Greening Minnesota ~ August 2011

There are some great green initiatives and events happening in Minnesota, contributing towards a cleaner environment for residents. Read about how local communities are working towards creating a more environmentally-friendly world. There are more entries than usual this month!

Prodded by a homeowner whose prairie plantings were mowed against his will, the city of Minneapolis has come up with a plan to let lawns go natural. Some suburbs have already taken the step of allowing natural plantings in place of grass, accepting their environmental benefits over the objections of some neighbors who think they look unkempt. The proposal defines the new type of landscaping as an intentional planting of native or non-native grasses, wildflowers, ferns, shrubs, trees or forbs. They're allowed to exceed the city's normal nuisance ordinance threshold of 8 inches in height, or grass that has gone or is about to go to seed. They can't include noxious weeds and have to be maintained to avoid "unintended vegetation." Unkempt turf lawns are specifically prohibited.

Organizers of the Visa Gymnastics Championships, held earlier this month in St. Paul, teamed up with Xcel Energy Center officials to exclusively power Xcel, RiverCentre and Roy Wilkins Auditorium with wind energy for four days and go paperless at what President Steve Penny called USA Gymnastics' greenest event ever.The sustainability plan also included composting in Xcel Center lobbies. Instead of paper-based programs and bio packets, the revamped USA Gymnastics mobile site fed live scoring to smartphones, tablets and LED screens. Xcel Center has already emerged as one of the country's greenest arenas. Its "50-50 in 2" program, aimed at cutting trash and increasing recycling, has reduced trash by 1.2 million pounds and raised recycling rates from 15% to more than 50% by increasing the number of recycling and composting bins.

Prodded by Hennepin County to boost its lagging recycling...

Trulia Says Cheaper to Buy Than Rent in Minneapolis

Is it cheaper to buy a home than it is to rent a home? In some cities, renting is more expensive than buying! recently released its new Buy vs. Rent index, ranking the top 10 cities in the United States where buying a home makes most financial sense. Minneapolis (and by close relation St. Paul and most of the metro area) has landed on that list. Though Minneapolis didn't see the same huge spike in real estate prices that other communities experienced during the housing boom, once prices started dropping, home ownership became really cheap.

In Minneapolis, the average listing price for a home placed on the real estate market is $153,844. A 30-year fixed rate mortgage for that amount locked in at the rate of 4.638% APR would result in a monthly payment of approximately $768. The average monthly price for renting a home in Minneapolis is $1,700. Other cities where it is cheaper to buy than rent include Miami, Fresno, Phoenix, El Paso, and Las Vegas.

Curiously, Minneapolis is the only northern city which landed on this list, while quite a few landed on the list where it's much cheaper to rent than buy. Cities where it is cheaper to rent include Portland, Seattle, Omaha, Cleveland, and New York.

Ultimately, the decision to buy or rent is up to an individual or family's financial situation. Though homeownership enables people to build equity over the long term, the costs of paying for a home go beyond the monthly mortgage payment. Though no equity is built by renting, sometimes personal lifestyles may make renting a better choice.

Considering buying a first home? Contact the Twin Cities Realtors at Barker & Hedges o see how they can help you determine if buying a home is the right step for you!


What’s in a Name? Carolyn Capalbo Knows

North Virginia real estate professional Carolyn Capalbo's phone has been ringing off the hook. Sounds like a REALTOR's dream, right? Unfortunately, this experience has been nothing short of a nightmare.

North Virginia real estate agent Carolyn Capalbo had been working to build a reputation as a leader within the real estate industry. Through determination, persistence, and moxie, she positioned herself as one of the best real estate agents in the region. For her effort, she gained prominence within the local community and online.

And then all of her hard work was thwarted due to a simple case of mistaken identity.

In real estate, your name is your brand, your reputation. It's what people recognize. The success of a REALTOR is often defined by whether or not people know your name. What happens when someone with the same name is associated with something scandalous?

In 2008 New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was forced to resign from office due to his association with high end escorts and prostitutes. The escort at the center of this scandal is Playboy cover girl Ashley Alexandra Dupre. And her mother's name is Carolyn Capalbo.

