The Burnsville community was shaken in 2013 by the deaths of Anarae Schunk and Taylor Ziebol, beloved and accomplished Burnsville High School graduates who were making names for themselves as young adults when they were killed.
Schunk, 20, was stabbed to death Sept. 22 in Rosemount. Charges have yet to be filed in the murder, but a suspect, her ex-boyfriend Anthony Lee Nelson, faces murder charges in a Sept. 22 fatal shooting outside Nina’s Grill in Burnsville, where he and Schunk were seen together.
Ziebol, 19, was killed July 11 when the family car she was driving crossed the center line and struck a semitrailer head on near Dodge City, Kan. She and her siblings, 15-year-old Adam and 17-year-old Shannon, were en route to their grandparents’ home in El Paso, Texas. Adam continues to recover from serious injuries.
The Nina’s shooting was one of three murders this year in northeast Burnsville, prompting police to hold a community crime meeting with unsettled area residents.
2013 was also a year of transition in city government, as City Manager Craig Ebeling, a City Hall presence since the 1980s, retired and was replaced by Heather Johnston, who had been city finance director.
In other Burnsville news highlights from the pages of Burnsville-Eagan Sun Thisweek, Fairview Ridges Hospital launched a major expansion, a developer signed a contract to build a long-sought hotel in the Heart of the City, and the Burnsville Performing Arts Center got a naming-rights sponsor and a new management contract.
Mourners filled the Performing Arts Center’s 1,000-seat main theater Oct. 6 to remember a young woman described as an “old soul.” An accomplished chess competitor and coach, a BHS graduation speaker in 2011 and a sociology student and academic tutor at the University of Minnesota, Schunk was mourned by family, friends and former teachers.
“Anarae, this is just not the way things were supposed to play out,” said Brian Ribnick, coach of the powerhouse Metcalf Junior High chess team, which Schunk captained in 2008, her freshman year. “It should be the other way around. I had hoped you’d be speaking someday at my memorial. I just don’t know how things got so messed up.”
Police believe she was killed in Rosemount Sept. 22 after her ex-boyfriend allegedly murdered Palagor Obang Jobi, of Savage, outside Nina’s Grill in Burnsville at closing time.
Anthony Lee Nelson, aka Shavelle Oscar Chavez-Nelson, 31, charged with killing Jobi, is a suspect in Schunk’s murder. Nelson’s girlfriend at the time, Ashley Marie Conrade, 24, told police she and Schunk were with Nelson at the bar and drove with him back to Conrade’s Rosemount townhouse after the shooting. Conrade is charged with aiding an offender for allegedly harboring Nelson.
It was Schunk’s trusting nature and faith in humanity that family and friends say led to her involvement with Nelson, whom she dated for several months last year before breaking it off around Thanksgiving.
She had reportedly arranged to meet him Sept. 21 in Burnsville to retrieve $5,000 she had loaned him while they were dating. Nelson, who has a long criminal history, was free on bail on a first-degree burglary charge when the meeting took place.
“We are committed to doing everything we can to bring to justice the person responsible for this horrific crime,” Rosemount Police Chief Eric Werner said in October.
The Nina’s shooting was one of three homicides in northeast Burnsville since June. Police Chief Eric Gieseke described the string of crimes as an anomaly, but arranged a Nov. 14 meeting at Mary, Mother of the Church to help calm unsettled residents, discuss larger crime trends and strengthen ties between the community and police.
The two other homicides remain open cases.
A 4-year-old boy was killed June 11 at his home at 31 Horizon Heights Road. Keyontay Miller-Peterson died of complications from blunt force abdominal injuries, the Hennepin County medical examiner announced July 25.
Police say the suspect is 24-year-old William Alphonso Warr, who had a protection order barring him from the residence. Warr was charged with violating the protection order, criminal property damage, fleeing a police officer, giving false information to police and driving after revocation.
Warr, the boy’s mother’s boyfriend, pleaded guilty to all five counts and was sentenced July 17 to two years and two months in prison, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.
The county attorney’s office has yet to bring charges in the homicide.
“We haven’t given up on it,” Gieseke said in an October interview.
There are also no charges in the Aug. 13 shooting on the 2100 block of East 117th Street that killed 23-year-old Abdifatah Ahmed Mahumod. He and another man were shot and driven from the scene by a woman who then stopped at the SuperAmerica station at 2250 Cliff Road in Eagan. Police found Mahumod dead in the vehicle.
