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."