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Monday, March 31, 2014

Hopping into spring at the zoo

With the colder than average temperatures and the constant snowfall this winter, we are all “hopping” to feel those spring temperatures. Most of our  animals that spend their summers in outdoors exhibits are also going a little stir-crazy indoors; ready to go outside to have a little fun in the sun. Spring cleaning and exhibit maintenance is hard to accomplish when there is a light, or should I say heavy dusting of snow! We are all getting very excited for warmer temperatures.

Speaking of hopping , we have two resident rabbits, “L.J.” and “Honey” who cannot wait to get outside and munch on some of the new fresh spring grass. The Como Zoo has two rabbits that are taken to educational programs, classes, keeper talks, and used by interpretive specialists such as Nature Walkers (a program for adolescents under the age of 17, who volunteer and teach the public fun facts about animals during the summer months). The rabbits get to interact with children and adults of all ages during these events, and get to have a “hoppy” good time.

Como Zoo has the “Bunny Hop,” which is an on-site class in which the rabbits will also be participating.

This class is held on April 11, 2014 from 9:30 a.m. - 10:45 a.m. Children and adults can have a “hare-raising” adventure as they watch a rabbit during feeding time, make a bunny craft to take home, play hopping games, eat a rabbit snack and twitch our little noses.

There are many other animals you can learn great facts about and “get closer” to at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory this spring. Open 365 days a year, rain, shine, snow, or slush, you can come watch a training demo, take a class, or watch a gardener or keeper talk! Come join the fun with myself and the rabbits as we “hop” into Spring!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Development Buzz from Councilmember Russ Stark

Urban Investment Group (UIG), based in Denver, has been selected as the development consultant on the old Snelling Bus Garage and Midway Shopping Center sites. A partnership of the City of Saint Paul, the Metropolitan Council, and RK Midway (owners of the Midway Shopping Center) selected UIG to develop a concept plan for the redevelopment of the 30+ acre area bounded by Snelling, University, Pascal, and St. Anthony. This does not mean that the Midway Shopping Center will be going anyway, but rather that the parties are working together to develop an overall scheme for the redevelopment of the sites, which would presumably happen in phases and over a number of years.

I have long believed that this "gateway" site for our community in this part of Saint Paul could be a key driver of bringing additional investment in the area in the form of additional housing, businesses and jobs. This new partnership between the Met Council, the city and RK Midway represents tremendous progress toward this goal. The Snelling Station Area Plan, adopted by the Saint Paul City Council a few years ago, is providing the basic framework for redevelopment of the sites. UIG is being tasked with determining the types and amounts of development that the market can bring to bear and testing the ideas in the Station Area Plan regarding the locations and amounts of needed new public infrastructure (streets, park, etc.) UIG's work will wrap up in April, at which time the concept plan will move to the St. Paul Planning Commission. At various points in this process, but particularly after this initial work is completed, there will be many ways for community members to provide input and feedback into the overall development plan. More on the timeline and process for this important site here, including opportunities to weigh in on Open Saint Paul in April/May.   

Historic image of the American Can / Silgan building at 777 Prior Ave. (courtesy of

Orton Development, based in the San Francisco Bay, recently purchased the old American Can/Silgan manufacturing site on North Prior at Minnehaha, and the old Fischer Nut building on Wycliff Avenue in the West Midway industrial area. Totaling 750,000 square feet of space, these two buildings have been sitting vacant (Silgan) and largely vacant (Fischer Nut) for many years, and the purchases by Orton suggest growing interest in investment in the area. Orton is still developing its plans for these buildings, and I will share information as I learn it.

Demolition is underway on the first phase of the Vintage on Selby Development at Snelling and Selby. Phase one involves demolition of several older buildings at Snelling and Dayton and the construction of a new Associated Bank branch at that corner. Phase two will then involve demolition of the old Associated Bank building, and construction of the new Whole Foods store and 208 luxury apartments, slated to open in the fall of 2015.

