Hospital land grab angers Phillips residents


If it would wreck your whole day to come home from work and discover your house was gone, then you need to read this story, because it could happen to you! This is real. It is not a test. It is not science fiction and you have not just entered the Twilight Zone. You have entered the Lifesciences Corridor, another dimension where homes are dispensable, parking ramps are the future, and hospitals can go from “good neighbor” to “perpetrator” in the blink of an eye.

Don’t take my word for it folks, take a walk or drive around the 2500 block of Chicago Ave. and you will see what the future has in store for you. The once stately and solid Victorian houses are gone now—nothing but a memory and a flat place in the dirt. This is the awful truth. It is not a cruel hoax, a bad joke or a dream from which you can awaken to find a world that still makes sense. This ain’t no disco, fellow citizens, and we’re definitely not in Kansas anymore. Who needs the excitement of reality TV when we all live in an endangered environment? “Survivor: Phillips Neighborhood” is filming at a block near you.

This is a story about how a corporation can turn a neighborhood into a parking lot in less time than it takes KFC to rustle up a bucket of extra crispy. A story of how a city block in Phillips West came to be destroyed by Children’s Hospital without the consent of the neighbors or the neighborhood organization. How Children’s Hospital broke a formal, solemn and binding covenant with the residents of our block and community, and placed 13 more blocks at risk. How the neighbors didn’t learn of Children’s impending encroachment until the hospital already had control of most of the homes through their intermediary, developer Jim Dowds (aka Prima Land Inc.). It’s the story of how we left for work one day surrounded by lovely, century-old houses, and came home that evening to find one of those homes and its trees gone; and over the following days and weeks another, and another, until eight houses were obliterated, along with all the trees. How all this was done in blatant violation of a Multi-Block Land Use Covenant signed by Children’s Hospital—a 14-block agreement which existed to protect every single home on my block, “Block 5,” and the other 13 blocks surrounding the hospitals.

This is the story of how we went to sleep one night with plans for future home improvements, and awoke the next day to learn that the run-down home we invested in and nursed back to health might not have a future. The story of how Project for Pride in Living gave a death sentence to the beautiful homes that for years served as their offices by selling them with the knowledge they would be demolished. How developer Jim Dowds failed to live up to his reputation for communicating with neighbors and acting in good faith in his involvement with our block.

This is the story of how we and our neighbors discovered that our houses are now part of a “Lifesciences Corridor,” though that wasn’t the case when we purchased our homes and started investing in our neighborhood. The story of how nearly two-thirds of Phillips West was designated as such without our consent, and without the consent of the Phillips West Neighborhood Organization. How Mayor R.T. Rybak chairs the board of the Lifesciences Corridor and is allowing a group of “16 doctors and other interested individuals” to “govern” us, his constituents. How our designation as a Lifesciences Corridor is steering land-use decisions toward medical use and away from residential use, and forcing those of us who own the homes that have stood on this land for generations to justify why our houses are a good idea. How the objectives of eminent domain are being accomplished absent the formality, through a daunting alliance of corporate and city leadership.

Most importantly, this is the story of a group of neighbors who are fighting back. “It’s Not Too Late To Save Block 5!” is a grassroots organization of residents of Phillips West and neighboring communities who are fighting—for our homes, for what is left of the block bordered by Chicago and Columbus avenues, and 25th and 26th streets, for the neighborhoods that find themselves part of a Lifesciences Corridor that is threatening their residential properties with extinction, and for the rights of others who will be subjected to the same treatment if we allow the corporate expansionists to bulldoze their way into our lives and obliterate our community.

The implications of what is occurring in our neighborhood with little or no public review are monumental. And the power alliance that has been formed to implement the “green light” for medical development in the LifeSciences Corridor is formidable. This Consortium is chaired by Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, and we are being directly and drastically affected by the implementation of their directives. The enormity of what we are living through is truly incomprehensible. It’s hard to describe the feeling we have when we look out our windows and see an open field of mud, dirt and debris where our neighbors’ homes recently stood. In the past, when we heard others refer to our community as a “war zone,” we thought they were expressing their views about street crime and their perceptions about the threats that they believe make Phillips neighborhood an undesirable place to live. My neighbors and I love this neighborhood and the community we’ve created within it, and we are not afraid of things that we can affect by working with local law enforcement officials and other organizations. However, the devastation that we have seen in the past several months, with the apparent blessing of the officials who we rely upon to protect us, has been nothing short of a massive assault on the future stability of our homes and the surrounding area. This assault has nothing to do with the petty criminals who we sometimes see on the evening news. It has to do with broken promises and what appears to be a drastic and radical departure from inclusive governmental process.

