Business and non-profits: Neighborhood partners in St. Paul


Business owners and community organizers may look like two completely different interest groups from Washington, but in the neighborhoods of Minneapolis and St. Paul, they have forged alliances that work. Two St. Paul stories highlight successful partnerships between businesses and community organizations.

Part of what helps bridge the gap between commerce and neighborhoods are non-profit organizations—both those who aim to support businesses and those who aim to develop community. One such organization is Riverview Economic Development Association (REDA), an organization founded in 1983 by a group of St. Paul’s West Side business owners. According to its website, the business owners developed a strategy that would provide leadership in community-based economic development and would become a catalyst for commercial and public improvements. 

Brian Gioielli, from REDA, said that the organization could not achieve its mission to create a thriving business community without partnerships with community-based organizations and residents.  One way to create those partnerships, he said, was for staff and board members of REDA to serve on other boards, and to include their input in decision-making. “We try to make decisions in a thoughtfu,l partnered way,” he said. 

REDA has strong collaborative partnerships with Neighborhood House, the West Side Citizens Organization, and Neighborhood Development Alliance, as well as with local churches and the city’s District Councils. 

“Working with business owners—that’s the most critical part of the work that I do,” Gioielli said.  “We partner with local business owners at every turn.”  REDA provides services for businesses, hosts networking events and educational seminars, and creates programming to support them, such as a buy local campaign that REDA initiated. 

REDA plays a crucial role as a communicator and leader, Gioielli said, both between different business owners and between neighborhood organizations, residents, and the city.  “We make sure the voices are heard, whatever the solution might be,” he said. 

REDA has been involved in different community planning processes, with District del Sol being a prime example. REDA is the central organization for St. Paul’s Cinco de Mayo Festival as well as Music and Movies in the Park in District del Sol.  Gioielli said when the organization surveyed people who came to the Cinco de Mayo Festival, 90 percent of them said they’ll come back to District del Sol within nine months.  “It’s important to create an identity for an area, so that it’s not just one business that’s successful, but we all can be successful.”

REDA produced a video that shows businesses and community organizations discussing the ways they work together to build the neighborhood.

REDA helped come up with branding and initiatives for District del Sol, and is now is working on two other processes, on Smith Avenue and on the Robert Street and Cesar Chavez intersection.  Sometimes, Gioielli said, people have different ideas about the future for those areas.  “An organization like REDA can help flesh out the different options to find the best solution for everyone,” he said. 

What is the New Normal?

Whether we’ve come across the phrase or not, all of us, in some way, are experiencing a “New Normal.” Because of the economic downturn we may have lost a job or experienced job insecurity. We may be worried for the first time ever about whether we can afford to keep our house, make rent payments, or pay for health insurance. Many of us may be monitoring the price of gas more closely or choosing to bike, walk, or take mass transit whenever possible. Feeling the pinch, we’re scaling back. We’re nervous about our futures and the futures of younger people in our lives.

Then we open up the morning paper or turn on the news and learn about budget cuts at the federal, state, and city level. Foundations, we discover, are scaling back their levels of giving, too. Programs we’ve come to rely upon are suddenly under the knife, their futures uncertain. Communities throughout the Twin Cities metropolitan area are feeling the impact. Neighborhood-based organizations are confronting a host of challenges. There’s growing need for their services, but less revenue and strained resources. Painful adjustments must be made in this harsh, new environment.

This month the Twin Cities Daily Planet launches a series of news stories and community conversations devoted to exploring the New Normal and seeking solutions. We’ll be asking people, in person and online, about the obstacles they’re confronting and how they’ve adjusted their priorities and goals. Each month, from March through November, the Daily Planet will focus on a different aspect of this new set of realities. We’ll look at how the New Normal affects the state budget, work, health care, the arts, the environment, public services, education, and inequality.