“That’s an open case, too,” Gieseke said. “We hope to bring closure to that in the future.”
Ziebol was a high achiever in the classroom and on the soccer field. She played at Burnsville and started 15 of 18 games as a freshman midfielder for Red Hawks of Ripon College in Wisconsin.
“Taylor and I formed an instant bond when she was in my 11th-grade class,” BHS English teacher Jen Waller McDevitt said in July. “She would stay after school with me and just want to talk. That’s what Taylor did. She was close to many teachers in our school district.”
She took post-secondary classes for two years, her senior year at Normandale Community College. Also during her senior year, Taylor tutored two days a week in the AVID college-readiness program at Nicollet Junior High, which she had attended, and did volunteer work in the office.
She exuded “positive energy wherever she went, and whatever she had going on in her life, she always came in with that great attitude,” Nicollet Principal Renee Brandner said.
Taylor’s brother, Adam, returned home to Burnsville Oct. 12, three months after the crash. He had undergone 16 surgeries and had multiple segments of his intestines removed. He’s awaiting major surgery next year.
He briefly left Regions Hospital in St. Paul on Sept. 27 so sister Shannon, a member of the BHS homecoming royalty, could escort him across the field during halftime of the homecoming game.
“I just lost my beautiful daughter, and they lost an incredible sister,” the Ziebols’ mother, Lesa Hess, said in October. “That in itself is hard, let alone Adam with all of his injuries. But we’re a strong family, and we have great support.”
Craig Ebeling retired after serving as Burnsville city manager for 10 years, a period that included budget retrenchment, construction of the Performing Arts Center and culmination of a “trust fund” to help finance repair and replacement of the city’s aging infrastructure.
“I think the city’s had a very good run over the last 10 years, and longer,” said Ebeling, whose last day of work was March 29. “I think that we should take some pride in continuing to flourish through some very difficult economic times. The council had to make some really tough decisions.”
Ebeling’s career in Burnsville spanned 26 years. A former city engineer in Worthington and Savage, he was hired as Burnsville’s assistant city engineer in August 1987. Promotions to city engineer, public works director and deputy city manager followed.
Ebeling left the city in 1995 to work for the Howard R. Green Co., an engineering consulting firm. Burnsville hired him back in 2001 as director of development in charge of community development, planning, inspections and engineering.
In April, City Council members chose Heather Johnston, Burnsville’s chief financial officer and director of administrative services, to replace Ebeling. She was chosen over two other finalists with many years of city manager experience — Mark McNeill, of Shakopee, and Walter Wysopal, of North St. Paul.
Before coming to Burnsville in October 2011, she spent nearly eight years directing the Management and Budget Division of Minneapolis’ Finance Department. Johnston has also worked for the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and Minnesota Management and Budget.
A new City Council member, Suzanne Nguyen, took office in January. An open seat was left by the retirement of two-term Council Member Dan Gustafson, who didn’t seek re-election.
Ground was broken this spring on a $60 million expansion at Fairview Ridges Hospital on the Ridges Campus.
It includes a 130,000-square-foot specialty care medical office building, 40,000 square feet of hospital expansion and a 400-stall parking ramp. The five-story office building will have a skyway connection to the hospital.
It’s the largest expansion in the history of Fairview Ridges, which opened in 1984.
“We’re working to create spaces that are more convenient for patients at a lower cost,” Fairview Ridges President Beth Krehbiel said.
Heart of the City
It’s not built yet, but the city has a contract with a developer to build a 100-room Hilton Garden Inn on the remaining 1.75 acres of the city-owned AAA property in the Heart of the City.
A hotel has long been part of the “vision” for the downtown redevelopment district, city officials say.
The contract, approved by the City Council in November, requires NLD Holdings III LLC, an investor group that has built hotels and retail centers in Minnesota and nationally, to pay $503,600 for land north of the Burnsville Performing Arts Center and the adjacent Heart of the City parking deck. The property sale must be closed by July 15, 2014, and the hotel completed by June 30, 2015.
In June the council, meeting as the Economic Development Authority, approved a similar contract with Akota Hospitality LLC, but the company missed its Oct. 31 deadline for closing on the property and abandoned the deal.
