The Nest seeks a landing spot in St. Louis Park

The Nest, a proposed hangout that would let St. Louis Park High School students branch out socially, could pick up city support.

“We are already engaged in this conversation about The Nest and where it wants to land and how we can be supportive, so we are very, very excited about it and want to move that conversation forward,” Mayor Jake Spano said.

The Nest “will be a safe, inclusive space for youth in St. Louis Park to connect face to face, study, express themselves, and be part of the community,” states a website for the concept, slpnest.org.

The hangout would allow students to get together, study, get something to eat and drink, perform, display creativity and engage, states the website.

Student representatives of a board working to plan The Nest told St. Louis Park City Council members May 1 that Tami Cabrera, owner of Muddy Paws Cheesecake, has been in discussions about running a coffee shop at hangout. The student center would be located adjacent to Muddy Paws Cheesecake, 7600 W. 27th St. in St. Louis Park, but would be leased separately.

Students presented an estimate of expenses, including annual expenses of $24,000 to lease space, $1,200 for utilities, $1,200 for insurance, $1,200 for Wi-Fi and $50,000 for a full-time general manager. One-time capital expenses to build a stage, install a sound system and make other changes would be an estimated $50,000. The costs of programming and maintenance are listed as to-be-determined.

Organizers asked the council to assist the group with seed or base funding for space.

“With that space commitment secured, our board can more easily raise private funds,” a presentation for The Nest stated.

The Nest would strive to become a nonprofit independent of the St. Louis Park School District, but the organization may also ask the district for funding.

The group may also seek equipment donations, rent out space to offset costs and engage in traditional fundraising activities.

“Once we get our rent paid by the city, all the additional staffing and programming costs are all the parts that we will continue to work on as a governing board,” said parent volunteer Julia Schmelzer.

Junior Lukas Wrede, another student representative, said, “We’re requesting that the city council supports basically this initial funding, and then after that funding it would be us. It would be the students and we could figure out what we want to do after that.”

Schmelzer said teenagers often deal with anxiety-related issues.

She said she “decided to take a little bit more active role in seeing if the high school students would be interested in some place for them to be that’s just a space for them, without the judgment, without the pressures, that they can spend some time just being themselves and growing into themselves a little bit more.”

Jayneishia Buckner, a senior on The Nest’s board, said to the council, “Our mission is ‘to provide a unique, substance-free coffee shop/gathering space for students that welcomes everyone and creates a greater sense of community,’ but we need your guys’ help with that.”

Supporters showed a video featuring students describing how they would benefit from such a space, including having a place to work on homework, learn about other cultures and talk about issues they might be having.

“There aren’t that many places for high-schoolers to come to just study or to, like, have coffee in the morning or just hang out with their friends,” said freshman Cole Nugteren, a student representative for The Nest. “Outside the high school, there’s, like, McDonald’s, and there’s, like, a tiny frozen yogurt store and there’s, like, nothing – there’s like the highway.”

The idea has been presented to the Natural Helpers, a peer counseling group at St. Louis Park High School, the High Achievement Program for African-American students, the St. Louis Park Community Education Advisory Council and St. Louis Park nonprofits, Buckner said.

St. Louis Park Police, the medical director of the St. Louis Park Central Clinic, Perspectives, the community education advisory council and Teaming Up for Teens, which supports homeless and at-risk teenagers, support the concept, according to organizers.

Wrede said, “We want to show you guys this is really a community effort. The police force is a really big part of this. We want all students to know that they’re safe when they’re at this place.”

Nearly 300 people had signed a petition supporting The Nest as of press time.

Councilmember Thom Miller, a longtime supporter of The Nest, said he has advised the students and adult leaders of the group for about a year and a half. The group’s focus on inclusivity came from students, not the adults.

“This wasn’t something where the parents or the adults came to the students and said, ‘Hey, you know this is an important buzzword. You really need to talk about inclusiveness,’” Miller said. “It was actually a germane reason why they came up with the concept in the first place. They wanted a place that was really, truly inclusive – inclusive of all skin colors, inclusive of all economic levels, inclusive of all interest levels.”

The school district already offers opportunities for athletes, actors and singers, but The Nest would offer a place for students with those and other interests as well, Miller said.

He also noted that students who came up with ideas for The Nest put up a picture of a martini glass with a slash through it on a board.

“Again, it wasn’t the parents saying this – ‘you have to make this safe; you have to make this substance-free,’” Miller said. “It was actually one of the reasons for The Nest to exist, so they recognized that right off the bat.”

He stressed the need for a place like The Nest in St. Louis Park.

Pointing to issues like anxiety and depression, Miller said, “I don’t think it’s too strong a phrase to say that we have a mental health crisis in our students, in our student body in the high school and junior high.”

While the school district or parents can help address such issues, Miller asked, “What is the community doing? There’s a role that the community can play.”

Miller asked the council to consider the issue at a work session. While Spano said the city was not prepared to provide a check immediately, he said, “The Nest is something that we’ve all been spending a lot of time thinking about and talking about and meeting about and we’re all very excited about.”

Spano thanked the students for their input and ideas.

“When I met with some of the young adults with The Nest, I told them, ‘There’s going to be a lot of adults who will tell you what you should be doing or what you need. Don’t listen to them.’ I’m glad you didn’t listen to us. You came up with your own ideas. That’s awesome.”

To learn more about the concept, visit slpnest.org or email [email protected]

Contact Seth Rowe at [email protected]