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17 posts from September 2012

September 26, 2012

Starlite Motel goes dark to make make for a car wash

The light from one of Rochester's older, retro motels has gone dark this week as it is being demolished to make room for a new car wash that will bring some shine to Med City vehicles.

09242012starlitekwiktripThe walls of the 58-year-old retro Starlite Motel are coming down on South Broadway this week. Kwik Trip, which recently bought the old motel, plans to add a two–bay car wash to its convenience store at South Broadway and 20th Street S.W., which is south of the motel .

With the speed that the demolition is moving, it is possible that the motel could be cleared away and the new car wash built before the end of the year.

La Crosse, Wis.-based Kwik Trip bought the 17-room motel at 1921 S. Broadway from local hotelier Ash Patel at the end of August for $500,000.

While the Starlite has seemed pretty tired in recent years, it started life as a shiny, modern motel in 1954. That's when it was built by Howard and Edna Welch. They also built another Starlite Motel in the Wisconsin Dells, which remains open for business.

The demolition of the Starlite marks the end of yet another of Rochester's older, less expensive lodging choices. The Bell Tower Inn, the Alpine Inn and the A & A Guest House, all on Second Street Southwest, have their own demolition coming yet this year.

Roch. golf course won't re-open in 2013

Here's some from my article on the end of Meadow Lakes Golf Course:

As the leaves start to turn, area golfers scramble to squeeze in as many rounds as possible before snow flies.

Autumn's surge on the links is bittersweet for Rochester's Meadow Lakes Golf Club, because this is expected to be its final season. The 18-hole course at the intersection of Second Street Southwest and West Circle Drive does not plan to reopen in 2013.

Meadow Lakes, which is owned by a group of local investors, recently notified its roughly 60 members of its pending closure.6052167E

"In a nutshell, the land it sits on is worth more than the business," Meadow Lakes General Manager Steve Scholl said. "Everybody feels rotten about this. This is a trend that's happening across the U.S. Golf is changing and not necessarily for the better."

The course's 130 acres of land and its clubhouse are up for sale. A few developers have looked at sections of the property, Scholl said. Representatives from Rochester's Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1213 took a tour of the clubhouse, though no offer was made. There doesn't seem to be much hope for a buyer to purchase all of the land and keep it as a golf course.

Meadow Lakes is not alone in shutting its doors after years of struggling to survive. About 157 U.S. golf courses closed in 2011, according to the National Golf Foundation. During the same period, only 19 courses opened.

The golf industry boomed in the late 1990s and early 2000s. More than 3,000 golf courses were built nationwide between 1990 and 2003, including area golf courses like Meadow Lakes, Oak Summit, Somerby in Byron, The Jewel in Red Wing and Pine Island.

Since 2006, there has been a cumulative net reduction of about 358.5 golf courses in the U.S., according to the Golf Foundation.

"It is a fact of life today that people have less time and less money to spend on playing golf," says Scholl. "After family, work and everything else, recreation is at the bottom of the list. We're the first to go."

September 25, 2012

Roch. pizza slinger one of best in state

A Rochester man's dough-manship recently earned him a spot as one of the pizza slingers in Minnesota.

"It was kind of exciting for us. We were all cheering for him. He was on the big screen and everything," says Shannon O'Neill of O'Neill's Pizza Pub in the Crossroads Shopping Center.

296832_305744182866879_1576712576_nCam Kvittem of O'Neill's soared to second place in a pizza tossing contest at the U.S. Foods industry show in the Twin Cities earlier this month.

"If he had been able to use to the dough for our cracker crust, I'm sure Cam would have gone all the way to first," says O'Neill.

He had to use the officially sanctioned "Throw Dough," which is used at all professional pizza competitions.

This is not your mother's pizza dough tossing. This is a true athletic competition.

To set the stage, the "Food Fanatics" convention featured a dough throwing demonstration by the official U.S. Pizza Team. Yes, there really is a U.S. Pizza Team, which travels around the circuit of official dough tossing competitions.

This culinary sport puts a new spin on pizza preparation with fancy moves, spins and elaborate routines.

Once the dough pros left the state, Minnesota's best pizza slingers stepped up to show what they could do. The big crowd of hopefuls quickly thinned out as the panel of judges trimmed out the less graceful of the pizza throwers.

Soon it came to down to the final three, the O'Neill's crowd cheering Kvittem.

"He can do it all…rolling it down his back and the fancy throws," she says. "That's what the free-style contest comes down to…who can do the most tricks."

His moves impressed the panel, which awarded Kvittem the silver pepperoni medal (OK. I made the pepperoni medal up).