Now, when a potential client performs a Google search for Carolyn Capalbo, instead of seeing the upstanding achievements of our heroine REALTOR, a wash of scandalous information appears on the screen. Real estate agent Carolyn Capalbo is not the mother of escort Ashley Alexandra. That's hard to distinguish, though, when scanning the online search results.

The differences could hardly be greater between Realtor Carolyn Capalbo and her scandalous counterpart. Though she does have a daughter, she is 16, not 22, and her name is not Ashley. Her family resides in Manassas, Virginia, far from where her namesake doppelganger was last reported as living: Wall Township, New Jersey. Carolyn Capalbo is a top producing Northern Virginia...

Minnesota's 10 Most Endangered Historic Places

St. Paul-based nonprofit Preservation Alliance of Minnesota will soon formally announced the buildings and sites on this year’s “10 Most Endangered Historic Places” list. Although the official announcement of the list isn’t until later this week, this year’s list surfaced early in the June issue of Minnesota Monthly.

Three of the listed sites are in the Twin Cities area: The Samuel J. Hewson House and the Wesley United Methodist Church in Minneapolis, and the Dairy Queen located at 1720 Lexington Avenue N. in Roseville.

The rest of the buildings and sites on Minnesota's “10 Most Endangered Historic Places” for 2010:
• Great Northern Railway Depot, Princeton
• Dodd Ford Bridge, Amboy
• Jackson County Resource Center, Jackson
• Southeast St. Cloud Neighborhood, St. Cloud
• Todd County Courthouse, Long Prairie
• Garrison Concourse, Garrison
• Bessesen Building, Albert Lea...

Greening Minnesota ~ April 2010

This is the Land of 10,000 Lake and millions of trees. We take our environment seriously. Read on to learn about environmentally friendly news that happened recently around the Twin Cities and Minnesota!

Anoka County Highway Department is working on ways to get fewer people driving on Highway 65 in Blaine. The county has received a $7 million Congestion Mitigation Air Quality grant from the Federal Highway Administration to improve mass transit on the corridor. With $1.5 million in matching money, the county has issued a request for proposals for consultants to help create a plan to ferry nine busloads of commuters from Blaine's northern edge into downtown Minneapolis and back.

Also in Anoka County, employees may have saved a few jobs by saving energy (and money). First, lights were dimmed. Utility costs at the government center were reduced by $58,000 in 2009. In 2010, the county is expected to save more than $65,000. Next, Facilities Management and Construction team is changing the heating and cooling set-points in county building from 70/73 to 68/74. That means the heat will kick in at 68 degrees rather than 70 in the winter and the cooling system will trigger on at 74 degrees rather than 73 during the summer. Each degree of change will result in a 3% savings to the annual utilities budget of $720,000. The facilities management and construction team also has turned off most of the government center's lobby lights. The idea is to use natural daylight for lobby activities.

Mulroy’s Body Shop at the corner of 39th Street and Nicollet Avenue in Southwest Minneapolis has the largest array of solar panels in the Twin Cities, generating 30% of the building’s power. The installation of the shop’s 174-panel, 40-kilowatt system was completed in early April as part of a project run by South Minneapolis-based Solarflow Energy. The company offers solar electricity leasing. The company is under contract with Xcel Energy for the project, which involves...

Doomsnow or Snowmagedon? Regardless, It's Here

Will it be a white-out Christmas? If you've been paying any attention, you know that a snowstorm threatens to turn last-minute shopping and holiday travel into possibly dangerous tasks. The forecast indicates there could be the deepest Christmas snows on record across Minnesota and parts ot the midwest, with the storm already well started as I write this and expected to linger well into Saturday.

The storm is capable of dropping 16 to 22 inches from Iowa to the Arrowhead. The heaviest snow is predicted for central and northern Minnesota. The snow will likely be heavy and wet, so be careful as there will probably be a lot of ice on the roads. Wind gusts could exceed 20 mph.

Will it really be Snowmagedon? Will the Doomsnow hit us as hard as they say? Time will tell, but the weather forecast guarantees that snow emergencies will be declared in Minneapolis and St. Paul over the holiday weekend. That will require most cars parked on streets to be moved at least once or be towed away at significant owner expense. Though we have information readily available for Minneapolis and Saint Paul snow emergencies, residents of other cities will have to look up snow emergency rules for their specific community. No one wants to spend Christmas cash on getting a car out of the impound lot!

