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Protests loom over groundbreaking for north Mpls. service center

Above: A before and after look at the building on West Broadway and Aldrich avenues (bottom photo courtesy of Sherman Associates).

The weeks-long protest over police brutality loomed over the groundbreaking Tuesday of a north Minneapolis service center that public officials hope will alleviate the area's persistent racial inequities.

Leaders from many levels of government, including Gov. Mark Dayton, gathered along the North Side’s core commercial strip to commemorate the long-awaited redevelopment of a vacant building at Aldrich and West Broadway avenues. The new center, a collaboration of several public entities, will offer job assistance, educational opportunities and medical services.

 “The last two weeks have been very difficult in this part of Minneapolis,” Dayton said. “And I commend Mayor Hodges and city leaders and the police and the community leaders, particularly those who said that we need to move on. And this is a project that epitomizes moving on, moving forward, moving ahead. And beginning to build together a better north Minneapolis.”

Developer Sherman Associates will convert a 47,000-square-foot tax-forfeited building into a new home for the Department of Employment and Economic Development’s north Minneapolis WorkForce Center, now located on Plymouth Avenue. The other major tenants will be Hennepin County’s Northpoint Health and Wellness Center and Minneapolis Public Schools.

WorkForce centers offer help locating jobs, preparing resumes and contacting employers. NorthPoint’s center will offer services for medical, behavioral and dental health. The schools component will offer education targeted toward people who lack a high school degree.

The project is expected to be completed by September 2016. The building will also feature two ground-level retail tenants, which have not been identified.

Mayor Betsy Hodges said black men and women in north Minneapolis frequently tell her that, more than anything else, having a job would have the greatest impact on their lives.

“The challenges that we have had the last couple of weeks, the questions that people have had, the baseline desire people have for equity, for racial equity and for us to move forward together, this building represents what we get to do together on all of those questions,” Hodges said.

In many ways the project is emblematic of the persistent struggles attracting private investment to West Broadway. A larger, $70 million plan to construct a mixed-use development at the site anchored by a YWCA never materialized, leaving the building empty for nine years.

“It screamed out at everybody that it needed to be redeveloped," said developer George Sherman, whose firm is among the most active on West Broadway. "It is actually a historic building that has long lost it’s flavor, its pizzaz."

Public aid, both in direct support and 10-year leases, will be crucial to the current $8 million plans. The city is committing $500,000 in potential new taxes back into the project, the Metropolitan Council pitched in more than $205,000 for environmental cleanup and Hennepin County wrote down $235,000 on the property's sale price.

The project will also receive $2 million in tax credits through the federal government's New Market Tax Credit program, which is geared toward economically depressed areas.

"I would also encourage private investors to start stepping up in north Minneapolis," Sherman said. "We need more jobs, more need investment."

Dayton said he intends to push for a $15 million state committment in a special session to help reduce racial disparities, though he had few details about how it would be spent. He also said he will encourage businesses to boost their investments on the North Side.

"This cannot be all the public sector or the non-profit sector," Dayton said. "We need Minnesota businesses to step forward. And I'll be pursuing that with them in the weeks ahead, because without a public private participation together, it's not going to generate the opportunities that we want to provide."

St. Paul police union criticizes AFSCME for support of Jamar Clark protesters

Union members join a protest over the police killing of Jamar Clark. Kyndell Harkness/Star Tribune

St. Paul police union officials this week criticized the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3800 for its support of protesters condemning the shooting death of 24-year-old Jamar Clark by Minneapolis police, calling it “so biased and ignorant - it is useless to even debate.”

In a news release, St. Paul Police Federation president David Titus said he was “highly disappointed” with a Nov. 15 resolution of support put out by Local 3800, as well as the presence of the union’s members at protests outside the Fourth Precinct police station in north Minneapolis.

The labor union, which represents University of Minnesota clerical workers, called the shooting an outgrowth of "deep-seated, systemic racism that persists in our country where young people of color are profiled, criminalized, brutalized by police all across America." Local 3800 members also held a rally in solidarity with Black Lives Matter last weekend near where Clark was shot.

Clark was shot in the early morning of Nov. 16 after a physical confrontation with police officers responding to a disturbance call at his sister's North Side apartment building. His death prompted days of public protests demanding an end to police brutality and the firing of the officers involved.

Last week, state and federal authorities opened separate investigations into the incident.

The police union response read, in part:

“If you truly are ‘in solidarity with workers worldwide’ as your website displays - why were you not protesting the unsafe working conditions that rank and file officers (and possibly some AFSCME employees) endured this last week at the 4th Precinct? Bricks, rocks, mace and Molotov Cocktails were used against brother and sister union members. Where's the outrage? Where's the solidarity you speak of?”

Local 3800 leaders noted the union has a “longstanding belief in the need for solidarity between working people and an injury to one worker is an injury to all workers,” and joined protesters in demanding the release of any bystander and surveillance video of the incident. But Federation officials encouraged to “remember that there are men and women who gave an oath and work under very dangerous conditions every day protecting your rights to do so.”

Titus further urged the labor union to "replace" its statement "with language that is more reflective of your practices."

The Minneapolis police union, which has defended the officers, has yet to release a statement of its own, but reposted the St. Paul release on its Facebook page.