September 21, 2012

Two new Roch. businesses opened this week

Two new Med City businesses, which have been gearing up this summer, opened their doors this week.

IMG_20120920_144504Under new ownership, an expanded Northwest Liquors re-opened by Gander Mountain. Irv Keefe of IK Liquors took over the store in the Northwest Plaza from Apollo Liquors at the end of August.

Hat tip to Emmett Salberg for the pic of Northwest Liquors. Thanks, Emmett.

Rooster's Bar'n and Grill quietly opened up Wednesday night and started serving its early morning breakfast on Thursday morning. Rooster's is located along West Circle Drive in the former Bob's Smokestack Ribs/Catch-22 building.

I got a note from Ross Manahan, a co-owner of Rooster's on Thursday saying the opening went really well.

"… We really believe we delivered what we promised to take a re-energize a stark looking facility into a warm friendly and comfortable neighborhood bar and grill feel where everyone can relax and have fun," he wrote.


September 20, 2012

It is lunch time at Sontes

A downtown Rochester landmark is now cooking in a new time zone — the lunch hour.

Sontes, which previously only served evening meals, opened at 11 a.m. Monday to launch its new lunch offerings.

While it is being served in the same 137-year-old building at Historic Third and South Broadway where it has operated since 2006, the name on the lunch menu is different.
"We're actually treating it like a restaurant within a restaurant. We call it Sontes Too," says owner Tessa Leung. "While it is still our building and it is still our quality food served in our style, the lunches are much more traditional. But they are still from-farm-to-table and made from scratch."

Than means Sontes' younger sibling won't be serving tapas or small plates like its big sister. Expect lunch fare like a buttermilk grilled chicken sandwich, blue cheese wedge salad and carrot cake.

Chef Bryce Lamb is also making soups and fresh bread for lunches. The menu offers gluten-free and vegetarian options.

With its reputation for fine dining, Sontes might not be a place people might think of when debating where to grab a noontime bite or for a lunch meeting. However, the first few lunch hours have started to change that.

"It is going well. I think people are pleasantly surprised that it is very fast and it is a lot of food," says Leung.

The new name is fitting, because the lunch incarnation of the tapas restaurant is like seeing an old friend in a new setting. Compared to Sontes after dark, it is familiar and yet different, she says.

"The restaurant looks completely different during the day. It is much lighter, more open and we don't have the tapas plates on the tables," Leung says.

Sontes Too serves lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. At 2 p.m., it changes into serving an "in-between menu" of lighter choices. Then the more mature and well-known Sontes takes back over at 4 p.m.

To expand its hours, the restaurant needed to expand its staff. Leung added three employees, to bring her team up to 27 staffers.

Why the decision to start serving lunch after six years of only dinners?

"We've been asked to do lunch quite a bit actually," she says. "Rochester has been really kind to us. They've been asking, so we listened."

September 18, 2012

What goes around, becomes Ground Round

It is almost time to hit the ground running, because Rochester's new Ground Round Restaurant & Bar is circling towards opening next month.

For much of the summer, construction has been under way to turn the former 331 Bar and Grill/ Hangar into a Ground Round. That's at 7386 Airport View Drive S.W. by the Rochester International Airport.

"It is going to look totally different inside and outside from what it was before," says Joe Powers, one of the quartet of local owners. "It is going to be absolutely spectacular."

Powers is launching the new restaurant with Andy Chafoulias, Todd Klees and Jason Windsor. Windsor will be the owner/manager running things.

While there is no specific date yet, they hope work will wrap up in time to open the doors during the first week of October. Most of the team of 70 to 80 employees have been hired, though the store will still accept applications.

Why launch a new restaurant in a location some would say is too far from the heart of the city?
"People don't realize that there is an amazing amount of households that are out here," says Powers. "There is plenty of market out here."

And there is the expected synergy between the Ground Round with Powers' nearby Rochester International Events Center and Chafoulias'  AmericInn hotel.

"It will be a heck of a combination," he says.

There was a Ground Round in front of the Crossroads Shopping Center in south Rochester for many years, but it closed about a decade ago.

While this new updated version of the family dining restaurant will have a similar atmosphere and menu, diners should not expect an exact recreation of the Ground Round from the 1980s and 1990s.

The well-known practice of eating peanuts and throwing the shells on the floor is gone. The chain discontinued that in 2004, but every table does get a fresh bowl of popcorn.

Mayo, Roch. and RAEDI join forces to speed biz growth

Here's some from my story about a new project at the Minnesota BioBusiness Building:
To help launch fledgling companies, Mayo Clinic, the city of Rochester and Rochester Area Economic Development Inc. are creating a new "accelerator center."