A Little Background
We learned of the impending invasion of our block quite by accident last July, when a neighbor came upon a copy of minutes from April’s Abbott Northwestern Community Advisory Committee (ANCAC) meeting. The minutes detailed a discussion regarding plans by Children’s Hospital to build a medical office building and 468-stall parking ramp on Chicago Avenue. At the time, my neighbors and I were unaware of this committee’s existence, and that they were discussing a matter of such importance to us with the intention of advising Children’s Hospital on our behalf (we were also unaware that six of the eight houses that Children’s wanted for the development had already been purchased by their intermediary, developer Jim Dowds). Alarmed, we telephoned Children’s Hospital and requested that they send someone to our July meeting to communicate with us about these plans.

About two weeks later, Dan Kratz, senior director of business development at Children’s Hospital, attended our meeting and assured us that 1) we shouldn’t worry about the residential character of Columbus Avenue because Children’s was planning to build a Ronald McDonald–style housing development for patients’ families on Columbus; 2) the parking ramp and medical office building would both be located on Chicago Avenue; 3) both of those structures would be built within the current zoning restriction of four stories or 56 feet; 4) those of us who would remain on Columbus need not worry about being forced out, as Children’s had all the land they needed for the development, and no interest whatsoever in the remaining properties; and 5) Children’s intended to allow the neighbors substantial input into the development. Neighbors voiced their opposition to the medical office building and parking ramp, but supported the housing for patients’ families.

Things were relatively quiet until September, when we were again alarmed to read in ANCAC minutes that “three other properties on Columbus” were to be targeted In Phase 2.” Back to the ANCAC meeting we went, only to be assured by Kratz that the minutes contained a typographical error, that the properties targeted for Phase 2 were on Chicago Avenue, not Columbus. And assured, yet again, that the remaining Columbus properties were of no interest whatsoever to Children’s Hospital.

Having acquired seven properties on Chicago and Columbus Avenues, Dowds then sold them as a bundle to Children’s Hospital, which began demolishing the houses, along with the trees that graced those lots on our formerly tree-covered block. Though they reportedly tried to move as many of the houses as possible, they only succeeded with one of the eight. At recent community meetings, Dowds/Prima Land and Children’s Hospital have offered a lot of explanations to justify this failure. But the fact is that none of the houses were problem properties, and most of them were wonderful old homes. Some of them could have used a little TLC, though all were in better shape than was our now-beautiful house when we purchased it six years ago. These houses were the soul of the neighborhood, and those of us who appreciate older homes recognized their value and sought to prevent their destruction.

Fool Me Once
Have you ever looked back on a time when you were duped, and wondered how you could have been so naive? So susceptible? So gullible and exploitable? Oh, I have excuses that I could use to assuage my embarrassment. Obviously, I’m too trusting. And we had a vacation during that 4-5 month period after Dan Kratz came to our block club—it took forever just to get ready for that. And there was a friend’s health emergency, and the holidays. Most embarrassing of all, I just didn’t think we could do anything about it. After all, they didn’t use eminent domain (though we would later learn that in a sense they did). Dowds may have conducted his business behind our backs, but as far as we know the owners of those properties sold to him willingly. And we didn’t yet know about the Multi-Block Land Use Covenant (more on that later). But the sad truth is that I’d been had, as had my neighbors. It took a Catalpa tree to knock me out of my stupor.

You’ll remember that a Ronald McDonald House was to be built on Columbus. So how do you suppose I felt when I came home one day to find the most beautiful tree on the block—maybe the most beautiful in the neighborhood—gone, never to grace what we were promised would be the front yard of Ronald’s house? If you guessed “physically ill,” you are correct. So that was the first sign. I knew that tree would have been left standing if a residential use was planned for that lot, and from that point forward all signs indicated something troubling was afoot.

In January, I looked out the window and saw surveyors in the yard of the house to my south (one of the houses that Children’s had “absolutely no interest in,” remember?). Worse, one of them was relieving himself on the house, apparently feeling it too daunting a workout to walk a half-block to the bathrooms of their “employer,” Children’s Hospital. I went outside to communicate my displeasure, only to be greeted by a painfully embarrassed fellow who, while grovelling for my forgiveness, explained to me he’d been told the remaining five houses on the southwestern corner of our block were vacant—that “Children’s was taking them.” I attended the ANCAC monthly meeting that very night, and learned that Children’s Hospital was not only purchasing one of the houses they had repeatedly claimed to have no interest in, but that their “vision is to control the entire block” (which provides the context for their purchasing the house). This changed everything. I objected strenuously, at which point an ANCAC member recommended that Children’s enter into a contract with the remaining homeowners to assure us that our homes would be safe from further encroachment. Kratz stated he would discuss this with the appropriate individuals and report back at the February meeting.

