2015 was a year in which national and international forces reached deep into the body public of Minneapolis, while physical and economic forces changed the city skyline.
One of the noisiest issues this year was prompted by the November shooting death of Jamar Clark by police after he allegedly interfered with ambulance crews. The debate about whether he was subdued or struggling when shot mushroomed into street protests that included multiple demands and marches to City Hall, and an 18-day occupation by activists outside the city’s Fourth Precinct. Civil disobedience fostered by Black Lives Matter closed a freeway, blocked light-rail lines and blocked airport access.
Another local offshoot of a national movement was sparked when Mayor Betsy Hodges promised a package of proposals to help “working families.” But the backlash against the specifics from employers prompted City Hall to retreat on 28-day advance posting of work schedules and turned the issue of requiring sick leave over to a work group that’s due to report in February. Her honor demurred on a worker-led push for a city-wide minimum wage, such as Seattle’s $15 hourly wage, but said she’s open to discussing a regional mininum.
Minneapolis came under brighter national scrutiny as a hotbed for recruitment of young Somali-Americans for jihadist organizations in Syria . No state has supply more such recruits. A federal grand jury began looking into the recruitment issue. Meanwhile, law enforcement officials are continuing their effort to build tenuous links with the local Somali community in an effort to head off recruitment, gain information and address community concerns.
It didn’t start in 2015, but the reshaping of Downtown East reached proportions not seen in the core of Minneapolis since the days of urban renewal. The Metrodome superblock and parts of seven others are in play with a new stadium topped out, the Star Tribune building demolished, and work continuing on housing, offices and a parking ramp. Fundraising for a planned park continues. One big change is the addition of a skyway to the new stadium. If you haven’t been there lately, you may need a map.
It was a year when the Southwest rail transit line limped closer to breaking ground, assuming it clears court challenges from Kenilworth area residents and those in Minnetonka. The Park Board took a stand against plans for how the tracks will pass through a narrow isthmus between Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake, but folded when Gov. Mark Dayton retaliated by threatening to withhold some state aid to city parks. Ballooning costs prompted major cuts in the project, which went through a second round of city approvals.
For once, Minneapolis said no to financial concessions for a pro sports facility. That meant the pitch for the Minnesota United’s jump to major-league status went to St. Paul by default. The farmers market area west of downtown Minneapolis was the first choice of the owners of the Loons. Hodges opposed a property and sales tax breaks for the $150 million plan, saying they represent public subsidies.
Minneapolis school Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson left the job early this year, shortly after an abrupt resignation. That gave the school board an opening for a national superintendent search for a replacement, its first in 10 years.That produced new controversy only days after Sergio Paez was designated heir apparent. The board will decide in January whether to negotiate a contract with him after allegations arose of abuse against special education students at a school he fostered. Johnson lasted just over 4-1/2 years; only one superintendent has made five years in the Minneapolis school chief’s chair since 1988.
The former chief of a antipoverty agency and his son were indicted in September on federal charges in a public corruption case involving Community Action of Minneapolis. Former CEO Bill Davis pleaded not guilty to charges alleging that he misspent $250,000 in taxpayer money intended for heating and weatherization help for poor people. Meanwhile, state Sen. Jeff Hayden and his wife, Theresa, agreed to pay $2,750 to settle claims by a court-appointed receiver of improper expense reimbursement to them by the agency.
After paying $4 monthly for it, tens of thousands of eligible households got organics recycling service in August. It’s part of the latest effort to divert waste from the incinerator. Remaining households are scheduled to get their carts in the spring.
Long-anticipated redevelopment at the southwest corner of the Hiawatha-Lake intersection got going with a first phase that includes a county social service center, more than 100 units of market-rate housing, a parking ramp and transit plaza. An eventual 500 units are planned. The development is key to densifying the area around one of the prime Blue Line stations, at Lake Street. The redevelopment means a new home eventually for the adult basic education program on the site, most likely two blocks west on Lake.
After only 38 years, the City Council took a formal step toward rectifying the suburban-style redevelopment of the Nicollet-Lake intersection widely derided as the “mistake on Lake.” The council approved buying a parcel formerly occupied by a Super Value grocery, and also entering an option to buy land beneath the adjoining Kmart store. Meanwhile, neighborhood leaders have begun planning for changes they’d like to see if the plan advances to the point of reopening Nicollet.