An affordable housing complex under construction at Cedar and E. Franklin avenues for 110 working-poor families also is a harbinger of an upticking Franklin Avenue, once best known for decrepit housing and shuttered storefronts.
The $41.7 million Mino-bimaadiziwin, which means “the good life,” is being developed by the Red Lake Band of Chippewa on land it owns.
It’s a short walk from the 2017 homeless encampment at Hiawatha and Cedar avenues that led American Indian leaders, city, county and private interests to replace the temporary “navigation center” on the 1.5-acre site with permanent housing, a mental health clinic and supportive services, as well as a local headquarters for the Red Lake band.
The band, which is investing $1.73 million in the six-story project and deferring a $931,787 development fee, is sending a signal that it will take the lead on combating substance abuse and other issues with housing and economic opportunity. Indians disproportionately are unemployed and homeless in Minneapolis.
The project also is the eastern edge of a mile-long span of Franklin Avenue that is emerging as the American Indian Cultural Corridor.
It already features Indian-themed housing, art galleries, eateries and plans for a $15 million overhaul and expansion that could begin as early as next year for the 45-year-old Minneapolis American Indian Center on Franklin at Bloomington Avenue.
“This is a community vision,” said CEO Robert Lilligren of the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI), based in a refurbished building at 14th Avenue and E. Franklin. “And we are keepers of the community vision.
“Our vision is a Native American cultural corridor that leverages the historic association [along E. Franklin] with the native community,” said Lilligren, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe. “We will create a destination between downtown and the airport that takes advantage of growing interest in native culture, an economic engine that is native-driven but inclusive of all communities.”
Franklin and the Phillips Neighborhood long have been populated by immigrants, from Scandinavian settlements of the late 19th century to Hispanic, Southeast Asian, East African immigrants and thousands of Indians who started coming to the city for work in the 1950s.
The architect behind Mino-bimaadiziwin is Sam Olbekson, also a member of the White Earth Nation.
He grew up between relatives on the reservation and a mother who lived mostly on the South Side. Olbekson, a sharp student with a bent for math and art at Minneapolis Roosevelt High, earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in architecture and urban design 25 years ago at Ivy League universities Cornell and Harvard, respectively.
Olbekson, 48, is an architect at Cuningham Group and also, to avoid conflicts with Cuningham, for a decade has run his own Indian-oriented design boutique. He can charge what he wishes, including nothing. Olbekson also is chairman of the board of the Indian Center and of NACDI.
“The new American Indian Center will transform this part of the city’s cultural development,” Olbekson said, sharing a couple of stunning renderings. “The existing 1970s building was built as a service center. It’s somewhat dilapidated. But the bones are good enough to build on.
“The idea of the cultural corridor is not exclusive. We’re trying to promote and engage other organizations.”
Indeed, CEO Christina Carleton of Norway House, part of the National Norwegian Center in America, a few blocks west of the Indian Center, is raising capital for a $13 million event center and other improvements on a one-square block “campus” that includes the Norway House cultural center and bistro, in a refurbished building since 2015, and the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church of Minneapolis.
Carleton, whose Norway House also leases office space to African-rooted businesses, said last week: “ We couldn’t be happier to see the beginnings of a new chapter of the Phillips neighborhood on East Franklin Avenue with a Native American Cultural Corridor that keeps ties to the past, carries on their traditions and adds to a Minneapolis that is home to many cultures, art and food.”
Executive Director Mary LaGarde of the Indian Center said she has started the transition of the center from a social-services center that serves Indians to a centerpiece of Indian foods, art, health programs, pow wows, exhibitions and more.
The redesign will renovate and expand the center with a glass-wall front along E. Franklin to showcase the Two Rivers Gallery, Woodland Crafts Gift Shop and expanded Gatherings restaurant.
“I’d love to break ground in 2021,” LaGarde said. “The building needs to be upgraded.
“When it rains, we catch the water from the leaky roof in buckets.”
La Garde has raised $6 million-plus, including a $5 million matching appropriation from the Minnesota Legislature.
“I’ve got $9 million to go,” she said.
Her capital campaign includes Lilligren, Mayor Jacob Frey, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo; an executive of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, which is focusing more on Indian economic development; Dave Bice, the Indian owner of Bald Eagle Erectors; and Eric Jolly of the St. Paul Foundation.
Across an Indian-themed plaza, just 50 yards east of the Indian Center, developers American Indian Community Development Corp. and Project for Pride in Living (PPL) in 2015 opened Anishinabe II, an $11.4 million, 77-unit housing complex, including a refresh of the original 45-unit Anishinabe project. The campus sits on a beautifully landscaped setting that 30 years ago was a wasteland, littered with booze bottles.
“A vibrant Native American presence matters, including the nearby Many Rivers Native American housing,” said PPL CEO Paul Williams, whose two renovated buildings and housing and job training center are at 11th and E. Franklin. “The residents support local businesses.”