Project for Pride in Living (PPL) will finally break ground this spring on the new Hamline Station development at Hamline and University Avenues. The project, which will include two buildings separated by a public plaza in the middle of the block will include 108 apartments at varying prices, and some first floor retail/commercial space in the building right at Hamline/University.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Partnerships = Success for Inspiring Communities Program

The Inspiring Communities Program, administered by the Department of Planning and Economic Development, works to create affordable and sustainable housing in neighborhoods that have experienced high rates of foreclosure and vacancy in Saint Paul. A key component of the program’s success has been a partnership with the Capitol Region Watershed District (CRWD) to install rain gardens and other features at the properties to help mitigate effects of stormwater runoff. To date, 49 rain gardens have been installed and an additional 11 will be completed this summer.
Each rain garden is designed to capture and infiltrate a minimum of 1/2 inch of runoff from impervious surfaces, and a minimum of one inch if there is enough green space on the property. Each development is preventing an estimated 1,500 cubic feet of stormwater runoff annually, with an estimated cumulative reduction of 90,000 cubic feet of stormwater per year.

CRWD has provided up to $2,000 in rebates, free site plan design, and technical assistance for the implementation of stormwater best management practices at Inspiring Communities properties. In addition to the rain gardens, projects have also included swales, rain barrels, and other environmentally friendly landscape features. CRWD also provides technical expertise for landscape design, supports contractors during installation of these features, and ensures the projects meet standards for the homes to receive certification through Enterprise Green Communities. CRWD values this partnership because the organization is able to provide education about rain gardens and the environment in neighborhoods that have been challenging to serve in the past due to concentrations of abandoned or vacant property.
The City of Saint Paul and CRWD partnership was recently recognized as the 2013 Program of the Year by the Minnesota Association of Watershed Districts.

Other key partners in the Inspiring Communities Program are the City’s Forestry Department and the Ramsey Conservation District. Forestry assesses the health of trees on project sites, offers recommendations regarding removal of invasive or unhealthy trees, and suggests preferred tree types to meet the program quota of one to two healthy trees per property. The Ramsey Conservation District has provided landscape designs for the implementation of the rain gardens.
For more information about the Inspiring Communities program visit this site. CRWD offers financial and technical assistance to help businesses and homeowners build projects on their property that prevent stormwater pollution through their Stewardship Grant Program. For more information visit this site


Friday, March 21, 2014

Saint Paul’s Saint Patrick’s Day celebration—a history you might not expect

 Amidst a sea of shamrock hats, orange-and-green regalia, and Erin Go Bragh flags scattered through the historic streets of Lowertown Saint Paul, onlookers watched as waves of clans marched down 5th street this Saint Patrick’s Day. The celebration has always served as a way for Saint Paul to fly its Irish heritage and celebrate Irish roots in the city.

While our modern parade has been running uninterrupted for almost 50 years, the first Saint Patrick's parade dates back to 1851. Saint Paul, in fact, was founded by three Irish natives: Edward Phelan, John Hays and William Evans - soldiers discharged from service at the nearby Fort Snelling. The three founders made the first claim to what is now Dayton’s Bluff and Lowertown Saint Paul. 
In the early 1850s, members from the growing Irish and Irish-American community began publicly celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day until the then-Archbishop  John Ireland, in part due to a populist turn toward temperance, believed the parade to be too ‘immoral’ and ordered it stopped in 1902.
More than 60 years later, several community-minded Irish folks decided that the parade should return to our streets – and we’ve been happy to host  48 years of proud celebrations.
Saint Patrick's Day, 1978 - photo credit to MN Historical Society
Saint Patrick's Day, 1978 - photo credit to MN Historical Society

Thursday, March 20, 2014

City of Saint Paul Receives Award from Women's Business Development Center

On March 6, the City of Saint Paul and Department of Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity (HREEO) were presented with the 2013 Advocacy Award from the Women’s Business Development Center - Minnesota (WBDC-MN).  The WBDC is the oldest, largest, and most comprehensive women’s business assistance center in the nation.  The Advocacy Award is presented to an individual or organization for their contributions to the economic development and empowerment of women and minority-owned businesses.

