County begins new search for hub spot, partners

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Hennepin County officials will start another, more deliberate and community-oriented process of locating the right place for their planned social services hub scheduled to open in 2014. After the Ackerberg Group proposal for Broadway and Girard bombed due to parking concerns and neighborhood opposition (“it had lots of support, too” said Dan Engstrom, the County’s human services head), “it is a lesson learned.”

“To be transparent…there was more input out there than had been received. Parking and siting seemed to be pretty big hurdles for a small but vocal group.” Engstrom acknowledged the desire for more retail space. “New construction might offer more flexibility to do that. Will retail actually come there, remains to be seen.”

Many neighbors wanted to see “multi-use” and other non-social-service functions, such as license renewal, at the hub building. Engstrom said with other entities such as the post office or Triple-A doing some of these services, “do they want to continue supporting with tax dollars? There’s a lot of moving parts to this. So we’re going to re-load the process, look for partners, and opportunities.”

Several suggested sites have bubbled up, and people have wanted to talk, Engstrom said. The County will be putting together the list of requirements for a site, to go out in a Request for Proposals,, along with deadlines and timelines. There will then be “a little more structured process to get input from other groups. We thought it better to start the re-set and are getting some consultation on that.”

The idea of moving out of Century Plaza downtown and into the regions served has been around since 2005, Engstrom said. In North Minneapolis “this was going to be a partnership of the University of Minnesota, the YMCA, NorthPoint and Hennepin Human Services. The University put in UROC. Some of the mechanics of our parking were insurmountable. We looked for other sites. Lincoln Junior High emerged, and then Ackerberg came forward with that site.”

One new partner might be the Workforce Center, which has outgrown its location and is looking for new space, Engstrom said, though meetings with them have yet to be set. “In the mid-1990s when the Workforce centers were started, we weren’t coordinated with them. We ended up pigeonholing our staff in their buildings.”

Though the hubs will be different depending on the needs in each community, an example of a hub that’s almost ready to go is the northwest hub, a partnership between the Community Emergency Action Program (CEAP), Hennepin County and the Osseo School District, which includes Adult Basic Education. It’s scheduled to open in October 2012.

Engstrom said the hubs are where people receiving services would go for their initial contact, after which many could be met in the field where it’s more convenient for them. The County is looking for a hub location with good access to mass transit as well as parking space.