EDIT #2: To delve further into the drama of 2320 Colfax, see our timeline. EDIT: Some background for those who aren’t closely following Wedge neighborhood drama. Last week, Nicole Curtis had a Facebook freakout, distributed to her 500,000 fans, over the removal of siding on a house located at 2316 Colfax (in preparation for demolition). Nicole is an HGTV personality who remodels homes all over Minneapolis. She’s also the celebrity friend of the Wedge’s collection of anti-density activists (MRRDC, Healy Project, Team Tuthill, etc). She’s been especially critical of a plan to demolish the houses at 2316 and 2320 Colfax to make way for an apartment building. If you have a house vigil, she’ll bring a camera crew. She says things like, “Uptown needs another apartment building like a hole in the head.”
Everyone and their mother was having Fred Sanford-style heart attacks last week over the Wedge’s most notorious homeowner, Mike Crow, doing work (let’s call it “de-hab”) on 2316 Colfax without a weekend permit. It got me thinking that I could make a name for myself, and graduate from fake journalist to nosy neighbor, by taking down a permit scofflaw.
Does this guy have a permit for being an unbearable jerk?
So I headed downtown. After going to three different government buildings–and speaking with every security guard, every sheriff’s deputy, and every no-nonsense older lady behind every information desk–I finally had a clue. A stranger handed me a piece of paper. I made a few phone calls; a source told me that this coded message was actually an address.
I knew this had to mean something.
I went up to the third floor, where I could hear the distinctive voice of everyone’s favorite fourth-ring suburbanite, City Planner John Smoley, advising people on city planning type stuff. I stepped up to the counter, asked a few questions and gave the nice woman an address. She brought some information up on her screen.
“Isn’t this the lady from that home rehab TV show? Nicole Curtis? You’d think she would know better.” She laughed as she said it. I asked her to print the information for me.
From my limited understanding, the code “DBLE FEE” indicates someone has started work without a permit. For the property pictured above, we have a new garage door, removal of a bearing wall in the basement, and some basement plumbing work.
Another property I checked on was on 25th Ave N, which Nicole features on her website.
At this point, I had seen too much. It was all I could stomach. I had visions of dead renters filling the basements of all of Nicole’s properties from Minneapolis to Detroit. So I gave up and went home. Imagine what a real journalist could find.
A previous version of this post contained images with un-blurred house numbers. I regret the mistake.
Just under the feather boas, Mueller Park’s dark underbelly.
The 1974 plans for Lowry Hill East Park (as Mueller Park was originally known) put the basketball court on the western side, along Colfax Avenue. Two hoops were available for full-court play until they were demolished as part of a park renovation that began on May 4th, 1998. The newly renovated Mueller Park opened later that summer with one half-court hoop, located on the Bryant Avenue side of the park. Considering the events of the intervening years, those of us who live in the neighborhood today are lucky to have any basketball court at all.
Lowry Hill East Park plans, 1974.
Mueller Park hasn’t always been about free piano concerts and historically accurate ice cream socials. There was a time, as the Wedge newspaper tells it, when Mueller Park was dominated by basketball-wielding “ruffians” and sharp-shooting “toughs” raining chaos down on the neighborhood like a barrage of Ray Allen 3-pointers.
The first published complaint about Mueller Park comes from Meg and Dennis Tuthill in May of 1977, just a year after the park opened. Their concern had nothing to do with basketball. It was more their way of saying the neighborhood had too many children already:
We have witnessed children with BB guns, knives and air rifles. It occurs to us to ask where the parents are. At any given time there seems to be about 30 or 40 children playing at the park but at the very most 2 or 3 parents.
Towards the end of their letter they caution parents, “There just are not that many things for older children to do at the park.” Which is an odd starting point for what would become a decades-long push to remove the basketball hoops from Mueller Park.
Behavior in 1980 was good.
I’m not sure where our current neighborhood nostalgia for children and families comes from, because the children of the late 1970s sound like the meanest little bastards the world has ever known. In June of 1979, resident Mary Atkins describes seeing two 8 year old boys taking up sledgehammers to destroy “everything in both bathrooms.” At the end of her letter, Mary vows to keep “watching, phoning, and getting angry until someone listens!” She would go on to become an integral part of the LHENA “Park Watch” program in the early 1980s.