We begin the series at the most local level, neighborhoods:
Twin Cities neighborhoods grapple with the “New Normal”
• Pride and progress: Beautification, branding, business
• Businesses and non-profits: Neighborhood partners
• City budgets: Money in, money out in Minneapolis and St. Paul
• Q&As with community leaders

Join us for a community conversation on Neighborhoods and the New Normal.Community conversations are scheduled for:

Hamline Midway Coalition
March 22, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
1564 Lafond Avenue, St. Paul

West Broadway Coalition
March 23, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
McDonalds Community Room
916 West Broadway Avenue, Minneapolis

WSCO West Side Citizens Organization
March 29, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
127 W. Winifred Street, St. Paul

Lake Street Council
March 31, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
US Bank Lower level conference room
919 East Lake Street, Minneapolis

Host your own conversation!

Email lisa@tcdailyplanet to find out how.

Unlike REDA, whose main objective is to cultivate and sustain a thriving business community, Aurora St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation (ASANDC) aims to support community members and residents, and foster relationships between neighborhoods.  Like REDA, ASANDC strives to foster strong relationships between the two parts of the community. 

In the case of ASANDC, building relationships with business partners becomes even more crucial in a time when University Avenue is preparing for the light rail to come through. 

Nieeta Presley, Executive Director of ASANDC said that her organization tries to encourage patronizing local businesses.  They are also working with the Neighborhood Development Fund to help those who own businesses in the area to improve and enhance their business skills.  “The local economy is the stable force of communities,” Presley said.  “We’re really setting up an identity and helping to create a destination place for the community so that we are creating that essence for marketing.”

What does a strong relationship between businesses and communities entail?  “When you walk into the store, they greet you by name,” Presley said.  In turn, ASANDC uses local businesses for events when they need catering, for example.  “These businesses are always going the extra mile—giving discounts for people that live the area, providing space for meetings, and they buy ads in the newsletter.”

With U7, a collaborative of seven different nonprofits in the Twin Cities assisting businesses on University Avenue preparing for light rail construction, ASANDC has been involved in developing marketing inventory, and is looking at lending for façade improvement loans. 

For the most part, businesses and residents see eye to eye, Presley said, though there has been some tension over the parking issue.  “We know there’s going to be less parking for business,” Presley said.  “We don’t want parking for businesses to infringe on residents.  We’re trying to working on parking issues together.”  Strategies that have come forward for discussion include deferring taxes for businesses, and having the city reduce the number of parking spots required for businesses.  There is also talk of sharing parking spots, particularly for businesses that have different hours of operation.  Another possibility is building more parking ramps, possibly incorporated with another project, such as one that would include affordable housing with commercial at the bottom.  “We need to explore it more fully,” Presley said.  “Parking is a huge issue.” 

Because the Aurora Saint Anthony area is so diverse, there are also relationships to nurture between different cultural groups, and businesses and organizations can be a part of that.  Building those relationships and strength within the community have positive results, as in the case of Flamingo restaurant. The restaurant almost went under last year when a power outage destroyed their refrigeration, which wasn’t covered by their insurance.  Neighbors came forward to give extra support to the restaurant through patronage, Presley said, and her organization made it a point to let people know to help the business out “to show local support.”

Flamingo restaurant survived the crisis, and is giving back to the community.  Not only does the restaurant offer space to Aurora Saint Anthony for community meetings, but co-owner Shegitu Kebede, who won the McKnight Humanitarian Award in 2006, says the restaurant has plans to partner with Gordon Park High School, an alternative school, mentoring students.  Kebede will be giving seminars and mentoring students next fall, and students will come to the restaurant to learn about the business. (Photo, left, from Flamingo Facebook page.)

Kebede says she knows personally what it means to be a struggling teen. She herself was a pregnant teenager and has been in poverty.  “It’s kind of personal for me,” she said.  “I wanted to empower people like that.”  In addition to offering mentorship opportunities at her restaurant, she said she hopes to connect the students to other restaurants in the neighborhood.  She ran a similar program in Minneapolis. 

Though Kebede’s desire to help others is an end in itself, she also says that it helps her business.  “When we connect with each other, we create visibility,” she said.  “It’s a silent way of marketing.”  

As Bruce Johansen writes in his introduction to this month’s focus on neighborhoods, today’s economy poses tough challenges to neighborhoods, but when businesses, nonprofits and residents work together, they can make a difference to create a better place to live.  

Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Collaborative.