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251 posts categorized "Wheels news"

June 26, 2014

Knutson lands $17.3M contract to upgrade Rochester MnDOT complex

A Minnesota construction firm with a large Rochester-based office and team won the $17.3 million contract to renovate the MnDOT District 6 headquarters.

Minneapolis-based Knutson Construction was chosen last week as the "best value" contractor for the third phase of the major upgrade of the MnDOT and State Highway Patrol facilities at 2900 48th St. N.W.

MnDOT_Rendering-600x330Knutson will add a new 911 call center, a new data area, a lab to test road materials as well as conference rooms and offices to the older MnDOT building. Plans also call for installing solar panels and a new mezzanine.

Construction is slated to start on July 14 and should wrap up in October 2015, said Knutson senior project manager Derek O’Connor.

The construction team will be led by O’Connor. Others working on the project include: superintendent Sean Dols, assistant project engineer Mike Johnson, and project assistant Amy Jansen.

"We are excited to continue our relationship with MnDOT,” stated Dave Bastyr, Knutson's executive vice president of Minnesota operations.

Knutson was also in charge of the second of this District 6 project, construction of a new 122,000-square-foot maintenance facility, in 2011 to 2012. That was a $19.8 million contract for that phase.

In the past four years, Knutson has won 13 such best value contracts, including building the new City of Rochester Fire Station #2. It will replace the current one by Silver Lake. The new $7.7 million emergency center is being built on Viola Road in the Century Heights area. It's expected to be ready to use by February 2015.

Knutson opened its Rochester office in 1997, though it has a long history working on high-profile projects here. It built the original IBM facility in 1956 as well as Mayo Clinic's Gonda Building, the Ronald McDonald House and Hope Lodge.

June 18, 2014

Baker turned pizza maker hits hits the road with wood-fire oven

Have wood-fire oven. Will travel.

That could be Stephan Jennebach's new motto now that he's added a mobile pizza o10329915_10152411609534524_707966481405501891_oven to his Firebrick Bread business in Zumbrota.

About a month ago, he hit the road with a new custom trailer featuring a wood-fire oven and prep kitchen to make and sell pizzas wherever he'd like. Right now, Jennebach can be found at the Zumbrota Farmers Market on Tuesdays and the Red Wing Farmers Market on Saturdays.

The new offering has gone over so well that he needed to hire three employees to keep the pizzas moving. However, he's still remaining true to the original vision of Firebrick Bread and continues to bake an array of hand-made breads in his wood-fired oven at his home. He first fired up the bakery business in 2012.

His menu includes five types of pizzas. He's using some local produce on them now and hopes to do more of that as the project progresses. It takes about five minutes to make and then bake a pizza in the 700-degree wood-fired oven.

Jennebach says adding the kitchen-on-wheels made sense given the local hunger for wood-fired pizza.

"When I told people about Firebrick Bread, the first question always was, 'Do you make pizzas, too?,'" he said.

Since regulations wouldn't allow him to do that at his home, Jennebach started looking into putting an oven on a trailer and eventually turned to a company that specialized in them.

"It was a big investment, but it's one I believe will pay for itself," he said. "I can take it anywhere in Minnesota."

Right now he's sticking to weekly appearances at the two farmers markets and an occasional special event. That, combined with his weekly bread baking, has pretty much filled up his schedule at this point.


101207jennebachonaballLong-time readers may recognize the Jennebach name, since Stephen was a very enthusiastic commenter on this blog during its early years.

He was also pretty much the only one who would act on my goofy attempts at photo contests. I was just ahead of my time with 'selfies.' Heh. His best submission involved the big red balls in front of what was then the brand-new south Target store.

March 19, 2014

Flamingos + Elks = Bingo

After months of waiting, a Rochester nonprofit finally has scored permission to move to a new home.

Flamingo Bingo, which raises money for the Rochester Senior Center, has been given the green light by the Minnesota Gambling Control Board to move into the Elks Lodge 1091 at 1652 U.S. 52 North in the Hillcrest Shopping Center.

FlamingobingoIt's moving out of its long-time leased home at 2828 U.S. 52 North, which was sold to Luther Automotive Group in January.