What started for Mary as an act of resistance against a “massive act of vandalism” would turn, inexplicably, into a crusade against basketball. She spent a lot of time in the park–watching. Based on accounts from Park Watch, the summer of 1980 was a “good” one. Despite the reported good behavior, Mary writes another letter the following May:
Last summer, and again this spring, I have noticed that the basketball courts at Mueller Park have been completely taken over by adults, many of whom I do not recognize as residents of the Wedge.
I have watched the younger children and adolescents from our neighborhood stand on the sideline for hours, waiting to get a chance to play on the courts, usually to no avail. Often the people that use the courts descend on our park by the carload, beer in hand, and hook up their speakers to tape players or radios and turn the music on full blast…
Mary was concerned for the plight of “neighborhood youth who would like to play basketball at the park.” So, naturally, she suggests a “petition to have the basketball hoops removed.” She ends her letter with a question: “How do we assure [the youth] a fair chance to use the facilities at Mueller Park?”
On May 6th, 1981, the same month Mary’s letter is published, there is a public meeting; “the hottest item on the agenda was the issue of the basketball courts.” Mary alleges “physical aggression by adults” towards children. Dennis Tuthill suggests removing the courts. Another resident, David Forney, advocates lowering the baskets “to discourage ruffians from outside the neighborhood.” Neighborhood hero Glen Christianson stands up for basketball, while pointing out the shortage of hoops available in the city; “Let’s not tear it down,” he says.
Outside of Mary’s incredible accusation of violence against children, which is absent from her just-published letter, there’s not one specific allegation of criminal behavior. So, what is it about these basketball players–ruffians… many of whom I do not recognize… descending on our park by the carload… music on full blast?
Suddenly, “ruffian” doesn’t seem like such a cute word.
Glen Christianson, rim-protector.
Ostensibly this started as a quest to preserve the basketball court for neighborhood children to play basketball. But Dennis’ solution is to reserve the court for Tuesday evenings of adult volleyball. Mary Atkins organizes Wednesday night volleyball for kids (volleyball really is the antidote to basketball). Glen Christianson, legendary neighborhood rim protector, organizes pickup basketball games for adults. And there’s this excellent suggestion from the following year: “roller skating to music on the basketball courts.” Hilariously, I can find no trace of anyone ever suggesting they reserve the court for children’s basketball.
Park Watch continues through the summer of 1981. A September article announces that neighbors “have helped solve the problem about the use of the basketball court and the park.” Mission accomplished, but how?
Park Watch. Mary Atkins’ eyeballs are the best deterrent.
“They informed park police about beer drinking, dope smoking and bad language among the white and black teenagers in the park.” [italics added]
Family volleyball night.
It’s not just the blacks.
These teenagers, white and black, need better coaching; shooting the ball with a beer in one hand and a marijuana cigarette in the other won’t get you to the NBA.
In the same article that declares victory in the war on basketball “bullies,” the Wedge reports for the first time that race may be a factor:
[Park Board representative] Hutera described the basketball players as young adults. He said, ‘I do think some racism is involved.’ But he said blacks were being bigoted also, calling others ‘honky.’
Both Atkins and [Dennis] Tuthill as Mueller Park spokesmen pointed out that racism had no part in the issue. Tuthill said the inappropriate behavior among blacks or whites drinking beer, smoking dope or using bad language in the park was unacceptable. Atkins described the problem as more the neighborhood “toughs” than the basketball players….
Another problem at Mueller Park is that it offers few facilities for recreation… [Asst. superintendent Feldman] agreed a sand volleyball court at Mueller Park would be safer and more enjoyable for volleyball than the asphalt court currently being used. He said Mueller neighbors have legitimate reasons, and not ideas coming in from outer space, about removing the asphalt.