On February 16 I attended Children’s architect selection interviews as a “community representative,” only to see each of the finalists present a map of our block that showed a vacant space where the remaining five houses—including our house—currently stand. The church, corner store, and gas station that occupy the other three corners of the block were all there, but our houses were curiously missing. Imagine each finalist placing an overlay atop this map. Imagine my increasing dismay when this overlay showed a parking ramp on Columbus, where Ronald’s house was supposed to be. And imagine my horror when, for the final act, one of them went so far as to draw an arrow through the area where our house exists in reality, if not on their map, to indicate where Children’s parking ramp will one day be built. As though it’s already a vacant lot. So you understand that it came as a surprise, and an extremely cruel one at that, to see us wiped off the map, our beloved house demolished, the image of a parking ramp in its place.

Four days later, at the February ANCAC meeting, I listened as Kratz gave his “development update” minus a mention of the parking ramp now planned for Columbus rather than Chicago Avenue. He also reported that Children’s would not be comfortable entering into a contract with the remaining homeowners on Columbus. The implication was that they simply couldn’t agree to never, ever, ever purchase these properties, even if the owners wanted to sell them, though the truth was we just wanted assurance that we wouldn’t be forced out. When he finished, I expressed my dismay and my fear for the future of our block, and informed the committee that as far as Columbus Avenue was concerned, Ronald’s house was out, a parking ramp was in, and the remaining houses had been figuratively, if not yet literally, wiped off the map. The ANCAC immediately passed a motion to oppose a parking ramp on Columbus and support protection of the remaining houses. This was heartening, but then again the ANCAC is just an advisory committee, and neighbors on 10th Avenue can confirm that Children’s has ignored their advice before.

A New Twist on the American Dream
It wasn’t what we envisioned upon becoming homeowners for the first time: In March, we were awakened at 4 a.m. on the third night after a snowstorm by a loud crashing sound coming from the alley behind our house. I flew out of bed and ran to the back windows, afraid that a car coming through the alley had hit ours in the driveway. I couldn’t imagine that such a sound at that time could be the result of anything but an accident. Instead, I saw a dump truck, contracted by Children’s Hospital, moving dirty, grimy snow that had fallen days before from a parking ramp and transporting it to our block. The symbology was hard to miss—having obliterated the houses and every single tree on the lots they now own, Children’s Hospital had decided that our block should serve as a dumping grounds, and that its residents should be kept awake while they created this mess in the middle of the night, in violation of city noise ordinances.

I bundled up, went out back and informed the hauler that he was keeping the neighbors awake, and can you guess what he said? “I’m sorry, ma’am, I thought these houses were vacant. The hospital said they own all these houses.” Incredulous, I asked for clarification, which he gave willingly: “Yeah, they said they own the whole block except the church and the corner store on the other end.”

I hope none of you will ever have to endure the experience of having to confront strangers who are breaking the law on your block only to be told that they thought the houses were vacant, that in fact you don’t even own your home, that in fact it is owned by the very corporation that has invaded your block on a broken promise, destroyed the homes and the trees, and treated you and your neighbors with nothing but disrespect, dishonesty, and dishonor for the past 13 months. The feeling is indescribably bleak. And speaking of feelings, how do you suppose you might feel if you went out into the alley behind your house to take a picture of bulldozers demolishing two houses, one of which your block club and the entire community were promised would be moved—only to be accosted by Children’s Hospital Security? That happened on March 18, and they demanded to know my name and my purpose for photographing their “private property” before demanding that I stop. And I imagine you might be disturbed to learn that the fire hose that is required to run pretty much nonstop during demolition—to prevent lead dust from contaminating the surrounding area and getting into the lungs of children, dogs, and everyone else—was instead used only to clean the windshields of the bulldozers. Children’s is responsible for the work done on their properties, and would be very well aware of the dangers that lead dust presented to everyone in the area—both inside and outside the hospital. But again, they chose to disregard the well-being of the neighborhood and violate yet another city ordinance.

These are simply the worst of the assaults; there are more, and it’s been escalating for months as the level of our opposition has increased. Children’s Hospital is the worst neighbor we’ve ever had, in this neighborhood or any other. In the few short months since Children’s became property owners on our block, their treatment of the remaining residents has not been limited to disrespect: it has been characterized by utter contempt.

