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Urban notes: Sheehy takes over community grants; plus ballpark neighborhood improvements, transit outlook

Lee Sheehy has left his job as Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s chief of staff to direct the McKnight Foundation’s region and communities grant-making program.

Lee Sheehy has left his job as Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s chief of staff to direct the McKnight Foundation’s region and communities grant-making program.

Sheehy’s career in public affairs has included stints as chief deputy under Attorney General Skip Humphrey, regional administrator for the Metropolitan Council and head of planning and economic development for the city of Minneapolis. He has directed Klobuchar’s Washington staff for nearly two years. He will return to Minneapolis next month to assume his new post.

Sheehy said he has long admired McKnight’s work. “The foundation invests in making our region a great place to live, work and play,” he said, adding that he’s grateful for the opportunity. “Working for Senator Klobuchar was a great opportunity to serve,” he said. “I always intended to return to Minnesota, and, with a new Congress and administration just beginning, this was the right time for a transition.”

In a sense, Sheehy’s new work will be similar to his city experience. As Minneapolis’ chief planner and development director, Sheehy negotiated the massive Crosstown Commons freeway interchange reconstruction and worked on deals involving the Midtown Exchange and Target Field, among other major projects. At McKnight he will promote livable communities. That means investments in affordable housing, neighborhoods, land preservation, transit-oriented development and similar ventures.

“We and our grantees will benefit greatly from [Sheehy’s] deep knowledge of issues as the heart of our region and communities program,” McKnight President Kate Wolford said in a statement. A foundation goal, she said, is to foster sustainable and resilient communities in the Twin Cities metro region.

Last year, McKnight invested $22 million in its region and communities program, about 22 percent of its total grants.

In the ballpark
Hennepin County commissioners have complained endlessly that they’ve carried the financial burden of getting Target Field up and running and fitting the structure into the North Loop district while Minneapolis has done squat. But Mike Christenson, the city’s planning and development chief, announced this week completion of a deal that will bring $15 million to ballpark neighborhood improvements.

The extra money comes from borrowing against revenues from the giant A, B and C parking decks adjoining the new ballpark. The money will be used primarily for new skyways and other walkways to connect the ballpark to the ramps and nearby neighborhood attractions — namely, restaurants, bars, hotels, retail stores and the riverfront.

Christenson also said he’s working to assure local developers that a new layer of historic protection clamped on the ballpark district by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission won’t prevent further real estate opportunities in the popular district once the economy revives.

Metro Transit
House passage this week of President Obama’s stimulus plan postpones worries that Metro Transit may need immediate fare hikes and service cuts, agency director Brian Lamb said Friday. “We’re confident that we have a plan that can prevent that from happening, at least for now,” he said. Metro Transit’s operating deficit has been estimated at more than $40 million this year. But by adjusting capital and operating funds, Lamb said Metro Transit may end up in better shape than many agencies.

Lamb also said that Metro Transit’s soaring bus and train ridership (nearly 82 million rides in 2008) may have raised the ridership levels to a higher point than at any time since 1957.