You thought the last word of this
paragraph would be “basketball”
Mary just admitted that the problems in the park were unrelated to basketball players. It should also be mentioned that removing the basketball court and replacing it with a sand volleyball court would have resulted in no net increase in the number of recreation facilities; though I can imagine it would have resulted in an emptier, less useful park. The article closes with Dennis complaining about the kids being excluded from basketball fun; followed by Dennis reserving Wednesday night court-time for a children’s activity that isn’t basketball.
The neighborhood stops targeting the basketball court from roughly 1982 until 1990, when LHENA begins having one of the hoops variously hooded, capped, or locked for most of the next decade. A “vandal” (more like freedom fighter) breaks the lock off the south hoop in 1996; Glen Christianson would have been proud.
Basketball: the least of your problems.
In the summer of 1993, in an item headlined “Mueller Park Crowd Getting Out of Hand,” LHENA vice-president Audrey Johnson notes “there have been problems with noise, bad language, rowdy behavior, fires being started in the bathrooms and under trees, and glass being dumped in the swimming pool.” She doesn’t mention basketball, but it’s not hard for some to connect the dots. Notes from the August board meeting mention the fires, the glass in the pool, people being “accosted by hidden persons,” and the need to call the police to close down basketball. It’s possible that accosted by hidden persons is just a euphemism for good, hard defense; though it could also be the case that your neighborhood has bigger problems than basketball.
In 1998, the basketball court was cut in half as part of renovations at Mueller Park.
The idea that basketball courts bring crime to a neighborhood is notallthatuncommon. There’s the case of a 2011 hoop removal in one racially diverse Chicago neighborhood. It emptied the park, but it failed to reduce gang violence as intended. Critics say it was about targeting black kids and pushing a gentrification agenda. My favorite response to the basketball-haters is from Arlene Rubin in 1990, based on her experience living across the street from a Chicago park: “To hear some people, you’d think that taking down the hoops would solve AIDS, unemployment, and the national debt.”
The only study I can find on the topic shows that parks with basketball courts, as opposed to those without, are “associated with lower rates of violent and property crime but not disorder crime.” Basketball courts can be noise generators, but fewer people get hurt.
I made fun of this survey a while back. But in retrospect, I really dropped the ball. This is no joke. LHENA is about to decide how to spend money based on the results. There’s going to be a community vote at the October 15th board meeting. It’s hard to say if the voting will include options for “Improving Housing Stock” that go beyond the two choices in the image below. My hope is that they don’t spend all the money on a brand new historic district and some historic walking shoes. Let’s withhold the “sudden windfall” until LHENA can figure out how to assess neighborhood priorities without rigging a survey.
Now you understand why I call them LHENAMRRDCHealyProject.org.
One more thing about historic districts. Some Healy/MRRDC-types who attended the historic district information session a few weeks ago were extremely interested in expanding the proposed boundaries. One of the difficulties with that is it would take money that the city doesn’t have right now. There were questions directed at John Smoley about finding an outside funding source. It wouldn’t surprise me if they try to funnel some neighborhood money into downzoning the neighborhood via historic district (but with this conservation district nonsense happening, maybe they don’t need to).
Peter Kim wants to buy himself a historic district. Asks if donations would provide city the resources to expand north of 24th. — Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) September 23, 2014
So if my theory holds, there should be big turnout. And when you gather so many long-time residents in one room, there’s a greater than 50% chance of weirdness. It should be fun to watch; and you can vote while you’re there. They’re holding the vote in the Jefferson cafeteria instead of the media center.
October is Superfluous Acronym Month (SAM). See if you can spot the impenetrable acronyms that we’ve needlessly inserted into this month’s Task Force report.
Like last time, nothing of substance was accomplished at the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association Housing & Development Task Force (LHENAHDTF). That’s not to say there wasn’t common ground; we agreed that good things were good, and also, that bad things were bad. We haven’t yet gone on any armed raids to bust up illegal attic conversions. But there were plenty of interesting things to report on.
Kathy Kullberg Is Wonderful Kathy Kullberg asked me how the people in my building communicate with each other, or how we would “evacuate” in some unspecified emergency. I said the resident manager would probably knock on the doors. I asked her what sort of situation she was referring to. She asked, “Do you have fire alarms?” We do. She asked if we have a TV channel for distributing building info (does she think I live on a cruise ship docked at Lake Calhoun?). Finally, I went into a highly-technical spiel about bulletin board technology.
