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Xcel Suggests Silent Majority of Minnesotans Want Its Executives to Make More Money

Plus downtown adaptations, James Cameron in Duluth, and a furry First Ave birthday in today's Flyover news roundup.

4:52 PM CDT on August 8, 2023

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It’s Xcel HQ in downtown Minneapolis.

Welcome back to The Flyover, your daily digest of what local media outlets and Twitter-ers are gabbing about.

Xcel to Regulators: Minnesotans Might Demand Gilded Age Bloat!

Last month, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission released a written decision about capping how much ratepayers can be charged to compensate Xcel Energy execs. MN PUC's unanimous decision: An average limit of $150,000 for each of the Minneapolis-headquartered utility company's 10 top suits, a figure they deemed reasonable considering that’s about how much Gov. Tim Walz makes. Think Xcel, which raked in a record $1.7 billion profit last year, humbly accepted the decision? Not quite! Instead, it had the gall to whine back at regulators and suggest, we shit you not, that public comments from 20 people annoyed by lavish executive pay "represent an incredibly small fraction of Xcel Energy's approximately 1.3 million customers in Minnesota,” according to documents posted by Karlee Weinmann of the Energy & Policy Institute.

Those 20 grousing nobodies don't provide "a reasonable basis on which to deny the necessary costs of providing electric service in the state, including the cost of paying market-based executive compensation," the utterly shameless company concludes. (Democrats and Republics both overwhelming believe the leaders of major U.S. companies are paid "too much," according to a poll from last year.) Xcel CEO Bob Frenzel must be working super hard to deserve his market-based pay package, which exceeded $7.6 million last year—a 23% year-over-year raise. His predecessor, Ben Fowke, routinely pulled $20+ million per year. Really makes one wonder if municipally owned and operated utility arrangements could find any fat to trim... 

A Downtown Upswing?

Remote and hybrid work, lingering Covid concerns, the closure of the skyway Taco John's—downtown Minneapolis just isn't what it once was. For the Strib today, Grace Yarrow talks to the downtown restaurateurs and business owners who are sticking it out, and she emerges with an interesting picture of the good, the bad, the weird, and the unpredictable. On the "good" (or at least "decent") side of things, Chris Bjorling, owner of the coffee shop Gray Fox, says business has returned to 80% of pre-pandemic levels, while the folks behind Sorrento Cucina and Murray's Steakhouse are doing close to 70% of the business they were in 2018 and 2019.

Of course, with the notoriously thin margins of the restaurant biz, 20 or 30% is a lot, and owners are still getting creative. Sorrento has slashed its menu in half; Gray Fox and other restaurants are cutting back on staffing and hours, particularly on Mondays and Fridays, when fewer hybrid workers are downtown. But there's a glimmer of hope on the horizon, too: Laurine Lewis of Sew Biz Tailoring says she's actually having trouble keeping up with demand, thanks in part to the rush of weddings that were postponed during the pandemic.

What Was James Cameron Doing in Duluth?

Not that anyone needs an excuse to be in Duluth—it’s quite a town, and the site of choice for wealthy climate refugees. But when James Cameron comes into your restaurant, you get a little curious about what he’s up to. The director dined at the Boat Club Restaurant on Sunday, according to Bring Me the News, and the restaurant's owner, Jason Vincent, shared this explanation on Facebook: "He’s visiting his friend, Jessica Lange, and checking out possible movie locations. He loved our clam chowder and said it was the best he’s had since Sundance." (Lange, who was born in Cloquet, apparently still has a cabin up in that area.) The news has some Minnesotans excited that Cameron is going to do for the Edmund Fitzgerald what he did for the Titanic, or maybe the next Avatar (or the one after that, or the one after that) takes us to a frigid region of Pandora and we’ll get to see some ice Na’vi frolicking around Tettegouche State Park. Or maybe Cameron just really likes that chowder.

Hero Dog Celebrates B-Day at First Ave

Nigel is a man about town. A quick perusal of his Instagram reveals that he’s a frequent patron of local breweries, a fan of area beaches and parks, and a weekend road warrior, spending time at destinations including Split Rock Lighthouse, Duluth, and Fargo. He’s also a dog. A Bluie Pembroke Welsh Corgi, to be exact. The diminutive pup recently celebrated a birthday, and it turns out his people have a yearly tradition of visiting First Avenue and the Bob Dylan mural nearby and taking pics. Judging from the number of photos we see in the feed, we’re guessing that Nigel is about six years old. Happy birthday buddy! We hope to see you around town sometime.

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