Okay I admit, although it's probably toasty at the 3rd Place, I am staying home as the temp plunges to negative digits - during the day! But then, it was cold for the Saint Anthony Park Community Foundation's 1st Annual Forum and Info Fair last Thursday night and over 120 people showed up. We had a dozen non-profit groups for our Info Fair portion and 5 panelists for our forum. It was very informative and interesting to hear their perspectives on their organizations and the community.

Our chair, Erica Schumacher, welcomed everyone and gave a brief history of our organizational arc and funding streams before handing it over to board member, Jay Schrader, who explained the Foundation's various roles in support of our community. He touched on the financial support we offer annually but also emphasized the programming support that is an important part of my job.

Then it was on to the panel discussion. While we did videotape the event and will post it on the web soon, I'll give you a shorthand synopsis of the major points made by our panelists. Starting with Andrew Collins, Director for Elementary Schools for SPPS, who acknowledged challenging situations this semester, specially at middle schools sometimes struggling to handle the new class of 6th graders. He reported that the district is working its way through problems case by case and remains committed to the long range success of the district's "Strong Schools, Strong Communities" vision. 

Mary Beck, chair of St. Anthony Park Area Seniors, talked about her organization's ongoing efforts to better understand how they can continue to provide their integrated health and social services to our growing population of seniors. They have been actively seeking information and partnerships to stay ahead of the changing needs situation of this large demographic group. Look for them to play an increasing role in senior and transitional housing conversations as well as in the development of new services.

Tanya Bell, a consultant on real estate and redevelopment who is working with Luther Seminary to coordinate possible development opportunities, talked about north St. Anthony Park's relative isolation. She sees it as a challenge for some developers who value downtown Minneapolis or St. Paul as better markets for new housing. I may be reading between the lines, but it sounds like any housing on the Sem campus may start and end on Eustis if that takes care of their financial needs.

I hope that's not the case. While that could certainly help expand some housing options, it doesn't sound like it would provide the kind of variety needed by the community, which may mean other locations nearer the retail area will get a closer look. The seminary's primary responsibility is to its own sustainability, it's a great institution and we want it to stay that way. One might argue however, that promoting richer housing choices could enhance the health of both seminary and community.

One final take-away from Ms. Bell's remarks was the idea that when it comes to condos, it's less "build it and they will come" and more "if you want it built, show me the money." Rental is a concept that appears to be here to stay. It seems fair to surmise that smaller, higher-end rental complexes might require that kind of up-front commitment as well.

Moving on to our retail community, Peapods co-owner, Dan Marshall, talked about the positives of his current location and the upside he sees to the Como retail area. The resurgence of independent retailers has certainly benefited small business districts like ours and adding a few more independents to the mix wouldn't hurt. Dan is really representative of our new breed of independents learning to work together locally and nationally to compete with the big box folks. Dan also supports local toy manufacturers like Jeff Freeland Nelson of the CEZ who had a nice article in the PiPress recently for his very imaginative Yoxo building toy.

Dan left it to Catherine Day, chair of the Creative Enterprise Zone Action Team, to talk about the business climate in south St. Anthony Park. She mentioned the new breweries and ongoing community-building events that are slowly bringing that emerging neighborhood together. There is a critical mass of housing and jobs necessary to drive the connective tissue of new retail and, of course, that is the promise light rail brings to our area.

Their were several questions from the audience about the Seminary plans which did not elicit much additional info other than the sense that nothing was going to happen quickly and that neighbors would be kept in the loop before it did. Another questionner wondered if the school district's push for racial equity would grow to include LGBT equity as well. That doesn't seem to be on the immediate horizon, if I understood Asst. Superintendent Collins correctly. 

The discussion was ably moderated by Jon Commers and gave us a broader perspective with a lot to chew on. I think the response afterward was very positive with many neighbors hanging around to chat informally with the panelists and each other. School board member, Louise Seeba, who has a daughter at Murray, was on hand and I know she connected with other Murray parents, so a good get-together all around.

We also asked the crowd to help the Foundation prioritize our different approaches to supporting the neighborhood by a vote. Each attendee was given 2 stickers to place under the columns they thought were most important and "Engaging the Community" and "Funding our Schools" proved to be the top vote getters.There was also support for "Fund Valued Services," "Support Community-building Events" and "Advocate for Our Businesses." 

Thanks again to all the panelists, moderator Commers, and the hospitality of the school and principal, Ann Johnson. Also thanks to the community for turning out in number to participate in what we hope will be an annual event. Every single panelist talked about their response to change and that is not going away, so let's keep talking to manage it as well as we can. I know the Foundation will be there to support those conversations.


Storytime with Santa at Milton Square
Storytime with Santa is happening at Milton Square next Monday night at 6pm. Here's an email address to find out more and make a reservation.

Volunteers Honored
The annual Neighborhood Honor Roll nominees were announced by the District Council: Julie Glowka and Cindy Thrasher for their contributions to the 4th of July Parade & Picnic, Sue Connors and Sherm Eagles for their work on the Community Gardens and Deanna Seppanen for her leadership rebuilding the Monkey Island playground. They are all very deserving and will be honored by the Mayor at a special luncheon. Thanks to them for all their contributions.

Snow Removal Tips
If you want to know the best, safest, most ecologically benign ways to deal with snow, check out this video from the MPCA.

That's all for now. Take care of yourself and be a good neighbor. And please shovel your walk, it makes it easier for neighbors to get around.