The Rochester City Council gave the green light Monday night to move ahead with a proposal to create 2,500 square feet of office space on the second floor of the Minnesota Biobusiness Center in downtown Rochester.
Mayo Clinic is giving $100,000 to turn the unused space, which is owned by the city, into offices. RAEDI will handle the management and leasing of the space.

"It is a great collaboration," says Jim Rogers, chair of the Mayo Clinic Ventures, which manages the clinic's intellectual property and patents. "It is something we are very excited about."

Mayo Clinic leases the top five floors of the eight-story building for a variety of offices, including Mayo Clinic Ventures. That leaves the bottom three levels for outside tenants. When it opened in 2009, the goal was to attract biotechnology and medical device firms that would benefit by being near Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota Rochester.

The downswing of the recession stalled the growth of that type of biobusiness, so the city began reaching out to other types of tenants, such as Think Mutual Savings Bank, College of St. Scholastica and Hirman Insurers.

This new approach is aimed at sparking more action in the biotech sector by the focusing on early stage start-ups that just need "a place to hang their hats," says Doug Knott, the city's development director.

About 86 percent of the building is now under lease, he says. The accelerator will bring that percentage close to 90 percent.

"Using a relatively small space for this could potentially bring a big pay-off," says Knott.

Plans for the accelerator center are still being finalized, but it is expected it will include about six offices plus a conference room and other public areas. HGA, which was the architect firm for the building, is working on designs for this space. Rents are expected to range from $13 to $15 per square foot.

"The intent is to accelerate the growth of these businesses," says Knott. "And then move them to other parts of the building or elsewhere in the center, when they outgrow it."

The ultimate goal is to take advantage of the influence of Mayo Clinic's efforts to spin off related businesses and generate more local jobs.

"We hope to have it ready to open by the first of the year," says Gary Smith, RAEDI president.

September 12, 2012

Roch. family cruising along without gasoline

Here's some from the two stories I had today about the Camerons who drive a Honda Civic that runs on compressed natural gas instead of gasoline.

This is a follow-up to Kwik Trip's announcement that it have a CNG pump at its new store on Rochester's 19th Street Northwest.


5945166EAt first glance, the Cameron family's 2012 Honda Civic looks the same as any other Civic.

However, this car has never used a single drop of gasoline and is the only one of its kind in Rochester.

A little logo  — "CNG"  — on the trunk tells the story. The car that Karen Cameron drives to work and to take her seventh-grade daughter to school events runs on compressed national gas.

It's the only factory-built model available in the U.S., though a wide selection of large trucks, vans and buses are in made by Ford, General Motors and even McNeilus Trucks in Dodge Center.

Compressed natural gas costs about half of what drivers are paying for a comparable gallon of gasoline. It burns much cleaner, releasing only about a tenth of the carbon emissions into the air that gasoline or diesel does.

CNG is also plentiful in the United States, with a supply that is estimated to last more than 100 years without importing any from other countries.

5945172EThose are the aspects that excite Graham Cameron and his son, Ian Cameron, who are both enthusiastic proponents of alternate fuels and technology like geothermal heat pumps and solar power systems.

"But my wife is a different story. She doesn't get into this like Ian and I do," says Graham Cameron. "I'm surprised by how quickly she accepted it. The bottom line is that she loves it."

Karen Cameron acknowledges that buying the car in April wasn't really something she was excited about.

"I was a little bit of a naysayer because of the extra up front costs" — about $6,000 more than a standard Civic plus about $6,000 for the garage fueling system installed by K&S Heating, she says.

Then she started the driving the car. It doesn't feel any different, and it is much quieter than its more plentiful gasoline-burning siblings. It goes 250 miles on a tank of CNG, which the Camerons fill by locking on a nozzle and letting it pump overnight.

Karen Cameron has driven 8,000 to 9,000 miles in the past six months without once filling at gasoline pumps, although she did use a CNG pump in the Twin Cities once.

"It has been great," she says.

Proex Photo closing Minnesota shops, including Rochester

Here's some from a piece by AP and the Post-Bulletin's Mike Klein:

The four Proex Photo and Portrait locations in Minnesota, including one in Rochester's Apache Mall, are likely to be closed as parent company Ritz Camera liquidates the business.

The four remaining Proex locations in Minnesota are in St. Paul, Woodbury, Eden Prairie and Rochester.

1547_1On Monday, a bankruptcy judge in Delaware approved the liquidation of Ritz Camera and Image, after the company failed to find a buyer for the remaining 137 stores.