Keep warm, travel safely, and have a happy holiday!


Photo Friday - Fall Colors Along the Mississippi River

It has been cold. It has even been snowy. And not only did we get a crummy summer, we've almost been gypped out of fall, too.

But there have still some great autum colors in the trees, even if they are a little harder to spot around the Twin Cities right now.


These pictures were taken along the Mississippi River in northern Minneapolis. Or was it St. Paul? Actually I was standing on the bridge in between, so... take your pick!


There is still some time to see great color like this. The Minnesota DNR Fall Color Report map can give you a pretty good idea of where you can expect to see some nice fall colors.



Photo Friday - Minnesota's Lake Minnetonka

Lake Minnetonka is a 14,528-acre lake in Minnesota, located west-southwest of Minneapolis-St. Paul. The lake is an irregular shape with many bays and islands, giving it about 125 miles of shoreline. The lake has been a resort destination throughout its recorded history. Some of the cities that surround Lake Minnetonka include St. Bonifacus, Minnetrista, Mound, Spring Park, Minnetonka, Long Lake, Wayzata, Woodland, Deephaven, Shorewood,  and Excelsior.

The first known people of European descent known to have visited the lake were two teenaged boys from Fort St. Anthony, later renamed Fort Snelling. Seventeen-year-olds Joe Brown and Will Snelling found the lake in 1822 when they paddled up Minnehaha Creek.

Minnesota's territorial governor Alexander Ramsey gave the lake its name in 1852. American Indians in the area referred to it as minn-ni-tanka, which means “big water.” The first settlements were constructed around it the same year. The first hotel was built in 1853. 

In 1905, Twin City Rapid Transit first connected streetcar lines to the lake, which brought many more visitors. Soon steamboats that looked like streetcars, called Express Boats, were launched. The boats fell...

Photo Friday - Southeast Steam Plant

The Southeast Steam Plant, also known as the Twin City Rapid Transit Company Steam Power Plant, is a combined heat and power plant located on the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. It is owned by the University of Minnesota. Constructed in 1903 to provide electricity for the Twin City Rapid Transit street railway system, it supported the area's major form of public transportation for 50 years until Minneapolis converted entirely to buses in 1954. In the early 1950s, Northern States Power Company, which is now Xcel Energy, acquired the building and in 1976 the university purchased the plant.

The university closed the Southeast plant to gut and rebuild the interior, and in 2000, reopened it and closed down its old coal-burning power plant. Completed in 2005, exterior rehabilitation won a local historic preservation award. Now it is among the cleanest burning power plants in the country, as the high temperature fires almost completely consume its fuels—natural gas, coal and wood waste. The plant has tested and been approved for oat hull biofuel, a renewable resource that would reduce each student's fees. The Southeast Steam Plant heats 94 of the university's Minneapolis campus buildings — nearly all of them! It also cools 19 of those buildings and provides steam to the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Minnesota State Board of Health and Cedar Riverside People's Center. The plant's steam is transported through an 18 mile network of tunnels to the campus buildings and would be enough to heat 55,000 homes. Additionally, as the steam escapes, the pressure powers the plant and provides 20% of the university's electricity....

Photo Friday - Stone Arch Bridge

It's Friday, and I've decided that Friday's are going to be fun and photography related. Last week I showcased some fun photoblogs. Today, I'm going to showcase some of our own pictures from around the Twin Cities community.

Stone Arch Bridge

The first post is going to be about the Stone Arch Bridge. The Stone Arch Bridge crosses the Mississippi River at Saint Anthony Falls, between the 3rd Avenue Bridge and the I-35W Saint Anthony Falls Bridgein downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was built originally in 1883 by railroad tycoon James J. Hill to be railroad bridge for his Great Northern Railway. There was also a passenger station on the west bank of the river.

Stone Arch Bridge

It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 as a part of the Saint Anthony Falls Historic District. The bridge ceased to be used as a railroad bridge in 1978 (or 1965? I found two different dates for this) and fell into a period of disuse. It was repaired and adapted in the early 1990s to be a pedestrian bridge, which is its present use. As part of the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Trail, the bridge is very popular with walkers and bikers.