By Maya Rao

Mayor R. T. Rybak highlighted the need to bolster north Minneapolis in his State of the City address Wednesday, linking the fate of the struggling neighborhood with the wellbeing of the entire city.

Noting that the area’s disproportionate need warrants disproportionate investments, Rybak said, “If the city wants to grow, the key will be North Minneapolis.”

Hundreds of people crowded into the recently renovated Capri Theater on W. Broadway Avenue to hear the speech, which called for greater focus on improving safety, housing, jobs, and opportunities for youth in the North Side.

The Star Tribune received an advanced copy of the 14-page address, which Rybak is delivering right now.

Rybak’s speech voiced dismay at last year’s Census figures that showed that the city’s population had barely changed because, while downtown and other areas gained population, more than 7,700 people left north Minneapolis in the last decade.

“Our city can grow fast, right away … just by getting more people to move to north Minneapolis,” the mayor said.
He said the city would begin several new programs to address those challenges.

One is Green Homes North, a loan and subsidy program that will help produce 20 green homes a year on city-owned vacant lots on the North Side, particularly in the area affected by the tornado that struck the neighborhood last May. The Minnesota Housing Finance Agency committed $500,000 to the project last week.

Lambasting the city’s wide unemployment gap between blacks and whites, Rybak said the city will also begin an internship program called Urban Scholars to bring college students in as interns to work in key areas. That program comes as Minneapolis is committee to hiring more interns for STEP-UP - which finds youth, mostly of color, summer jobs at local companies, nonprofits and public agencies.

Rybak also announced that plans to renovate the library on Emerson Avenue into a workforce development center would break ground with a pledge of $250,000 from the UnitedHealth Foundation.

“The racial employment gap is morally wrong and potentially economically ruinous for north Minneapolis and our entire region in the near and especially long term,” said Rybak. “We must eliminate it once and for all.”

Rybak touted some of the neighborhood’s successes: violent crime has fallen 45 percent in north Minneapolis; the city helped 350 buyers purchase vacant or foreclosed homes through a program called Minneapolis Advantage, a majority of them in the North Side; and another city program led to removal of blight in more than 100 area properties and the rehabbing or new building of 43 homes.

Meanwhile, he said, the Northside Achievement Zone had received a five-year $28 million federal grant to build academic success.

And he said the city would not stop at improving transit in the North Side with the proposed Bottineau light rail line, but also emphasis street cars to build the community. This year, he added, construction will start on the Van White Bridge that will allow easier access to downtown.

“North Minneapolis may not be the simplest or easiest place to live or work,” Rybak said. “But it is filled with people with remarkable strength … and there is much more to come,” he said.