David Frank stumbled into the development world by accident.
Frank, who grew up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, had moved to Portland, Ore. In order to make ends meet, Frank decided to work at a real estate company.
"I realized that this was the happiest coincidence you can imagine because it was a perfect personality fit," Frank said. "Detailed and big picture. … How to make it very local and also matter bigger picture."
In Portland, he worked in the private sector, then for the Portland Development Commission. He moved to Minneapolis and worked for a private developer, then jumped over to the city of Minneapolis, where he was recently approved as director of Minneapolis' Department of Community Planning and Economic Development.
Q: How did you end up in the Twin Cities?
A: As I was working for the city of Portland, I met the person who I needed to be with who was here, and so we talked about it and decided that here was the right place for us to be. So here I am. That was 17 or 18 years ago now. I looked around for awhile and got a job with Schafer Richardson. We started with renovating the top floors of the Bassett Creek Business Center into condos, 710 (Lofts), 720, 730 where I live. We worked on the Pillsbury A Mill project across the river, Phoenix On the River. Then right at the recession, former Mayor R.T. Rybak asked me to come here and work on transit-oriented development for Minneapolis. He made a very Mayor Rybak-like pitch, "We have the best development job in the known universe, and we want you to do it." So I said "yes" to that and I came here and worked on transit-oriented development for a few years. About three years ago, I became the city's economic development director. Then Mayor Betsy Hodges in August of last year asked me to be interim director that held on to this year and you know the rest (that he was Mayor Jacob Frey's pick for the permanent job).
Q: What are some of your priorities and how are they reflected in the city's draft comprehensive plan that was recently released?
A: One of my priorities is to be focused on some of the diversity and equity pieces of CPED [Community Planning and Economic Development] as an organization. I want us to do better at diverse hiring. I want us to do better with contracting with diverse businesses, businesses owned by minorities and women. We have a committee that has been focused within the department on what can we do to make ourselves more welcoming and more engaging and a better place to work for people with diverse backgrounds. I want to reinvigorate that. It's been focused mostly on training and workshops and I want it to be much, much more than that. The comprehensive plan is largely about equity. That is one of the things last year the council charged us with — making sure that the comp plan lives up to the city's own equity vision and equity goals.
Q: How does this tie into affordable housing?
A: This council is asking questions at almost every committee meeting where CPED is presenting, "How does this, whatever it is that we are talking about that day, relate to affordable housing? How does it advance equity and how does it advance our affordable housing programs or requirements?" Those are the questions that we are getting. The comp plan is very much about more density, which will be and needs to be affordable to more residents. You are increasing the supply, so supply and demand says the cost should be able to go down somewhat. Also there's investment by the public that we are prepared to make.
Q: Where are some challenge areas where you think there should be more investment?
A: We like to say that CPED focuses its investments in areas of market challenge. Sometimes people say in areas of market failure, where the market is not today producing because the rents don't support the renovation costs or development costs and the land costs, where housing is not happening unless it's subsidized. We like to say that we invest our resources, our people, our time and the city's money in parts of town and locations where the market is challenged. We spend a lot of people time and money in north Minneapolis. That is why we spend a lot of people, time and money in parts of south Minneapolis like Phillips and East Phillips.
Q: A lot of developers look at the popularity and growth of the North Loop as something to emulate. Can what happened there be duplicated in other parts of the city?
A: If I were to show up at a community meeting or City Council meeting and were to say that the right thing for West Broadway or Lake Street is North Loop-style development, I would expect a very strong negative reaction, because that carries with it gentrification and certainly displacement. You get a hot restaurant coming and they can pay more rent, and now the people who have been there who might own the building or rent the building, because taxes and land costs are going to go up, all of a sudden there's displacement of those people who have been in that neighborhood and that community for awhile. So I would say when North Loop is mentioned these days in community meetings and at council discussions, it is more of a cautionary tale.
Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495 • Twitter: @nicolenorfleet