"We were disappointed that we couldn't find a bidder to continue the business as a going concern," Irving Walker, a company attorney, told U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Ken Gross, Bloomberg News reported.

A person answering the phone at the Proex store at Apache Mall referred all questions to corporate headquarters. No answer was received immediately; it's not clear when the store will close.

A company official said Tuesday that there is still a glimmer of hope that a handful of individual stores might be purchased separately, and thereby survive. But overall, the 94-year-old camera business will disappear, and so will most of its jobs.

Ritz filed for bankruptcy in June. It was the second such filing for Ritz, which closed 19 Minnesota stores in 2009 following its first bankruptcy case.

Ritz bought Proex, then headquartered in Edina, from Atlanta-based Wolf Camera Inc. in 2001 as Wolf went through its own bankruptcy case.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Gross in Wilmington, Del., on Monday approved a plan to turn over most of Ritz's assets to liquidation specialists Gordon Brothers Retail Partners LLC and Hilco Merchant Resources LLC, the high bidders at a Sept. 6 auction, according to a Reuters story.

C&A Marketing Inc, an online retailer, acquired Ritz's websites and several of its biggest stores. Ridgefield Park, N.J.-based C&A said in a statement that it plans to keep open five to seven stores. The rest of Ritz's 137 locations will close.

Ritz filed for Chapter 11 protection from creditors on June 22, less than three years after emerging from an earlier bankruptcy under the ownership of a group led by President David Ritz, part of its founding family.

The Beltsville, Md.-based company has struggled in recent years with inadequate capital and liquidity, amid a shift by consumers toward digital photography and photo-sharing, and lessened reliance on in-store photo processing.

Ritz had about 375 stores when it emerged from its earlier bankruptcy, and had reduced that number to about 265 in 30 U.S. states by the time of its latest bankruptcy. The company in June said it employed about 1,960 people.

September 11, 2012

Wearable heart monitor developed with Mayo Clinic gets FDA appproval

Doctors will soon be able to monitor a patient's heart beat after they've left the hospital thanks to a new wearable monitor system developed in Rochester in collaboration with Mayo Clinic.

The BodyGuardian Remote Monitoring System, a series of small wearable monitors created by Preventice with Mayo Clinic, got Food and Drug Administration approval Monday to be used by doctors to track non-lethal arrhythmia or irregular heart beats. The monitors are paired with a dedicated cell phone that allows doctors to check on a patient's heart rate at any time through a secure web site on their computers or via their iPad tablets.
"This is Preventice's single biggest milestone as a company. It's something we've been working toward for two years," says Michael Emerson, Preventice's senior vice president of marketing.

The device tracks a patient's breathing and movement as well as their heart beat to give doctors a complete picture of what is going on, even though the patient is at home.

It is expected to be commercially available by the end of the year, which means doctors will be able to prescribe it as a patient is released from the hospital and continue to monitor their condition.

The devices are expected to be manufactured in Europe and then set-up with software by Preventice in Minnesota. Emerson said the firm has not really begun to talk to hospitals and care facilities about contracting the BodyGuardian system yet, though marketing is expected to start this year.

Mayo Clinic, as the main collaborator that helped develop the system, will certainly have first priority as a customer, he said.

Preventice's BodyGuardian could help reduce the length of hospital stays, which could reduce the cost of health care, says Emerson. And it could improve a patient's recovery in a way that is less invasive than being treated in a medical facility.

"Health care today is very well-orchestrated, right up until the moment you walk outside of hospital," he said. "This technology can help with that transition, both in having it happen earlier and in having it show better success."

Mayo Clinic officials believe BodyGuardian will be a very effective tool.

“This platform has the potential to positively impact health-care outcomes," said Dr. Charles Bruce, a Mayo Clinic consultant in cardiovascular diseases and internal medicine, in the Preventice's announcement about the FDA approval.

Preventice is headquartered in Minneapolis and its main research and development site is in Rochester on West Circle Drive. It also works closely with Mayo Clinic, which holds a financial stake in the company.

The 5-year-old Preventice started out as Boost Information Systems in Rochester, before evolving into its current form. Preventice has created a number of health-related phone apps in conjunction with Mayo Clinic as well as building its own health data platform to keep patients and care providers connected and engaged.

Besides its facilities it Rochester and Minneapolis, Preventice also has an office in Fargo, N.D.

Emerson said the growing company has between 50 to 100 employees at the moment.

This health care niche of remote monitoring is growing rapidly and is expected to be fueled by the need to care for the country's rapidly aging population.

Experts anticipate almost 5 million patients will be using some type of wireless monitoring like this by 2016. The global market for this estimated to be worth more than $9 billion by 2014.