own.  I can't, or won't, go into great details about his passing, other than to say this:  There are at least two people who bear some responsibility in his death.  It is highly unlikely that those two will face justice for their actions.

So when I think of Terrell, it's personal to me on a level that it wasn't before.  Everyone grieves differently, and every loss is different.  So although I can't say I know exactly what his family is going through, I can say I know what it's like when...

Monday, March 2, 2015

A Bully Blog, the Appeal that Wasn't, and the Blocked by Betsy Club

Photo from

Last weekend, the tempest in a teapot known as the Orth House reached a boiling point.  Again.  For those who have no context, "The Orth House" was a home built by famed local architect TP Healy.  It was recently demolished in favor of higher density, although local preservationists, aided by TV show host Nicole Curtis, made a spirited effort to save it from the landfill.  Curtis, by the way, is a resident of the ward in Minneapolis where the Orth House once sat.

During this campaign, Curtis has publicly called out the council member, Lisa Bender, for her role in the demolition.  Now I don't know exactly how those two feel about each other, but I have heard that if they were in close proximity to one another, any object placed between them would immediately burst into flames.  So yeah, things are not so good.

Into that fray, we add a self-described "amateur journalist"  (My emphasis on amateur) who runs a blog known as either "Wedge Live" or "The Wedge Times Picayune."  This blog fabricated a thread of Curtis's Facebook page members' comments, but only the really bad ones.  The "worst of" list was done in such a way that to the untrained eye--mine and at least a few Minneapolis council members included--this appeared to be one long profanity-laced rant that escalated rather quickly.

And THAT, in turn, led to our esteemed mayor calling on Nicole Curtis to apologize to Council Member Bender and to the city of Minneapolis as a whole.  Curtis issued a plea for civility while admitting it is virtually impossible to monitor 700,000 commenters.  Then only after it was pointed out that this was not in fact one Facebook thread did the Wedge Live blog issue an update informing us that it was a compilation.

Which is where we stand today.  I'm reminded of what my pragmatic brain sometimes wanders to when watching action-packed movies like "The Avengers."  Iron Man and the Hulk are duking it out, knocking over buildings and throwing around cars, and you just KNOW there's a janitor somewhere yelling, "Maaaaan, who's going to clean this UP???"

Well, that's what this blog is for, to wade through the wreckage and make some sense of it all.  We start with...

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Queen Avenue Bike Path Presents Its Own Set of Problems

Today a fellow northside biker and I traversed the most likely alternative to a Penn Avenue bike lane, as we went from Highway 394 all the way up to 44th Avenue North.  We have both been regular attendees at the Penn Avenue Community Works meetings, but this was our first time actually going along the route.  While Penn presents its own set of challenges for bike lanes, Queen is far from an ideal alternative.

In fact, after this experience (in a car, so that we could more easily and quickly make an account of the corridor and because it's February) I would push back to our policymakers and elected officials.  Either we're serious about getting a north/south bike corridor somewhere between the proposed Humboldt/Irving Greenway and Theo Wirth, or we're not.  If the political will and funding aren't there to do it right (even on Queen, which in my book doesn't meet the criteria) then tell us now and stop wasting everyone's time.

If we ARE serious about biking amenities on the corridor, then the first question is...

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Bus Rapid Transit Delayed on Penn Ave N (And Why That's a Good Thing)

Disclaimer:  I serve on the Penn Avenue Community Works committee as a delegate on behalf of the Jordan neighborhood.  The only formal position JACC has taken on the Penn Bus Rapid Transit is that there be an additional stop in Jordan besides the Broadway and Lowry stations.  If JACC takes additional positions, I will work to implement them as long as I am on the committee as a Jordan delegate.

The Penn Avenue Bus Rapid Transit project, also known as the C Line, had recently picked up quite a bit of momentum.  In late 2014, we were informed that the BRT line in St. Paul (B Line) was not moving forward as quickly as anticipated.  That potentially freed up funding to allow detailed design to begin in 2015 with construction on the C Line in 2016.  At recent Penn Avenue meetings, we were operating under the hope that this funding and construction schedule would take place.

But there is an entity called the Transportation Advisory Board that makes programming decisions for these funds, and at their January 21st meeting they decided...

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Case of the Sign Spam Assault Comes to a Close

Last summer, I was assaulted as I was taking down sign spam in front of my house.  After the initial blog post, I held off on writing about the progress of the incident, wanting to see how it would play out.  The case has now come to a close, and my charges were dismissed.  That's not entirely a bad thing, as will be shown later.  But first, a brief recap:

I was sitting on my front porch, watching the world go by one summer evening when I saw a van pull up and plaster the light poles with sign spam for upcoming concerts at a downtown venue.  It dawned on me then that I hadn't taken down that stuff for a while, and my whole corner was looking kind of ugly.  So I went out and ripped off that sign and others that were taped to the four posts on my corner.

Well, the perpetrator didn't like that, confronted me, threatened to both assault and rob me, and then actually did throw a punch.  He then hopped into his getaway vehicle--the 19 bus line.  I got on after him, and informed the bus driver that I had called 911, then removed myself from the situation.  He was caught a few moments later and brought back to my house, where the helpful MPD officers walked me through my first citizen's arrest.

Since then...

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Sheltering Arms House Rehab is Complete

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

There are photos of the interior at the end of this post, for those of you who may want to skip my ramblings and get to the best part.

The Sheltering Arms House, at 2648 Emerson Ave N, had a pre-open house on Saturday.  For those looking to read up on the recent history of this house, most of that was covered first on Johnny Northside, and later on this blog - each hyperlink will take you to that blog's "Sheltering Arms" search results.

In short, however, the home was built in 1891 as an orphanage for the Sheltering Arms Orphanage.  It is believed to be the first or among the first orphanages away from the main campus on the Mississippi riverfront.  The orphanage was the precursor to what is now the Sheltering Arms Foundation.

It's worth repeating that the Sheltering Arms was run by a group of twenty-five Episcopalian nuns, dedicated to serving needy children "without regard to race, color, or creed."  A women-run organization with that mission in eighteen ninety-one is a part of this city's history that most definitely needed to be preserved.

In a smaller sense, this house had its own place in north Minneapolis history as well.  That's because...

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Cultural Comfort Food Fusion

A recent Facebook conversation with my favorite former Minnesotan, Bryan Thao Worra, centered around cultural comfort foods and culinary fusion.  As more and more Southeast Asians (and other immigrants) locate in Minnesota, they will bring their comfort foods with them--laab meat, papaya salad, sticky rice, etc.  Here in the midwest, we've already got plenty of our own comfort foods, such as shepherd's pie, the infamous hot dish, and various jello and fruit conglomerations.

So we began to ask ourselves, what would happen if some of these Scandinavian and Southeast Asian foods were to be combined in some unholy culinary syncretism?  What would some of our choices even be?

I ruled out chicken noodle pho right off the bat.  But laab meat had some potential...

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Aldermanic Privilege, When it Works and When It Doesn't

Post by the Hawhtorne Hawkman, photo from the Healy Project blog.

The term "aldermanic privilege" has its origins in Chicago, but the principle is often applied here in Minneapolis as well.  The phrase refers to circumstances where the council as a whole defers to the wishes of the council member whose ward is most impacted by a particular issue or vote.  This privilege has its benefits - and not just to the individual council member, but also to his or her constituents.  And then there's the drawbacks, especially in a "weak mayor/strong council" city like Minneapolis, where a liberal application of aldermanic privilege bestows too much power on each council member.

First up, when and where it works: