(The Phillips Eco-Enterprise Center once owned by the defunct Green Institute in East Phillips.)
Gee, haven’t we been down this road before?
The push by East Phillips activists for a green-oriented business center in their neighborhood has a familiar ring for people with long memories.
The neighborhood opposed another government facility proposed for the area back in the early 1990s. Hennepin County proposed a garbage transfer station as a transshipment site for garbage collected from South Side neighborhoods to be trucked downtown to the incinerator.
The neighborhood eventually prevailed against that proposal for the city-owned site at 2850 20th Av. S., historically a garbage incinerator site. It's tucked between the Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery and what is now the Midtown Greenway.
The neighborhood also got its pound of flesh in the form of public support for the concept of a Green Institute. It was to serve as a base for eco-focused enterprises. It’s best remembered for the now-defunct ReUse Center, where people could take surplus building materials for resale.
But the institute also put up the Phillips Eco-Enterprise Center, a office-warehouse building that featured much of the latest in green building technology, with passive solar and a green roof.
Financially, however, the institute went bust by 2011. It grew partly through a series of public loans and grants. There were leasing issues at times with the building, and a series of overseers got the institute overextended.
The city eventually persuaded the institute to sell the building at 2801 21st. Av. S. to an affiliate of Wellington Management as an alternative to foreclosure. The sale in early 2009 for $5.1 million fetched enough to pay off the primary lender, and the principal and accrued interest on a city loan.
Now comes another proposal for neighborhood-based green enterprise. It’s being forwarded by Council Member Alondra Cano and a bevy of East Phillips allies. They argue that the area too long has been a dumping ground for toxin-producing businesses. They’ve organized to oppose a proposal on Friday’s council agenda. It would authorize city staff to negotiate a purchase agreement for a property at 1860 E. 28th St., a stone’s throw from the building erected by the Green Institute.
(Update: The council told staff to go ahead with negotiations but to work with East Phillips representatives on potential redevelopment and leasing scenarios for the portion of the facility not needed for water maintenance operations.)
The city’s Public Works Department wants the site to relocate its water maintenance yard from an E. Hennepin Avenue site. The new site would be used as a base for dispatching the department's pickups and utility trucks that fan out across the city to keep water pipes in good repair, for storing spare parts, maintaining the truck maintenance and welding tools and repairing hydrants.
The opponents of that proposal have devised an alternate proposal that has echoes of the Green Institute’s project. They propose mixed-use development that would include some housing, a bike shop, an agribusiness operation, and a rooftop solar array. But no developer has emerged with financing or a plan for the site.
The City Council has largely turned over since the city agreed to help the Green Institute to finance its building.
But a key question for it to ponder might be whether the current crop of environmental activists in East Phillips can show any more financial acumen than the activists of 20 years ago so that their dream of a sustainable future proves more financially sustainable than the Green Institute did.
As a footnote, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is seeking public comment on its draft plan for addressing environmental justice issues. The concept is that efforts would be made to reduce the concentration of polluting businesses in communities of color and poverty, such as East Phillips. It plans a hearing Thursday night from 6-8 p.m.at East Phillips Park, 2315 17th Av. S.