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The Brooklyn Park Thai restaurant Lemon Grass was recently remodeled by owner Ann Ahmed to give it a more urban vibe and to add a sushi bar.

Richard.Tsong-Taatarii • rtsong-taatarii@startribune.com,

Rose Smith, left, and Thelma Juah, both Liberian hairdressers, worked with Grace Flanigan, 12, on a hair-extension makeover at Elegant Hair Design in Brooklyn Park.

Richard.Tsong-Taatarii • rtsong-taatarii@startribune.com,

Shoppers were busy picking up Asian grocery items at the Golden Lion Supermarket in Brooklyn Park.

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Bean paste desserts are among items available at the Golden Lion.

Richard.Tsong-Taatarii • rtsong-taatarii@startribune.com,

Identity crisis: Brooklyn Park hires firm to improve its reputation

  • Article by: Shannon Prather
  • Star Tribune
  • April 8, 2014 - 5:38 AM

Brooklyn Park residents feel like they’re playing defense when it comes to their city.

Many say they moved to the inner-ring suburb for its proximity to downtown Minneapolis, its affordable housing, its quiet neighborhoods and its growing diversity.

But a lingering reputation as high crime, even as crime rates have plummeted, and suburban blah often has outsiders questioning Brooklyn Parkers’ decision to call the city home, according to market research. That “inferiority complex” described by many residents is one thing a professional public relations team will have to overcome as it launches a $150,000 branding effort for the city of 76,000.

In a highly debated split vote, the city’s Economic Development Authority, which is made up of the City Council, agreed to hire the PR firm Carmichael Lynch Spong last fall. The goal is to capitalize on the suburb’s recent high-profile successes, including attracting corporate campuses. The city also has launched a neighborhoods initiative, has bought, rehabbed and sold nearly 200 foreclosed homes and is aggressively marketing and developing the Hwy. 610 corridor.

The Minneapolis-based national PR firm is well-known for its campaigns such as Jack Link’s “Feed Your Wild Side,” featuring Sasquatch, and Jennie-O Turkey Store’s “Make the Switch.”

The firm spent the past four months interviewing Brooklyn Park residents, business owners and city leaders in the “discovery phase.” They also staked out the competition, looking at efforts by other Twin Cities suburbs to market themselves.

“Your brand is being shaped every day. It’s a question of whether you want to influence that,” Mayor Jeff Lunde said. “If left unmanaged, your brand can suffer. We need to do a better job managing our brand, telling our own story.”

Even a 1-2 percent increase in the value of existing and future development can mean tens of millions of dollars, Lunde said.

Good response cited

So far, the value of a PR campaign has been an easy sell to Brooklyn Park taxpayers.

“I have been surprised by how much positive feedback I’ve gotten,” said Community Development Director Kim Berggren. “I get the impression they are excited this work could really tell our story and help people understand what a great community this is.”

The city’s marketing campaign also parallels a renewed interest in the inner-ring suburbs as young families, weary of long commutes and scant services, are moving closer in.

“We attract young people because they want to be close to Minneapolis. They can find homes that are a good value. They come here to start their families,” Berggren said. “We offer people starter and move-up housing.”

Carmichael Lynch Spong shared its findings with the City Council last week and started brainstorming about ways to reshape the city’s image.

“What is the highest ground you can claim and support? It has to be aspirational, but it has to be true to who you are,” said Jack Stanton, with Carmichael Lynch Spong.

The council grappled with what was the city’s “high ground” — diversity, business growth, location?

Some of the firm’s findings about Brooklyn Park’s image:

• The Twin Cities business community recognizes Brooklyn Park’s recent successes attracting new businesses, including large corporate campuses and smaller mom-and-pop restaurants and shops, but the good news hasn’t spread to a broader audience yet. In recent years, Target has expanded its campus in the city and Olympus Surgical Technologies America, a Japanese-owned medical technology company, is constructing a $36 million manufacturing plant.

“We are not capturing the value of these positive changes,” Stanton said.

• Residents and business owners are positive about their city and see it changing for the better, but feel outsiders don’t see the benefits.

• The city’s reputation as being high crime despite dramatic improvements in crime rates permeate media reports and social media. Crime is at a 20-year low, according to police.

“For the most part the people who live here feel safe here; that is what it comes down to,” Berggren said.

• The city’s fast-growing diversity is viewed as a positive by many but not all residents. Brooklyn Park is the second-most diverse city in the state, trailing only neighboring Brooklyn Center. The city is about 50 percent minority residents and 20 percent foreign-born.

• Like many suburbs, Brooklyn Park lacks a clear identity. Many residents clamor for more restaurants, more shopping and more destinations to put the city on the Twin Cities map. Brooklyn Park actually has 62 restaurants and an additional 31 fast-food outlets.

• Brooklyn Park suffers a north-south divide. The southern part of the city, with older housing, is viewed as less desirable than the northern parts built out in the 1990s and 2000s.

The PR executives also examined other cities’ marketing efforts. What they found is a sea of sameness. Most Minnesota cities sell themselves with nearly identical catchphrases. Bloomington is “A Better place to Work, Live and Play.” Mound Views is “A Great Place to Live, Work and Play” while New Hope is “A Great Place to Grow.” A more distinctive, polished message will make Brooklyn Park stand out.

Several business owners and residents said they support the city’s efforts to improve its image. It was actually business owners who lobbied the city to hire an outside PR firm.

Voices on the street

Ann Ahmed supports the city’s effort to rebrand. She opened the Thai restaurant Lemon Grass nine years ago, a few blocks from her parents’ house.

Ahmed recently remodeled the restaurant to give it a more urban vibe and add a sushi bar — the first in the city. She remodeled after learning that many of her regular weekday customers drove to Uptown in Minneapolis on weekends for a more urban atmosphere.

She said people always ask her: Why Brooklyn Park?

“They say, ‘You’d have lines around the block if you moved to Minneapolis.’” Ahmed said.

She said one food critic wrote the restaurant was located in Canada.

“Even though we are in the suburbs, we are not that far from the city,” Ahmed said.

She said that Brooklyn Park is experiencing a lot of growth and that city staff is easy to work with.

“It’s a great city. I am glad they are doing this,” Ahmed said.

Hak M. Lao opened Asian Pacific Oriental Foods in Brooklyn Park in 1998, moving his business from Minneapolis. He said he simply “followed the market.” Lao opened his second store, Golden Lion Supermarket, about five years later. His daughter, Jessica McKeever, is a manager there and also is a Brooklyn Park resident.

McKeever, 26, said she is constantly defending the city as friends quiz her why she lives there. But to her, the benefits far outweigh any perceived negatives: affordable housing, quiet neighborhoods, close to downtown Minneapolis and a good climate for small businesses.

“The city is doing a lot to involve the community and change it for the better,” Mc­Keever said. “Once people come out here their minds would definitely change.”

 

Shannon Prather • 612-673-4804





 

© 2014 Star Tribune