Last year, Kratz listened to us go on for a while with our concerns about the BP gas station at 26th and Chicago. That place has been a problem for us since it last changed hands a few years ago, the primary issues being drug dealing, garbage and public urination (no bathrooms provided for customers). Well, Children’s purchased the BP in December, and lo and behold: we’re still dealing with drug activity, garbage and public urination. In fact, when our block club first formed a year ago, we identified three problem properties on our block; two of them occupied the corners on Chicago—the BP station and the corner store/deli—and were separated by five houses that never gave us a bit of trouble. Today, every one of those houses has been obliterated and—you guessed it—the two problem properties remain. The third problem property was the house to our south (the one the surveyor relieved himself on). It hadn’t been kept up so well over the years, and at one point we suspected drug activity, but it was vacant and problem-free for over six months before Children’s bought it. Now Children’s isn’t in the business of managing rental property, so Dowds is doing that for them. We were told the place would be remodeled and then rented out to responsible tenants; instead, we’re again seeing signs of drug activity. So the hospital has owned two of the three problem properties on our block for almost four months now, and those two properties are as troubling now, or more so, than before they took possession.

Poor Communication, Poor Excuses
Between the January ANCAC meeting, when Children’s first acknowledged their vision of controlling our entire block, and the February architect selection interviews, when maps with conveniently missing houses and ever-expanding parking ramps articulated this vision with jaw-dropping clarity, I finally began asking the questions that a less-naive individual might have asked months before. As it turns out, the old adage “better late than never” applies.

First I asked questions of Robert Lilligren, our City Council member, and learned that he met with Children’s Hospital in February of 2005, at which time he instructed them to communicate with the “residents most affected,” meaning those of us living on the block, and specifically cautioned them against communicating only with the ANCAC (this turned out to be excellent advice, as you may remember that none of us on the block even knew ANCAC existed). Children’s Hospital chose to ignore Council Member Lilligren’s instructions, and I suppose that served them well at the time; they were able to hide out at a hospital-sponsored community advisory committee that, despite the good intentions of some, nevertheless neglected to communicate with the affected members of the community—all the while characterizing this as “communicating with the neighborhood.”

Indeed, this is the “communication” that Children’s Hospital refers to today when they state that they have “discussed [the proposed development] with the community since February 2005.” They neglect to mention that the neighbors had no idea what was going on, that several of the ANCAC members pointed out to Children’s that their proposed development was in violation of a “multi-block agreement”, and that the ANCAC never issued a statement in support of the development. Another justification that we’ve heard recently from both Dowds and Children’s is that they couldn’t communicate with the “residents most affected,” because we didn’t exist (they mean our block club, which formed one year ago). But of course we existed—we lived right across the street, as we do now, in homes with doorbells and telephones and mail delivery. We spend a lot of time out watering our flowers and mowing our lawns and pulling weeds. We see each other out there and say hello, chat for a while. But no one from Prima Land ever stopped by, nor anyone from Children’s Hospital.

Dowds insisted at a recent Midtown Phillips meeting that he spoke with the neighbors on the block. But when he gave the names of those neighbors, we discovered that he was listing the folks whose homes he purchased. He never talked with us, the neighbors who would actually be affected by the proposed development, the ones who would still remain after the neighboring lots were purchased, the homes demolished, the trees uprooted.

I also asked questions of the Phillips West Neighborhood Organization—the official representative body for residents of our neighborhood. The most important question was a logical one that you may have already asked yourself: Given that Chicago Avenue serves as the boundary between Midtown Phillips, the neighborhood that houses Children’s existing structures, and Phillips West, the neighborhood that Children’s was about to invade, did Children’s Hospital ever approach the Phillips West Neighborhood Organization to inform them of their intended encroachment into the neighboring “hood?” The answer is yes, but not until August 2005—at which point Children’s had been communicating behind the scenes with ANCAC for seven months, and the fate of the houses and the trees was already sealed. So not even our official neighborhood organization was in the loop.

Of course, I had been asking questions of ANCAC for months—but as the events of January, February and March played out I began asking better questions, and requesting documents. In the process, I came upon something quite unexpected: The Multi-Block Land Use Covenant between Phillips Neighborhood and Neighborhood Health Related Organizations.

