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Answer Man: Cheap Charlie's pig gets a new view


Dear Answer Man, they're knocking down some buildings north of Civic Center Drive and just west of Broadway — you can see the pig on Cheap Charlie's from Civic Center Drive now. What's being built there?

Good question. There are big changes afoot near one of the city's key intersections.

Those buildings have been knocked down to make way for the Flats on First , a four-story, 68-unit apartment building being developed by Joseph Development LLC, one of Joe Weis'companies. Weis quipped Friday that he owns "one-tenth of one percent" of the project, and that they need to come up with a name for the limited investment partnership now in charge.

The project, on the west half of the block bounded by Fifth Street Northwest, First Avenue, North Broadway and the DM&E tracks, was originally called the Downtowner, which also happens to be the name of a terrific cafe in St. Paul. To get city approval, Weis and friends touched up the building's aesthetics and landscaping.

Hopefully they're planning on a ton of soundproofing as well, or those DM&E trains will sound like they're running right through the living room.


The project was approved by the City Council in April , and Weis said they were able to line up low-income tax credit assistance for the project. That's what triggered the site work this month, and construction will start in the spring.

But there's more happening on that block. The P-B reported in October that MLT Group had sold its building at 411 Broadway Ave. N to Clear Lake, Iowa, real estate investor Les Nelson , who was previously involved with the Flats on First project as well. The MLT building is the only one left on that block, and MLT has all but moved out, according to president Mike Pruett. The building also has four apartments and one remains to be vacated by Dec. 28.

I have calls into Nelson Investments to see if I can find out more -- the 49,500-square-foot property is listed for sale -- but Mike expects the building to have a date with the wrecking ball in January.

Dear Answer Man, there was an item in the paper Thursday about a Mayo doctor who died in a plane crash in Colorado 50 years ago and was involved with NASA. Do you more about him?

I do. Dr. W. Randolph Lovelace II, his wife Maryand pilot Milton Brownwere killed in a plane crash near Aspen on Dec. 12, 1965, 50 years ago this week. (That item was in Loren Else's Day in History column on Thursday .)

Lovelace was a big name in the space world in the mid-1960s and his death at age 57 was major news in Rochester and nationally. He was NASA's director of space medicine and served in the Army Air Force during World War II. His involvement in space research continued Mayo's early interest in aviation and aeronautical research, which included work in the 1940s with Charles Lindbergh .

Lovelace was at Mayo from 1936 to 1946, and he and his wife had five children. Two sons died within a month of each other in 1946 during a polio epidemic in Rochester. Want to know more about that epidemic? I do, too. I'll cover that another day.

During the war, according to an online source , he "performed experiments in escape and the use of the parachute at high altitude. On June 24, 1943, he bailed out of an aircraft flying at 40,200 feet. After the parachute opened, he was knocked unconscious, and he suffered frostbite when his gloves were ripped off. For this test, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross."


He became involved in the space program in the late '50s -- NASA itself was only founded in 1958 -- and played a key role in choosing the Mercury astronauts. As the bodies of Lovelace, his wife and the pilot were being recovered from that wilderness canyon in Colorado, Gemini VI and Gemini VII were completing the first rendezvous of two spacecrafts in orbit.

"His life was too short," President Lyndon B. Johnson said in a statement after Lovelace's death, "although his legacy to space medicine will endure and will be a resource of assurance to future astronauts whose names and deeds are yet unknown."

Diners at Cheap Charlie's Cafe have a much better view of downtown Rochester, after some buildings across Fifth Street Northwest were knocked down this month. A four-story apartment building will go up on the site next spring.

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