La Raza Radio, burned out of its building by the riots and arson that scorched E. Lake Street in May, last week opened new offices and studios in Richfield.
This is a loss for Minneapolis. CEO Maya Santamaria is a leading Latina businesswoman in the city. Her career began after Augsburg University as an anthropologist at the Science Museum of Minnesota 25 years ago. She eventually started an event promotion business and the El Nuevo Rodeo nightclub, which was in the Oddfellows Building that was destroyed in the riots.
‘‘We were a block from Third Precinct [police station] that got burned down,” Santamaria recalled. “It was all very intense. Something that started as protest against the police over treatment of African Americans became violence against Latino and other businesses, including Black businesses. The Latino community really felt it in terms of the damage and looting.
“Latino businesses turned around that span of Lake Street and worked with the Lake Street Council to make it the Downtown Longfellow neighborhood. Many of the business owners had every penny in those businesses. And all of a sudden, poof they are gone. It was my life’s work. Destroyed.”
Santamaria got the Twin Cities’ leading Spanish-language radio station up and running within a week, thanks to donated space at KFAI Radio in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood near the West Bank of the University of Minnesota.
However, there’s not much commercial space on depleted E. Lake. Santamaria’s real estate agent found ample space for a studio and offices on 76th Street and Lyndale Avenue in Richfield, which boasts a growing Latin population and a welcoming local government.
The cost to move in and improve the space is more than $100,000.
For Santamaria, who helped start La Raza about 20 years ago and bought it in 2013, this has been a horrible year for business amid the pandemic hit to advertisers.
Santamaria, 49, was trying to carve out more free time as 2020 began. In January, she sold El Nuevo Rodeo nightclub and the Oddfellows Building, deals for which she is still waiting full payment. Then, after the fire, she learned from her insurance agent that the radio station was insured for less than it was worth.
“Our business loss was $150,000 and we recouped about $85,000,” she said.
“It was hard enough to be in the middle of the pandemic and then the riots happened,” Santamaria said. “Before the fire, I was looking for more space on East Lake. Now, there is nothing else available. Then you have to ask ‘Do you want to invest in East Lake?’
“Wow, that’s going to be a long-term investment. It’s not now the most desirable neighborhood. There is a flight from Lake Street. It’s still like a war zone. It’s depressing. Spirits are low. Not just Latinos. It’s a struggle. It’s going to take a lot of spiritual work, planning and investment.”
Santamaria decided to leave that to others and focus on nine-employee La Raza.
“It will take the economy to come around for our advertisers to come around,” she said. “And I almost had the station paid for when the fire happened. It was very expensive to recreate this here.”
She’s trying to finance the new office and restart of La Raza with a GoFundMe drive.
Several dozen well-wishers, local dignitaries and listeners showed up at a reception last week to inaugurate the new studios of KMNV La Raza Radio. With internet distribution, the station has a following in the Mexican state of Morelos.
Moving to the new space reinvigorated the spirits of La Raza employees.
Dr. Paul Ziman, a downtown orthodontist, is a longtime La Raza advertiser and founder 37 years ago of what is now called Skyline Orthodontics, which includes a recent addition, Dr. Hani Al Sibai.
“Reaching out with informative, welcoming information fulfills our goal to become the go-to orthodontic practice for patients and parents who may speak English as a second language,” Ziman said. “Maya is one of those businesspeople with the ability and drive to do good and well within the Latino community.
“It is a natural fit for us to expand our base through a radio medium that targets one of the communities to which we are reaching out,” he added.
“Entrepreneurship these days takes hard work, creativity, integrity and some measure of courage, all of which Maya possesses and Skyline Orthodontics found attractive in furthering our business growth.”