Deb Nusbaum, Flamingo Bingo's charitable gaming manager, says the bingo center will call its final game at its current site at 1 p.m. on March 30. Then, Nusbaum and her team of 16 employees will move the operation.

She plans to kick off the new round of games at the Elks Lodge on April 4. Work on the new Flamingo Bingo site is underway.

The Elks Lodge members are very positive about bringing Flamingo Bingo into its facility, according to the club president.

"It's multi-faceted for us," said Chris Holloway, when the plan first was announced in December. "We have an excess of space that we don't use on a daily basis. We're both charitable organizations. There's a lot of crossover in our clientele. Plus it brings in additional revenue."

ElkslodgeNow that the move is in motion, the question is what will happen to the 42-year-old building where Flamingo Bingo has been been based since it opened in 2007.

Twin Cities-based Luther Automotive bought the building for $950,000 on Jan. 17. Luther also owns the nearby Park Place Motors dealership on the same frontage road.

Luther's Linda McGinty said the company does not have a specific plan for the site yet.

McGinty, director of real estate and development at Luther Automotive Group, declined to discuss whether its possible plans could include an expansion of Park Place Motors or possibly bringing a new dealership into the market.

However, she did acknowledge that Luther will "probably eventually remove the building."

January 22, 2014

It's hailing taxis in Roch.

Rochester's Yellow Cab rolled out a bunch on new Prius V hybrids Tuesday to much fanfare among local business leaders and Mayo Clinic.

YellowcabpicI trotted out to the first leg of Yellow Cab's Prius tour at Rochester Toyota. Fairly interesting. Here's a link to that article.

I had reported in June that Yellow Cab planned to switch over to hybrids. Back then, Med City Taxi was part of the transportation alliance that bought Yellow Cab. So two of Rochester's three cab companies were under the same corporate umbrella ... for a while.

Best Ride, the updated version of the transportation alliance that rolled out the new cars Tuesday, does not include Med City Taxi owner Tim and Tina Fliehr as before.

That means Rochester truly has three cab companies, Yellow Cab, Med City Taxi and Rochester Taxi, vying for the predicted DMC boom in bodies trying to get around this city.

The websites of the firms seem to put that growing competition on display.

• Yellow Cab -

• Med City Taxi -

• Rochester Taxi - Rochester Taxi seems to only be on Facebook. It bills itself as the "people's taxi company."

Yellow Cab's use of Med City in its web address struck me as interesting and seemingly superfluous.

YellowcabwebsiteAnd then there's Yellow Cab's slogan on its website:

"Yellow Cab, your med-city taxi"

MedcitytaxiHhhmmmm.... sounds familiar. Heh.

As a side note to this little deal, I'd like to point out that my editor despise the use of the phrase Rochtaxi"Med City" to describe Rochester.

Using it in proper names is OK, but saying something like "The Med City is all aflutter with buzz about Mayo Clinic's DMC" is a no-no.

It was probably my overuse of the catchy phrase that caused it to fall out of favor. Sorry about that.

What do you think of Medropolis instead? Heh.

March 25, 2013

Is Holiday taking over Roch.'s SA gas stations? Looks like it

The buzz is that the Med City will have a lot more Holidays in its future, but don't expect any changes to the calendar.
Superamerica_0For the past few weeks, folks in the know have been saying that Bloomington, Minn.-based Holiday Station Stores plans to take over the seven SuperAmerica convenience stores in the near future, possibly by the beginning of May.

One version goes even further and says Holiday plans to build two additional new stations here to bring its total of Rochester sites to nine.

Holiday's head office as well as SA's corporate parent, Northern Tier Energy in Ridgefield, Conn., have not been helpful as I've tried to confirm or disprove this high-octane story, which is getting such good mileage at the pumps.

The only response I've received is this email from Christine Carnicelli of Northern Tier, "As a general policy we do not comment on our business operations so we would prefer not to provide any details on this matter."

Nonetheless, evidence is building that Holiday is indeed gearing up to roll into the Rochester market in a big way.
Holiday Station Stores Inc. has filed a permit with the city of Rochester to build a station on the open land at the corner of West Circle Drive Northwest and Valleyhigh Road Northwest. That would put it right next to Ford-Metro Glass and across West Circle from Mayo Clinic's Superior Drive Support Center.

