City council actions

Bike tunnel through I-35W bridge

The City Council has decided to spend up to $1.2 million on a bike tunnel under the I-35W bridge.

The tunnel on the south side of the river would allow bikers to come into Downtown on Bridge 9 and connect to 13th Avenue South. Without the tunnel, bikes would cross I-35W by either traveling downhill and taking West River Parkway or heading uphill to take Washington Avenue.

With the Council’s recent budget authorization, bikers will travel under the bridge through a tunnel that is about 230 feet long, 20 feet wide and 16 feet high.

Council members debated the amount of money to authorize for the project because the bridge contractor estimated a cost hundreds of thousands more than city staff anticipated. Council members lamented the disadvantage of publicly announcing the funding limit they would allow, but most agreed they must seize the opportunity to extend the trail.

The cost of the tunnel would not delay any city projects this year. The expense will draw down money for the city’s railroad quiet zone in future years.

Lyndale Avenue reconstruction

The City Council accepted cost estimates for Lyndale Avenue’s new lighting and reconstruction at its last meeting.

Plans to overhaul Lyndale have been in the works since the early 1990s, and construction is scheduled to start late this spring and will continue through the 2008 and 2009 construction seasons.

A public hearing on the $13.3 million reconstruction, as well as the $965,000 lighting district on Lyndale, is scheduled for Mar. 25. Part of the cost for reconstruction will be assessed to properties along Lyndale. About $8,625 per year will be assessed to pay for the new lighting, and the total assessment for the reconstruction project has not yet been determined.

The reconstruction will cover Lyndale Avenue South from West 31st Street to Minnehaha Parkway and will impact the street’s pavement, curb and gutter, sidewalk, storm drain, signals, signage, and striping.

Bowling and beer

The Council decided to relax an ordinance requiring a 60/40 perent food-to-liquor sales ratio. The threshold was reduced to 50 percent.

Most of the six bowling alleys in Minneapolis do not have that 60/40 food requirement for varying reasons, but Bryant-Lake Bowl at 810 W. Lake St. does. City staff said the change would level the playing field for licensees, especially because bowling alleys do not have a nightclub-like atmosphere and the 60/40 requirement is more applicable to restaurants.

Neighborhood Revitalization Program

The City Council has formally added the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) to this year’s legislative agenda.

NRP currently funnels city tax dollars into neighborhood organizations, and neighborhoods independently decide how that money should be spent. The funding source for NRP expires in 2009, and the city is working to overhaul the program.

Meanwhile, the funding for existing neighborhood budgets is running low. Council members heard a report last week on one way to patch that deficit, which would indirectly draw down an investment fund that has paid for things like foreclosure prevention. The investment fund, which is called the Legacy Fund, is comprised of what is left of the $40 million in proceeds from the sale of the Hilton Hotel in 1999. The city lost part of the fund in the stock market and borrowed part of the fund to bail out pensions and make various development expenses. To beef up the Legacy Fund, the city has taken money from the source that funds NRP. If the city stops those payments to the Legacy Fund in order to give more money to NRP, NRP would receive an additional $6.6 million and the Legacy Fund balance would drop to $15.3 million by January 2010.

City Council Member Barb Johnson (4th Ward) said the funding challenges illustrate that a constant stream of money for neighborhoods is not entirely within the city’s control.

“To think that we have the obligation to create a program that is isolated in its vulnerability is crazy,” she said.

The Council is seeking input on its proposed framework for the future of NRP, and when the Council chooses the final structure, it will sponsor legislation needed to implement that plan.

City Attorney

The Council approved the appointment of Susan Segal as the new city attorney on Feb. 15, and gave outgoing City Attorney Jay Heffern a send-off with a lengthy round of applause.

Segal, a Minneapolis native, currently lives in the Lowry Hill neighborhood. She practiced for 25 years in the private sector and spent four years at the Hennepin County Attorney’s office. She has served as president of the Mental Health Association of Minnesota and was an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota Law School and William Mitchell College of Law.

Segal’s appointment is effective until Jan. 4, 2010.