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St Paul’s West Seventh Street businesses, patrons say downtown crime a growing concern

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St Paul’s West Seventh Street businesses, patrons say downtown crime a growing concern

A shooting leaving one dead and more than a dozen patrons injured at a W. Seventh Street bar has highlighted reports of increased crime in the area, according to business owners and patrons.

The Seventh Street Truck Park sits in the heart of a major entertainment district on the edge of downtown St. Paul. The district is home to a stretch of bars and restaurants as well as quirky shops that draw customers from not only the Twin Cities but across the state, with many attending concerts and hockey games at the nearby Xcel Energy Center. It’s also seen an influx of upscale apartments and condominiums in recent years.

Kathy Gosiger, general manager of Tom Reid’s Hockey City Pub on West Seventh, said news of the shooting spread rapidly among bar owners, and her restaurant almost instantly locked its doors and made sure patrons got safely into cars or Ubers. On Sunday, business was lighter than usual given the Minnesota Vikings and Packers games.

“It absolutely impacts us,” she said. “The Truck Park, sadly, is known to have problems. … The police in this city are wonderful, and they’re so disrespected on the street. There’s no leadership coming from the mayor’s office or the city council.”

On the night before at least 14 people were shot, Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher expressed specific concern about the volume of patrons spilling outside onto the sidewalk. “Quite the gathering here at the Truck Park,” he said, during his Facebook Live cast. “We never had any shots fired right here. I hope we never do. But with this volume, at some point it’s going to happen, right? It’s become a very popular place.”

John Bandemer, a former senior commander with the St. Paul Police Department, is now a director of safety strategies for the St. Paul Downtown Alliance, a coalition of city and business leaders that oversees a centralized communications center.

“The events of last night were tragic and will not be tolerated by the downtown community,” said Bandemer, in a written statement released by the Downtown Alliance. “I’ve been in communication with Chief Axtell and Senior Commander Ellison this morning to offer the help of the Downtown Improvement District’s Safety Communications Center in any way that we can, and have directed all of our on-duty Street Team members to have a heavy presence in that area for the next few days. I have the utmost confidence in Chief Axtell and the St. Paul Police Department in finding justice for the victims.”

Dave Cossetta, owner of Cossetta’s restaurant and grocery across the street from the Seventh Street Truck Park, said crime has been increasing in the neighborhood for some time and “it’s not being addressed” by the city.

“There’s been constant contact from the neighborhood — from the business owners to the residents, (directed to city officials) … They’re constantly telling them all the situations that are going on,” Cossetta said.

He said Freedom House — the drop-in day shelter for the homeless that opened in late 2020 two blocks away at a former fire station — closes each evening and people disperse from there. That generates problems for the area, he said. Other nearby business owners have weighed in, echoing concerns about vagrancy and vandalism, and police chronicled a sizable uptick in thefts and quality of life crimes in the first half of the year compared to 2020.

Citywide, St. Paul’s 32 homicides are on pace to break the annual record of 34 killings set in 1992. Throughout downtown in general, however, crime reports over the summer fell to a five-year-low.

The St. Paul City Council is tentatively scheduled to vote Wednesday on whether to allow more drop-in day shelters for the homeless in business districts and mixed-use zoning areas across the city. The mass shooting provides a difficult backdrop to that vote.

“The problems have been escalating since they started it,” Cossetta said.

Experts who study national crime trends have pointed to increases in violent crime across the U.S. since 2014, though overall numbers are still well below their peak in 1990. In Minneapolis, residents have expressed concern about rising violence, including crime in popular destination areas such as Uptown, where organizers of an annual Greek Festival pulled out in August. In the 1800 block of Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis, a shootout Wednesday between occupants of two cars resulted in a crash that killed a woman rolling by on a scooter.

Josh Morrison said he left Patrick McGovern’s Pub in St. Paul near closing early Sunday morning and saw officers rolling out police crime scene tape at the Truck Park across the street. He said it was then he decided he’d had enough.

“I’m not going to go back downtown,” said Morrison, a University of Minnesota student who said he was robbed downtown by a group of young men last Wednesday and had a gun pulled on him a month ago. “It hurts my heart. It’s shocking. Life’s a precious thing, why would you wantonly waste it like that?”

Morrison, who moved to the Twin Cities to study at the University of Minnesota, said he had been a repeat victim.

“I had a gun pulled on me a month ago,” Morrison said. “Just being downtown, I know where not to walk. It shouldn’t be that way. Why don’t we have something set up for people to drop their guns off, and have them destroyed, some place where they can get them off the street?”

Early Sunday afternoon, St. Paul Police announced multiple arrests in the mass shooting from the night before. City Council Member Rebecca Noecker, who represents downtown and plans to meet with residents and business owners for a breakfast discussion  this week, released a statement on Sunday praising first responders and investigators for their quick response.

“We will not allow this tragedy to define us or hold us back on our progress to make downtown safe,” she said.