The city and HREEO were recognized for supporting WBDC-MN’s mission to provide services and programs that support and accelerate women’s business ownership and strengthen their impact on the economy.  The partnership was recently furthered by a new memorandum of understanding between with city and the WBDC-MN for certifying women-owned businesses.  Along with Hennepin and Ramsey counties, the City of Saint Paul is a member of the Central Certification (CERT) Program, which certifies small, minority, and women-owned business enterprises.  The CERT program assists small, minority, and women-owned businesses grow and compete in the marketplace.  The memorandum of understanding streamlines the application process for the WBDC-MN to certify women-owned businesses seeking a CERT certification.  The new agreement will create additional economic opportunities for women-owned businesses, and helps to remove barriers to opportunities that come from having multiple business certification agencies.       

Interested small, minority, and women-owned businesses should consider applying for CERT Certification to take advantage of local business opportunities.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Be Alert. Be Prepared. #BeAForce

Be a part of the #BeAForce campaign to prepare yourself for the severe weather season.

After this winter it’s hard to believe that spring would ever show up again. And along with the return of birds, blue skies, and muddy streets, each spring brings the season of possible severe weather.
Tornadoes can be nature’s most violent storms with the capability of doing serious damage, both personally and to property.  Our alert systems have significantly improved over the years, but there remains no fail-proof way to predict and warn of a tornado’s path. Tornadoes generally occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm and it’s not uncommon to see clear, sunlit skies behind. Make sure to watch for these key signs to keep safe in the coming season: 
  • A dark, greenish sky 
  • Large hail 
  • A loud roaring sound, like a freight trail
  •  Clouds rotating
Tornadoes are most likely to occur between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. - often happening when we are at home eating dinner, sleeping, or enjoying family time.  This is why it’s important to have a NOAA weather radio nearby, programmed and powered up.  Remember, outdoor warning sirens are designed to warn people of dangerous weather approaching and the necessity to get inside and turn on a weather broadcast or NOAA weather radio for weather related information. 

There are dozens of outdoor warning sirens located all across Saint Paul and Ramsey County, and they can be independently activated for the specific areas under severe weather watch.  If you do hear the sirens go off, heed the warning and get indoors.  If you’re driving, safely pull off and find somewhere to provide protection until the all clear is given.

Most new cell phones have warning alerts built right in as an included service - just one more tool available to warn you of severe weather threats and hazards. 

Key terminology to understand:
  • Tornado Watch - Tornadoes are possible. Remain alert for approaching storms. Watch the sky and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio or television for information
  • Tornado Warning - A tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. Take shelter immediately
  • Severe Thunderstorm Watch - Tells you when and where severe thunderstorms are likely to occur. Watch the sky and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio or television for information
  • Severe Thunderstorm Warning - Issued when severe weather has been reported by spotters or indicated by radar. Warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property to those in the path of the storm
In addition to tornadoes, the potential for strong storms and lightning is ripe.  Remember the 30/30 Lightning Safety Rule: If the time between when you see the flash and hear the thunder is 30 seconds or less, the lightening is dangerously close.  
Here are a few tips to watch for when the weather gets bad: 
  • Avoid contact with any metal –tractors, motorcycles, bicycles or golf clubs 
  • Avoid plumbing - Do not take a shower or wash dishes or do laundry - plumbing and bathroom fixtures are great conductors for electricity.  
  •  Do not stand under trees - while the tree may shield you from rain they are a target for lightning.  
  •  Unplug electronic equipment before the storms begins.

Remember to take time and prepare your severe weather safety kit before an emergency happens. 
A good weather kit will include: 
  • Extra batteries
  • Flashlights
  • Whistles
  • Closed-toe shoes/sneakers
  • Water
  • Non-perishable food
  • Medicine
  •  Baby food
Remember kids and pets; prepare baby food, formula, diapers, wipes, snacks, toys, pet food and water bowl and a favorite chew toy.  Don’t forget about those family members with medical, other accessibility needs, or less mobile elderly.