With CostCo's move into the area acting as a catalyst to spur other nearby retail projects, that seems to be a pretty good spot to put a station.

A search on Holiday's website for Rochester locations comes up with the single station at the entrance to the Cub Food Plaza at U.S. 14 and 15th Avenue Southeast.

Holiday took over that station in October 2011. Before that change, Holiday had been absent from this market for five years with its last Med City station closing in January 2006. That one was later transformed into the Beer Bellyz bar, along Civic Center Drive Northwest.

While the website lists only one station, Holiday's list of job openings tells a very different story.

Holiday is taking applications for eight Rochester locations. The addresses match the city's seven SuperAmericas and the one active Holiday station.

This shift might mean a change to the calendars after all.

Mark this spring as the start of the "Great Med City Gas War" between Holiday and Rochester's reigning C-store champ, Kwik Trip.

March 18, 2013

Flurry of activity at forlorn, orphan lot

So a sharp-eyed reader recently spotted a crew quickly putting up a security fence around the forlorn and often forgotten parking lot without a development, Willow Creek Market at south 48th Street, across U.S. 63 from Shoppes on Maine.

WillcreeklotAfter about six or seven years without any activity, a new fence definitely caught my attention.

When checking it out, i.e. snooping, I spotted some new cars parked in a corner of the lot. When I realized that all of the vehicles were made by Mercedes, the light bulb finally clicked on over my head and this thought bubble soon joined it.

"Hhhmmm... the new Mercedes of Rochester dealership that is getting close to opening across the highway still has its lot Willow full of construction machines. But they would need to be bringing in inventory to prepare for the opening…"

It seems a safe bet that Mercedes is staging its cars on the lonesome orphan lot, while construction wraps up.

Temporary or not, the activity seems positive for the site. Rochester's Hamilton Real Estate is the listing the property these days.

December 06, 2012

Target boots Rochester's Park-N-Ride program

On Dec. 17, commuters that use Rochester's south Park-N-Ride route will need to drive a little farther before catching the bus. Since 2008, hundreds of weekday commuters — mostly Mayo Clinic employees — have parked their cars in the south Target store's lot and then rode a city bus into the city.

To the city of Rochester's dismay, that arrangement is coming to an end this month. However, the south Wal-Mart store has eagerly pulled up to fill that spot.

So, on Monday, Dec. 17, the four south Park-N-Ride bus routes will pick up passengers in Wal-Mart's lot instead of Target's.

"We really liked the Target location," says Tony Knauer, Rochester's Transit and parking manager. "Since they first asked us to vacate the area in August, we were hoping they would reconsider."

However, Knauer says the city is appreciative of Wal-Mart's willingness to help and how easy they have been to work with.

Given the growing number of people that use the system to get to work without bringing hundreds of additional vehicles into downtown, the city sees the bus service as very valuable. In fact, Knauer says they hope to add yet a second Park-N-Ride location on the south side of the city.

The city did its best to press the case that the Park-N-Ride is a benefit to Target and should continue.

"If you are the merchant, this is a huge thing that only benefits you and doesn't cost you anything," Knauer says.

Rochester showed the company studies that found the 80,000 Park-N-Ride passengers spent an average of $80 at the Target store in 2011. A letter sent directly to Gregg Steinhafel, Target's CEO, failed to get a response.

So why did Target boot the commuters from its lot, after so many years? It's just implementing a company-wide policy that Rochester had been exempt from all this time.

"In exception to company policy and inconsistent with the practice of the rest of the Target stores across the country, the Rochester store has provided parking for 150 commuters from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday since 2008," stated Target spokeswoman Sarah Van Nevel in response to my query.

Why decide to bring the Rochester site into compliance now after so long?

"Over the last four and a half years, the number of park and ride commuters using Target’s parking lot has grown significantly, creating some disruption to our business," says Van Nevel. "We are no longer able to accommodate the park and ride program in Target’s parking lot."

She went on to point out that "Target values its relationship with the City of Rochester" and the company donates thousands of dollars to local charities and schools.