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Stillwater residents upset with towing company’s plan to remove 97 trees

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Stillwater residents upset with towing company’s plan to remove 97 trees

When a Stillwater towing company announced earlier this year that it planned to cut down 181 trees at a proposed new location, residents of the Forest Hills neighborhood cried foul.

But Stillwater Towing officials announced Friday that they were changing their plans at 1749 Greeley St. in light of the neighbors’ concerns. Under the new proposal, 97 trees would be removed from the 5 acres of land, which is zoned business park/industrial, to build a new impound lot.

The tree removal is necessary to create a relatively flat surface for vehicle storage, according to the company’s variance application.

Under city code, Stillwater Towing can remove up to 35 percent of the 265 significant trees on the site — 93 trees in all — without replacing them, city planner Abbi Wittman said.

Stillwater Towing hopes to avoid removing the other four trees, but is prepared to replace them if necessary, Cameron Kelly, the company’s attorney, said. If they can keep those trees, they won’t have to obtain a variance to the city’s tree-replacement requirements.

“The goal is to take as few trees as possible,” Kelly said.

Gloria Hatchel was shocked when she heard that 181 of the trees on the other side of her backyard might be cut down. Hatchel, who lives on Rainbow Court, said the wooded area and nearby wetlands are a habitat for wildlife and birds, including foxes, coyotes, deer, turkeys and cardinals.

Although the company’s proposal has changed, she said Friday that she still objects.

“I don’t want them to even touch the property,” she said. “It’s a sanctuary back there with all these trees and the pond. It’s beautiful, and they want to build a parking lot in the middle of it.”

Stillwater Towing, she said, should look elsewhere.

But Stillwater Towing officials say the company, founded in 1975, must be in a central location in the city to handle its calls. The company employs 25 full-time and five part-time employees.

Owner Rick Ritzer, who took over the family business from his father in 1980, began looking to expand 15 years ago, Kelly said. “They were starting to outgrow their lot, but they wanted to stay in the area,” he said. “It’s centrally located, which is key for their business.”

The new location is the former site of Croix Oil and Olson Transport, Kelly said. “This lot has handled commercial trucks since 1940,” he said. “It’s a much safer location from a traffic perspective, proximity to stoplights, etc.”

Washington County owns a strip of land between Stillwater Towing’s property and the neighbors, Kelly said, and there is about 300 feet of land between the back of the proposed impound lot and the nearest house. The land “is pretty heavily wooded, and it’s down a large slope,” he said. “The impound lot is higher. It’s a long way away, and the houses are a lot lower.”

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Gophers flip Wisconsin offensive lineman from North Dakota State commitment

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Gophers flip Wisconsin offensive lineman from North Dakota State commitment

The Gophers football program picked up a commitment Sunday from Ashton Beers, an offensive lineman from Slinger, Wis.

Beers, who is listed at 6-foot-6 and 296 pounds, flipped his pledge from North Dakota State. The three-star recruit had offers from Central Michigan, Buffalo, Toledo and others.

“I would like to thank (coaches and staff) for giving me the opportunity to play at NDSU,” Beers tweeted. “However, after being offered a scholarship, I have decided to commit to The University of Minnesota.”

Beers is the 16th commitment in the U’s class for 2022 and the first from the state of Wisconsin. Beers was named second-team all-state by the Associated Press and was on the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association’s large-school all-state team.

The NCAA early-signing period opens Dec. 15.

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After nearly two months, still no sign of missing Hillsdale man

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After nearly two months, still no sign of missing Hillsdale man

HILLSDALE, Mo. – The last time Shemika McGee saw her son, Jarius McGee, was in early September in Hillsdale.

After nearly two months, Jarius is still missing, and Shemika hasn’t heard anything from him.

“I think that he got a phone call, and with the phone call, it just led to something else which led to him missing and I just want him back at home,” she said.

McGee said her son would come and go like many young adults and wasn’t in any trouble that she knew of.

When he left, she said he didn’t have the usual things he would carry like his wallet or headphones.

“We really don’t have anything to go off other than the fact that he’s missing,” McGee said.

Hillsdale Chief of Police John Bernsen said an investigation is ongoing and the department is waiting on Jarius’ phone records.

“Every time we try to chase down a lead it’s always a dead end so that’s why we’re trying to put out the word out so much. We know somebody has seen him. Somebody knows something,” Chief Bernsen said.

Looking for an Angel President Theda Person heard about Jarius missing through social media. Now her non-profit organization has joined the search.

“I’ve created a flyer I’ve contacted Missouri State Highway Patrol to make sure that a flyer was created because law enforcement didn’t really do that,” Person said.

Person believes more can be done in the search is prepared to help McGee as needed.

“1f we say that we care about those that we are serving then we should be more intentional,” she said.

She said with McGee missing this long, he could be anywhere. When asked if he were another race would there be a more thorough investigation, Person thinks so.

“Definitely we can see with the Gabby Petito case and other cases,” Person said.

McGee just wants to know where her son is.

“I mean anything that you can think of goes through my mind,” she said. “Where’s he at, who could he be with? There’s a lot of things going through my mind.”

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