Kathy Kullberg is wonderful. Our conversation did a lot to build cultural understanding. If only I could spend all my hours having weird conversations with Kathy K., I’d launch a thousand Twitter accounts in her honor.
Or maybe I’m the one who’s out of touch. Honest question: are community TV channels a standard amenity in our city’s new 5-story luxury skyscrapers? Kathy seemed to think the TV channel thing was a good idea. Anyhow, look for televised bulletin boards to be included in the Task Force’s final report.
Outreach Is On Me At one point during the discussion, my friend from MRRDC mentioned that our assembled group was “representative” of the neighborhood. The room was at least 80% homeowner–and almost all of those homeowners were over 50. This is an 85% renter, hugely under-40 neighborhood. This seemed like something worth clarifying; so my colleague brought it up.
This was immediately turned around on us; current and former LHENA board members insisted that we (the @WedgeLIVE news team!) were somehow responsible for outreach to renters. And this was not a friendly request; it was more an accusing, well, what are you gonna do about it? kind of thing (I guess the assumption was that a fancy-looking guy like myself could just pick up a TV remote to dial up some friends using his building’s dedicated, interactive info channel–let’s call it WebTV™).
So, I’ve taken this to heart. I’ve done some soul-searching. I even checked my online banking; turns out, the city has deposited zero dollars into my outreach budget. And my lawyer tells me I can’t force LHENA to be relevant to people who don’t enjoy historic walking tours. If somebody dropped the ball on this, it wasn’t me.
This is not me.
(It’s also important to remember that a guy who tweets about neighborhood politics doesn’t have the expansive social circle you might be imagining; I’m not exactly Whittier’s world-famous, 70s-mustache-guy.)
After being backed into a ridiculous corner on renter outreach, I did what any violent transient would do. I dropped a bomb. I said that LHENA was organized around handing out money to homeowners. At least one witness reported there were audible gasps. That sacred cow bled out, all over the table–and nobody said a word.
Here’s what I should have added: money moves people; and when you funnel money predominantly to homeowners, you’ve got a homeowners association, rather than a neighborhood association. A financial incentive to encourage neighborhood involvement would probably be a useful tool for organizing renters; I’ve heard that Stevens Square does a rental credit. I’m not saying that buying renter participation is feasible or advisable; but it’s no more frivolous than funding someone’s historic home-rehab hobby.
The best thing LHENA has going for it on outreach? Their current and former board members annoying the shit out of a couple of neighborhood renters. It’s literally the only reason we’re at the meetings. Let’s double the money we have allocated for Antagonizing Transients. That line-item is really paying dividends.
TFLBMB I hope you remembered to email LHENAHDTF@gmail.com with pictures of great buildings. Task Force Leader / Board Member Bill (TFLBMB) was thrilled to receive so many pictures of our neighborhood’s 4-story brick apartment buildings. I sent some of those in; but not because I love brick. Those buildings are just good examples of tall-ish, boxy, attractive buildings that fit well in the neighborhood. But TFLBMB latched on to the expensive materials.
Bill admits that he’s “given in” to gentrification. He said that new buildings are not going to be affordable buildings. I mostly agree (though I would argue that new construction contributes to affordability in the context of the larger housing market). But then he went further: new buildings will never be affordable, therefore they should be built with the finest materials possible. I can’t say whether or not anyone in the room was with Bill on this point.
I would suggest that our inability to build rentals in the $700 price range does not mean we should abandon the 1,000-$1,200 range. I live in a 40-year old building. It wasn’t built as affordable housing, but it’s certainly evolved into that role quite nicely. Let me invoke John Bode (the longest of long-time residents), who said we need to plan for the future–for a time when he’s “long gone.” This melted my cynical, transient heart. He was talking about solar panels; but let’s pretend he was talking about the need for more housing in the Wedge.
