Despite a pledge to get the community involved in its decisions, Hennepin County quietly chose a site for a new $10.4 million social services center on W. Broadway in north Minneapolis and only alerted the community several weeks ago, once the deal was virtually done.
News of the regional social services hub has created a small uproar among residents, and on Tuesday, Hennepin County commissioners postponed voting on the lease agreement with the developer. At a public meeting in a North Side senior housing complex Thursday, residents told county planners that they felt frozen out of the process.
"I feel the North Side is being disrespected, disregarded," one elderly woman said.
After the meeting, state Rep. Joe Mullery, DFL-Minneapolis, said "the neighborhood should have found out before this had gone this far. It doesn't seem fair to give them no warning. I'm just learning about this myself."
Rex Holzemer, area director of the county's Human Services and Public Health Department, said he can "appreciate the frustration" of neighbors. But Holzemer said the county had to make sure the property could be acquired before going public with its plans.
The county plans to close its central social service operations downtown at Century Plaza, 330 S. 12th St., in 2014. In April, the county outlined plans for six regional hubs to improve access to social services and promised "community involvement" as a core principle, including decisions about "where services can best be located."
Holzemer said locating social and health services closer to clients will make it possible to intervene earlier, helping families and reducing county costs.
For the W. Broadway hub, the county chose the developer, the Ackerberg Group, to build the facility at Girard Avenue N. and W. Broadway and then lease it to the county, the sole tenant. Under the deal, Ackerberg will spend about $8 million to build it, and Hennepin County will spend $2.4 million on interior improvements. The first-year rent is expected to be $830,700.
About 200 county employees will work at the new hub, and 150 to 160 clients will visit daily, the county says. The School District headquarters will house 600 employees and anticipates another 300 to 400 visitors a day, including 150 to 250 adult basic education students, a district spokesperson said.
Jordan neighborhood leader Lynn Riskedal said she's worried that traffic from the new social services hub and the new Minneapolis public schools headquarters next door will lead to congestion and endanger children when cars spill onto side streets.
Others said the hub goes against city plans to make W. Broadway more vibrant with commercial and retail development.
The Hennepin County Board was scheduled to vote on the lease Tuesday, but Commissioner Mark Stenglein pulled the proposal from the table after getting complaints from residents. Stenglein said he had not realized that the city of Minneapolis has an option to comment on the proposal and must modify its W. Broadway plan before the social services hub can be built.
Hub would be 'a good fit'
Stenglein said he did not think there would be traffic problems in the area and thinks it would be "a good fit" to have people seeking social services next to the school headquarters.
JoAnna Hicks, director of development for the Ackerberg Group, said that to assemble the land it had to acquire 15 parcels: a 10-unit apartment building that it is still assessing whether it can be moved, four single-family homes, one duplex, one fourplex, two office buildings, an auto body shop, a radiator shop and four vacant lots.
There are purchase agreements on nine parcels and the rest include some foreclosed properties that Ackerberg plans to acquire. Hick said she takes "very seriously" the neighborhood's concerns, but said she believes the hub will boost nearby businesses because county workers will spend money in the neighborhood.
She said she hoped that a farmers market can operate on the hub's plaza.
Holzemer said there are plans for additional community meetings "to work through the issues." He said he hopes to go to the county commissioners in January to authorize lease negotiations and the expenditure of $2.48 million for the project.
He said he hopes to break ground in April.
Randy Furst • 612-673-4224