While Target has been clear that this is solely a policy issue, some people in the Med City have been speculating that this might be a sign that the future of the south store might be in question.

Van Nevel says that definitely is not the case and there is no basis for such a rumor.

"I can confirm that Target remains committed to serving our guests in the Rochester community and has no plans to close this store," she says.

December 03, 2012

Railroad puts brakes on DM&E expansion plan

Here's some from a good piece by my colleague Mike Klein. It looks like the more-than-a-decade battle to keep the DM&E from running more coal through Rochester may have come to an end with a whimper rather than a bang.

Of course, now that silca sand and fraccing is hot, that might become the new coal and be a future reason to ramp up. Life on the rails is unpredictable.


Canadian Pacific is dropping plans to extend its rail network into the Powder River Basin, abruptly ending Rochester's decades-long fight to stop the increased coal train traffic through town planned as part of that $6 billion plan.

DM&EThe railroad's announcement this morning will likely be followed by more news, as new CEO Hunter Harrison will be meeting with executives Tuesday to announce plans moving forward, spokesman Ed Greenberg said. The railroad has been reviewing its entire network, he said.

When CP acquired the Dakota Minnesota & Eastern railroad in 2007 for $1.48 billion, it also acquired the option to build a 260-mile extension of its network into coal mines in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. Now Canadian Pacific will take a fourth quarter charge of approximately $180 million on its books, on its option to build there.

"It is CP’s intention to defer indefinitely plans to extend its rail network into the PRB coal mines based on continued deterioration in the market for domestic thermal coal, including a sharp deterioration in 2012," the company said.

The low price and increased availability of natural gas has cut into coal usage in recent years.

"We believe it is a prudent decision to defer the network into the Powder River Basin when you consider the long-term prospects of coal," said Canadian Pacific spokesman Ed Greenberg.
Olmsted County Commissioner Ken Brown said the announcement is a "good deal" for Rochester, but he cautioned that Canadian Pacific is trying to sell those tracks, and a new buyer could proceed with the Powder River Basin plan.

"In the future, who knows what could happen," said Brown, who serves on the Rochester Coalition opposing the increased rail traffic. "It could be a long time before anything could happen. It looks like it's not something to worry about imminently. In the future, if they sell it, maybe it will be, but that's down the road."

Right now, Canadian Pacific moves about about two to four trains every 24 hours through the Rochester area with "mixed freight," mainly steel and grain.

Rochester’s history of conflict with DM&E dates to 1998, when the railroad announced its plans to extend its line 260 miles west to coal fields in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. The coal-line plan alarmed Rochester-area officials because of the likelihood it would bring increased and heavier, faster traffic through the city.

The Mayo Clinic, the city of Rochester, Olmsted County and the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce teamed up to form the Rochester Coalition to oppose the bypass.

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.

September 11, 2012

Roch's Transportation Tuesday features planes, buses and cars

Looks like Rochester has a Transportation Tuesday underway this week with two events - Allegiant Air's Vote for Vacation campaign and Kwik Trip's seminar about compressed natural gas as a vehicle fuel - both scheduled.

Allegiant Air's "campaign" bus pulled into downtown Rochester late Monday to park near the Peace Plaza in preparation for a morning of light-hearted Allegiant-bus2voting combined with a serious memorial.

Voting for a favorite vacation destination will put people in the running to win four years of free airfare or a free pair of round trip tickets to any Allegiant destination.

The first 100 voters will be given a $21.60 "tax break" toward their next Allegiant vacation. That's about the equivalent of how much government taxes and fees add to the cost of a round trip flight.

Since the Allegiant stop in Rochester falls on Sept. 11, Mayor Ardell Brede will speak and lead the crowd in a moment of silence at 7:46 a.m. as the Bell of Honor tolls for those who lost their lives in the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

Kwik Trip's free seminar about compressed natural gas is then scheduled from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m at the Ramada Inn Hotel & Conference Center, 1517 16th St. S.W., Rochester.

Kwik Trip will introduce compressed natural gas, or CNG, as a fueling option in Rochester at the new station being built along 19th Street Northwest by CostCo's new store.