For context on Bill’s gentrification stuff, here’s how he justified voting against the since-abandoned FrankLyn project:
We’re supposed to be watching out for renters. We have this thing called gentrification. It’s not being mentioned. The big ‘G’ word. It’s gentrification, which is inevitable. But please call it as such. And we are going to lose some lower income property owners, and we are going to lose some lower income renters.
So when FrankLyn II comes up for discussion, will we see a pro-gentrification version of board member Bill pushing for $3,500 rents?
15 Minutes From the Ghetto The Murals building on the Greenway has apparently begun the countdown–at T-minus “15 minutes from the ghetto.” This is according to Bill. John Bode liked the phrase so much that he put his own spin on it, calling the entire swath of Greenway monstrosities, “15 minutes from a slum.” All this time I’ve been hating those Greenway cretins for their party rooms and fitness centers–not to mention the 8:1 parking ratio for all their antique sports cars. But the joke’s on them! Have fun drinking from that polluted stream, shanty-dwellers. The clock is ticking. You have 14 minutes.
Tune your TVs to the evacuation channel. The slum is nearly upon us.
Adorable Resource Can we draw a dotted line around the Bode household and declare it an Adorable Resource? John Bode was worried about non-residents participating in the forthcoming LHENAHDTF Google Group; he wanted people to include home addresses in their messages. I didn’t want to crush his spirit by telling him nobody cares enough about this stuff to commit Google Group fraud. Plus, any veteran fraudster could just dial up a Google map of the neighborhood and steal someone’s ID.
That’s it for this month’s Task Force report. Tune in again next time–the first Tuesday of November. Unless I have better things to do. Seriously though–if you have plans for that day, take me with you. Tweet me or something.
We have the highlights from this week’s failed 2320 Colfax appeal. 90 minutes have been boiled down to seven. Lisa Goodman plays the role of parking hero–and cuts through the bullshit on variances. But, truly there’s no bigger Wedge Warrior than Janne Flisrand; despite a busy schedule, every time you turn on Channel 79, she’s making the case for requiring less parking.
The project goes forward! But, like our friends at MRRSVLD, we’re not sure this thing is over.
If today goes poorly, we’ll have a pre-demolition gathering at #2320Colfax, and everyone will fake a Fred-Sanford-style heart attack. — MRRSVLD (@MRRSVLD) August 25, 2014
It’s nearly that time again. What time, you ask? Task force time. What task force? The LHENA Housing & Development Task Force (LHENAHDTF). Geez, it’s almost like you haven’t been paying attention. The next meeting is October 7th, 6:30 p.m., Jefferson School (Media Center), 1200 W 26th Street.
Any old fool can show up, the first Tuesday of every month, and be on the task force. Even I’m on the task force. Our task? To provide LHENA with a future talking point that goes something like this: “Listen, Mr. Developer Guy and/or Corrupt Politician–our task force spent many grueling months/years/decades working on these development guidelines, and look at you, just trampling all over them.”
At least, I think that’s how it’s supposed to work.
But it doesn’t have to be that way! I’m tired of being cynical. So, below I’ve listed some reasons every Lowry Hill East resident should be excited to come out for the Lowry Hill East Housing & Development Task Force (LHENAHDTFMRRDC).
It’s an opportunity to help formulate development guidelines that may impact the future of the neighborhood.
Get to know your neighbors. It might surprise you to learn that many of them probably wish people like you didn’t live here.
You’ll have thought-provoking conversations that–for one evening every month–make you question why you even moved to this neighborhood.
Meetings are scheduled for two hours. But if you beg hard enough, you can probably get away after 90 minutes.
Take pride in knowing that–best case–your hard work will result in a finished product that is vague and meaningless pablum. Worst case? It will offend your most deeply held moral sensibilities.
A lifetime’s worth of fun. Literally. There is no known time-frame for the task force to complete its mission. I think they’re just waiting for some of us to move to Whittier.
Board Member/Task Force Leader Bill usually brings enough candles for the whole group.
Your arguments don’t hold a candle to Bill. He holds his own.
Still not convinced to come out for the Lowry Hill East Housing & Development Task Force (LHENAHDTFMRRDCHealyProject.org)? Then you can always send your development-related comments to LHENAHDTF@gmail.com.