A tense community meeting at the Darul Quba mosque in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood on July 6 saw neighborhood youth confronting community leaders and George Sherman of Sherman Associates, the local developer that owns Riverside Plaza, on the status of the youth center currently located in Riverside Plaza.
During the past week, rumors in the neighborhood suggested that the homework center at the Riverside Plaza would move to make room for a public safety center. Youth advocate Salma Hussein, who volunteers in the neighborhood, was the first to publicly speak out in protest: “So instead of creating more programming,” she asked in a letter to community leaders, “are we as a community deciding to take away space for the existing one that currently serves a large number of the neighborhood youth and families?”
The safety center would include offices for Minneapolis police, and is part of an 18-point Cedar Riverside Safety Plan agreement. The provisions for the safety center are also set out in a Memorandum of Understanding – see sidebar.
|Memorandum of Understanding|
The Memorandum of Understanding between the City of Minneapolis and the Cedar Riverside Limited Partnership (building owners), includes this provision for a safety center:
2., For up to 10 years from the funding closing but not sooner than July 31, 2011, the Owner will allocate approximately 1,100 square feet of space within the Riverside Plaza for a new Safety Center. The Owner will work collaboratively with the WBCC Safety Committee and RPTA to jointly establish the goals, objectives, and program for the Safety Center which may include:
An online petition she created rallied about thirty young people to seek an audience with Sherman, who came to Wednesday’s meeting to give the community a status update on the progress of the Riverside Plaza rehabilitation project.
In addressing the anxious youth, Sherman acknowledged that there was tremendous need for non-residential space at the plaza and that there have been conversations with the Cedar Riverside Community School, located in the plaza, about using the charter school’s facility for after-school activities. “I will turn it over to RPTA [Riverside Plaza Tenants Association] to work with tenants on identifying space,” Sherman said.
When asked by the Daily Planet if the safety center would displace the youth center, Sherman neither confirmed nor denied the rumor, saying, “There will be a positive outcome… there will have to be sharing of spaces, I don’t have room for everyone.”
There has been no formal announcement made on the location of the safety center, but some residents say there are indications that the youth center is the designated space.
Saeed Fahia is the director of the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota (CSCM), which runs the youth homework help center in the Riverside Plaza. Fahia said that in a meeting last week with a representative of Sherman Associates, Debra Goodman, his organization was given a month’s notice to leave. But, he said, the notice was verbal, not in writing.
“I need something in writing to present to my board of directors, but I have nothing in writing,” said Fahia. According to Fahia, his organization’s lease allows for a 120-day notice to vacate.
Fahia said he feels like he is in a “shadow boxing match.” “We heard rumors, but nobody told us anything. I called Goodman and asked her if the safety center would be moving into the youth center, and she said ‘yes we are considering that, but its not the only place.’”
At press time, it is not clear what the status of the youth center is, but there has been a verbal commitment by the Riverside Plaza Tenants Association (RPTA) that the youth center will not be displaced. RPTA’s acting executive director, Abdirizak Mahboub, said, “I’m finding out that there are many spaces, in the Chase and E buildings, that can be utilised by the community.”
In response, CSCM’s Fatima Hussein, who is the Youth Program Director, said, “At this point, we would like something in writing from both RPTA and Sherman Associates.”
In July, the Riverside Plaza safety committee passed a motion that read “The Safety Committee supports the creation of a safety center in the neighborhood, but does not support the displacing of the youth center.” Members of the committee (see sidebar for safety committee members) will then have to go back to their respective boards to get their support for the resolution.
Russom Solomon, who chairs the neighborhood safety committee, said he is passionate about youth programs, but insisted that the safety center has been a priority of the committee for many years. “We have negotiated a long time [with Sherman Associates] for space for the safety center,” he said.
Solomon also said he only learned of the location of the safety center at the end of June when he received an email from Sherman Associates. “We did not ask for a specific spot, but wanted a space; our intention is not to displace youth,” he said.
The safety center plan was set out in a December memorandum of understanding signed by the Minneapolis Police Department and several neighborhood organizations. (See sidebar for list.) Sherman Associates committed to making an in-kind contribution of a 1,100 square feet of space within the Riverside Plaza with the value of this space and its utilities and maintenance totalling $150,000 for ten years.
|Memorandum of Understanding, Riverside Plaza Project|
The organizations signing the Riverside Plaza Project MOU were:
West Bank Community Coalition Crime Prevention
Riverside Plaza Tenants Association
Minneapolis Police Department
Cedar Riverside Limited Partnership (Sherman Associates)
Cedar Riverside Safety Committee members and affiliations
CSCM’s main office is housed at the Brian Coyle Center, but two of its programs, East African Women’s Center and the homework help center, are across the street at the Riverside Plaza. Fatima Hussein said the homework center, which serves about ninety kids a day, is very popular, mostly because it is located in the Riverside Plaza. “Parents feel that their kids are safer because they are close to home.”
Many of her volunteers are students from Hamline University, Augsburg College and the University of Minnesota; others are high school students.
Fowsia and Kuisi Adan are sisters whose children use the center. Their children, they said, have found mentors in the center who keep them out of trouble.
Keeping youth engaged as a safety measure is a refrain echoed by several people interviewed by the Daily Planet. None of the people we spoke to were against the safety center, they just did not want it to displace the homework help center.
Councilman Cam Gordon, was impressed by the turnout of community members to speak out for neighborhood youth. “Nobody wanted to displace the youth center,” he said. “We need to figure out how to create more space for different social services in the neighborhood.”
“I don’t know where we will go if our lease is not renewed. We might just have to look for a location outside the neighborhood, and that is not ideal,” Fahia, the CSCM executive said.
Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Collaborative.