St. Paul officials say they don't have enough money to help businesses recover from nearly $82 million in damage sustained during the civil unrest that followed George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police.
About 330 buildings across the city sustained some damage, with most of the destruction along University Avenue, according to a report the city's Planning and Economic Development (PED) department presented to City Council members Wednesday. The financial toll includes about $73 million in property damage, plus $8.8 million in loss of inventory and other business assets.
Many of the affected businesses were already suffering as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Economic Development Director Martin Schieckel. But after spending $3.3 million of the St. Paul Bridge Fund to help families and businesses that lost income as a result of the pandemic, he said, the city has had to direct damaged businesses elsewhere, including state and federal programs.
"We desperately need help from levels of government beyond just ours," said Council Member Mitra Jalali.
In June, the DFL-led state House passed the PROMISE Act, a roughly $300 million plan that would include nearly $168 million in state dollars for businesses and nonprofits damaged during the unrest. A companion bill was introduced in the Senate, but Republican legislators raised concerns about directing general fund dollars to Minneapolis and St. Paul when the state is facing a budget deficit.
Budget shortfalls also loom large in the two cities. In large part because of revenue losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders in both Minneapolis and St. Paul have been forced to grapple with multimillion-dollar deficits in 2020 and will face deep cuts in 2021.
In Minneapolis, which experienced the bulk of the civil unrest, the assessor's office is still calculating the financial cost of damage to more than 700 buildings.
In St. Paul, city staff members are directing owners of damaged businesses to programs such as the Ramsey County Small Business Relief Fund and disaster relief loans from the federal Small Business Administration. The staff is also helping locate technical support, including mentorship, legal services, relocation assistance and help with insurance claims.
More than half of the 37 properties that sustained major damage or were destroyed during the unrest were national chains, and those businesses generally weren't interested in city help, Schieckel said. The staff has instead focused its efforts on small businesses, he said, including those that applied for Bridge Fund grants.
Even with limited funds, that work is expected to continue.
"We at the city of St. Paul, we might not have all the resources, we might not have the perfect resources," Council Member Chris Tolbert said at Wednesday's meeting, "but we are here to help."
Staff writer Liz Navratil contributed to this report.