When transit planners recently released a map for a future light-rail station in north Minneapolis, a handful of private properties were marked as possible targets for demolition to make way for the Blue Line extension.
One property in particular stood out: an office building at W. Broadway and Penn avenues that's home to radio station KMOJ 89.9 FM, a beloved institution that has entertained and celebrated communities of color in the Twin Cities for nearly a half century.
KMOJ has been renting space in the Five Points Building since 2010. But the Metropolitan Council, the regional planning body that's building the light-rail line, says it's likely the property will be taken by eminent domain to make way for transit service.
KMOJ General Manager Freddie Bell said he was hesitant to jump into the fray surrounding the Blue Line extension, a project that has proven controversial in north Minneapolis as well as some suburban communities.
"But," Bell said, "nobody wakes up in the morning and says, 'You know what? Let's move today.' "
The founder and chair of the nonprofit organization that owns the building, Stuart Ackerberg, was a bit more direct: "I think it's horrific."
A well-known Twin Cities real estate developer, Ackerberg founded Catalyst Community Partners to develop commercial space in underperforming communities. To date, the group has successfully developed 13 properties in north Minneapolis, and in some cases has sold them to members of the community.
"I think it's horribly sad and unfortunate for the community to take out a performing office building," said Ackerberg, referring to the Five Points Building, also home to a wellness firm. "There aren't many office spaces on West Broadway."
Met Council spokesperson Laura Baenen said the council "recognizes KMOJ is a valued and beloved community institution, and are committed to continuing to work closely with them to make sure they can continue to serve the community in all the same ways they do today — up to, through and after construction."
Ackerberg said he met with representatives from the Blue Line project earlier this year. At first, he said, it appeared as though a "sliver" of the building would be taken by eminent domain. But in the end, planners said the entire building needed to go.
"I challenged them to find a more creative solution," he said, but none was forthcoming.
KMOJ began broadcasting in 1976 with a mission to provide news for the Twin Cities' African American community. The station's call letters were inspired by the Swahili word "umoja," which means "unity."
Bell, a member of the Minnesota Broadcasters Hall of Fame, said KMOJ has recently been discussing creation of a hub for media serving communities of color. But planning is difficult because of the uncertainty tied to the light-rail project.
The Blue Line extension would connect downtown Minneapolis to Brooklyn Park. In coming months, the Met Council will have to make key decisions about its alignment that will greatly affect the north Minneapolis community.
One decision involves whether to route trains on the east side of Interstate 94, feeding into W. Broadway, or keep them on Lyndale Avenue, an option that is opposed by some Lyn Park residents.
And the council will need to decide whether to keep trains on W. Broadway or route them a block north to 21st Avenue.
Those decisions won't affect the area near the Five Points Building and KMOJ, which is farther west near W. Broadway and Penn avenues — a critical transit connection to C Line bus-rapid transit service.
Ackerberg says it's unclear whether light rail is the right option for north Minneapolis, given a decline in transit ridership following the COVID-19 outbreak.
"People are put in a situation where they're trying to figure out the future when we don't know if [the Blue Line] is happening," he said.
He added that a buyer interested in the Five Points Building backed out because he couldn't get financing, due to the uncertainty surrounding the Blue Line project.
Eminent domain, in which a government entity buys private property for the greater public good, is not unusual for big public transit projects. At this point, it's unclear how many properties would be taken for the Blue Line extension, which is slated to begin passenger service no sooner than 2028.
Baenen said that Blue Line project staffers have been in conversation with KMOJ "to ensure they are able to remain in the community and not have their operations interrupted."
KMOJ would be eligible for relocation assistance, she said, "to a new permanent location of their choosing" that meets federal and state guidelines related to properties acquired for construction projects.
Beyond KMOJ's quandary, Bell said he feels for other businesses in north Minneapolis affected by the project, especially during a lengthy period of construction.
"Many, many people will be impacted," he said.