If power lines or other utilities are damaged, the City will move quickly to restore these services – but there will still be some time without that power. If you encounter downed power lines, stay away.  Utilize alternate sources for informing family and friends you are ok, such as social media or through the Red Cross message system. 

For more on how to prepare for severe weather, visit

View more tips at:  Preparing Makes Sense   10 Pre-Blackout Tips  #BeAForce

Friday, March 14, 2014

Some water lines are feeling the chill--here's what to do

There is no denying this winter has been very, very cold—and some of our region’s water lines are feeling the chill. While the vast majority of the Saint Paul Regional Water Service’s 94,000 lines are working fine, roughly 400 of them have frozen at some point this winter. That is because in some areas, the frost has gone deeper than where the water lines are buried.

If at one point your water line was frozen and has since thawed out, it is essential that you keep water running continuously until Saint Paul Regional Water Services contacts you. Turning the water off, even for a few minutes, could cause the once frozen line to re-freeze.

If you have a frozen water line, please call SPRWS’ emergency line immediately at 651-266-6868.

More information can be found here here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Help us Fight Potholes as the City Asphalt Plant Opens for the Season

Help us Fight Potholes as the City Asphalt Plant Opens for the Season 
Signs of spring abound with April right around the corner. Although less noticeable than the return of birds chirping and bike-friendly weather, the opening of the city’s asphalt plant at 456 Burgess Street is no less an indicator of spring than other natural phenomena.  

With the plant’s opening last week, the City’s Street Maintenance staff – along with dozens of local public agencies – are now able to use the plant’s high grade “hot mix” of asphalt for patching potholes and other road repairs. During the months the plant is idled for repairs and routine maintenance (generally late November through early March), patching crews must rely on a “cold mix” grade of asphalt.

The cold mix grade is a less pliable road patching material, making it more difficult to use, but it’s real downside is that it doesn’t bond well to the surface of the road defect. Because it doesn’t bond well to the pavement, it can be quickly dislodged by snow plows or heavy vehicular traffic. Now that the plant is open, our staff can make a more permanent repair using the “hot mix” grade of asphalt produced by the city’s plant. Over the next several weeks, city maintenance staff will be working both day and night shifts to address potholes and other pavement defects throughout Saint Paul. Click here to learn more about the city’s response to potholes. 

Built in 1962, the city is well served by this facility. It’s centrally located within Saint Paul, making it more efficient for staff to access; it allows for greater control over our labor and materials costs; its emissions are clean and the plant runs quietly.  All-in-all, a good neighbor producing a good product for the benefit of the public. 

Help us fight back against potholes. Please call our Street and Bridge Maintenance Division at (651)-266-9700, email us at, download our free “Saint Paul Connect” app or check our SeeClickFix site to report issues.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Minneapolis and Saint Paul Home Tour Highlights Neighborhood Living in Dayton’s Bluff

With the end of the long winter and the arrival of (slightly) warmer weather, thoughts turn to getting out of the house and exploring what’s happening in our neighborhoods.  That is why spring is the perfect time for the annual Minneapolis and Saint Paul Home Tour. This year, the tour will be held on Saturday, April 26 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sunday, April 27 from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.   

During the home tour, residents in Saint Paul and Minneapolis open their homes to the public to showcase city living and the great things that our communities offer. The Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood, which is known for its beautiful and historic homes (including many from the Victorian era), always welcomes visitors to several homes on the tour.  This year will be no exception, with several great Dayton’s Bluff residences open for touring. 

One of the highlights this year will be an apartment in the former Mounds Park School building.  This building was constructed in 1891 and is the oldest public school building in Saint Paul still on its original site.  The creative reuse of this building is just one of many surprises Dayton’s Bluff has in store for you.  

Once you’re in the neighborhood, check out the views of the city and the Mississippi River from one of the many parks or try dinner at one of our locally-owned restaurants.  We guarantee that you’ll understand why City Pages named Dayton’s Bluff the Best Undiscovered Neighborhood in the Twin Cities and why several people who have toured Dayton’s Bluff have decided to make it their home. For more information about the Minneapolis and Saint Paul Home Tour or the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood, check out or