Burnsville had been hoping to sell naming rights to the city-owned Performing Arts Center since it opened in January 2009. A deal came through in 2013.
The center will be rechristened the Ames Center under a deal the council approved in December. Burnsville-based Ames Construction Inc., a national mega-company with a long history of local philanthropy, will donate $100,000 per year for 10 years for the naming rights.
A new logo and sign are expected to be unveiled in January.
In July, the City Council approved a new three-year management contract with VenuWorks, the firm that has managed the $20 million center since it opened.
The new contract includes benchmark incentives for boosting the center’s gross revenue and authorizes creation of performance measures that include raising attendance, reducing the number of “dark days” with no booked events and guaranteeing customer service and satisfaction.
The council chose VenuWorks over one competitor seeking the contract. The city has two one-year extension options after three years.
Prince of Peace
Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, a Burnsville institution know in the early 1970s for holding outdoor services at the old Lucky Twin Drive-In Theater, turned 50 in 2013.
Events to mark the birthday were held in October.
The congregation had 63 families when it held its first service in October 1963. Membership rose as high as 8,000 or 9,000 people but has leveled off at 6,000 or 7,000, said the Rev. Jeff Marian, the church’s fifth senior pastor.
The church has been successful because of its “willingness to try things in distinctly different ways to connect people,” he said.
“We now need to repeat that process,” said Marian, who followed the Rev. Michael Foss as senior pastor in 2008. “We’re celebrating our 50th anniversary, but now is the time to repeat history.”
Two hookah shops with indoor smoking lounges opened in Burnsville this year, but a Dec. 17 vote by the City Council bans indoor hookah smoking.
The council approved a new tobacco ordinance that will limit hours of operation, square footage and seating capacity at tobacco shops in Burnsville. After a split vote, the council added an indoor use ban on tobacco sampling from devices such as hookah pipes, similar to a ban enacted by Minneapolis in 2011. The new ordinance would not put a ban on cigar bars.
Mayor Elizabeth Kautz, council members Mary Sherry and Suzanne Nguyen voted in favor of the new regulations and ban, while council members Bill Coughlin and Dan Kealey opposed the new ordinance. The ordinance as originally presented by the city staff and city attorney Dec. 17 didn’t include a ban on indoor hookah smoking, which Sherry added during discussion. At a work session a week earlier, the council directed staff to draft an ordinance without the ban.
Opponents of the indoor lounges say they exploit a loophole in Minnesota’s Clean Indoor Air Act that allows indoor sampling of tobacco sold there.
Burnsville’s two hookah shops are Taha Hookah at 12010 County Road 11 and Ignite Hookah at 2552 Horizon Drive. Police and fire officials say there have been problems such as code violations and overoccupancy.
But Alex Bajwa, a lawyer representing Taha Hookah, said his client has worked to fix such problems. Bajwa suggested that outlawing indoor hookah smoking but not cigar sampling (a cigar is not considered a smoking “device”) is a slight against Middle Eastern and East African traditions.
With an appreciative nod to the Burnsville Lions Club, the City Council voted in January to purchase a new playground for Cliff Fen Park.
The $300,000 playground will replace the old Skyland Playground, a popular feature of the north Burnsville park, which is adjacent to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
The deteriorating structure was replaced by a $300,000 metal and plastic playground called Burnsville Lions Playground. The Lions Club is contributing $50,000 over five years for enhanced playground features.
Kenneth Slipka, a longtime businessman, philanthropist and civic leader in Burnsville, died Oct. 22 after battling lung cancer. He was 67.
He was president of Burnsville-based company FORCE America and a longtime supporter of the city’s annual Fire Muster celebration.
He was a leader of Baseball Association 191. Slipka was involved in the Chamber of Commerce (named its Business Person of the Year in 2000) and other organizations, including the Burnsville Community Foundation and the city’s Economic Growth Commission.
Also passing in 2013 was Richard VanderLaan, Burnsville’s “Mr. Baseball,” who died Sept. 12 at age 76.
VanderLaan contributed more than 30 years of work to help upgrade city fields and parks, earning him the “Mr. Baseball” nickname.
VanderLaan began as an amateur baseball benefactor when he started American Legion baseball in Burnsville in 1982. He founded Baseball Association 191 in the early 1990s for young men in Burnsville, Eagan and Savage.