This was the document that I’d heard referenced by committee members as the “Multi-Block Agreement” in a couple of ANCAC meetings, though I hadn’t thought it could be very important given no one ever produced a copy, no one on the committee seemed to think they could help us protect our houses, and Kratz forgot to mention it at our block club meeting last July. But I was wrong: Here was a document that specifically protects every residential property in the 14-block area surrounding Children’s Hospital, Abbott Northwestern Hospital, and Phillips Eye Institute—including those on our block, “Block 5.” It was signed by officials at the highest levels of each of those institutions, along with Allina, Phillips West Neighborhood, Midtown Phillips Neighborhood, and the ANCAC. This was a turning point, and we began to organize in earnest.

A Broken Promise
The Multi-Block Land Use Covenant isn’t a new document; it’s successfully protected the residential properties surrounding the hospitals for decades, with revisions occurring approximately every ten years, according to available records and members of the community and ANCAC who were involved in its creation and maintenance. Children’s Hospital is the first to commit a serious violation of the Covenant, and that makes Block 5 a test case, the outcome of which will set a precedent that will either continue to offer protection for residential properties on the 14 blocks surrounding the hospital or render them all in danger of extinction.

The most recent revision of the Covenant, signed eight years ago, defines itself as “a formal, solemn and binding agreement” that “covers land use and physical development, safety and livability and other issues of mutual concern as they may arise.” The agreement stipulates “shared goals” regarding land use on “the blocks surrounding the health-use-related campus.” The shared land-use goals for Block 5, which today stands nearly obliterated, read as follows: “This block contains a desirable level of mixed-use commercial and residential that should be maintained. Keep up appearance and rehab existing buildings as necessary.” A subsequent section clarifies the status of houses as such: “Buildings that were originally built as housing will not be purchased/rented for health-related use with the possible exception of very large mansions on Park Avenue.”

After remaining mute on this issue at ANCAC, Block Club, and Phillips West and Midtown Phillips community meetings over the past few months, Children’s recently came up with a pretty powerful justification for not only purchasing, not only failing to “rehab as necessary,” but actually demolishing, for planned health related use, a rather shocking number of “buildings that were originally built as housing”: Apparently they considered three of the houses—the beautiful Victorians that had been owned and used as offices by PPL—to be “commercial structures.” And apparently that means that those houses, which of course were all originally built as housing and thus were protected by the Covenant, weren’t really built as housing at all because they were being used as offices.

The fact is, of course, that Children’s actions—despite their necessarily convoluted arguments to the contrary—represent an extremely serious violation of a “formal, solemn and binding” Land Use Covenant which they entered into with their neighbors. But their egregious noncompliance in the area of land use isn’t the only violation: the Covenant also obligates all parties “to ongoing communication with surrounding residents…as facility changes occur,” and to “include surrounding residents in planning and decision making.”

We’ve already discussed Children’s communication, or rather the lack of it. But it bears noting that timely and proactive communication to “surrounding residents” is an obligation that was deliberately built into the language of the agreement, and therefore an obligation that Children’s Hospital, as voluntary signers of the Covenant, undertook wholeheartedly.

Another obligation built into the language of the Covenant concerns enforcement of the agreement. And the language regarding this is strong: “All parties commit to aggressively support implementation of this agreement,” including “withholding of financial/political/affiliational support to projects that would conflict with the development goals” and “using their full resources to discourage location of health facilities that do not conform to this agreement.”

That doesn’t seem to leave much wiggle room? Yet, to date, having met with all signers of the Covenant to remind them of their duty to speak out against this serious violation, only Midtown Phillips has done so, with Phillips West—after a 25-0 straw poll in favor of enforcing the Covenant at an April 26 Community Meeting—expected to follow suit. So we’re in the unsurprising position of having no one but the organizations that represent the interests of residents attempting to enforce the Covenant. We are holding out hope that the ANCAC will come around—after all, the committee, despite being sponsored by the hospital and thus far from neutral—is composed entirely of residents of three of the Phillips neighborhoods. And we do have some hope that Allina, Abbott Northwestern Hospital, and Phillips Eye Institute will choose not to join Children’s in breaking a promise made to the neighbors—though if Allina spokesman David Orbuch’s words in that regard at our block club meeting last week are any indication, our hope may be ill-advised.

Now, there’s one more chapter to this story, and it’s a very important one. You’ll remember that earlier I detailed some of the questions I asked when it became clear that something was terribly, dreadfully wrong on our block? Well, there’s one question I left out, and it was both very general and very significant: “How did this happen to us?” I asked that question again and again, of friends, of neighbors, of community leaders in Phillips West and other neighborhoods. Most of them offered some sort of general, and often cynical, personal perspective. But a couple were more specific: They said I was living in a “Lifesciences Corridor.” This was news to me, and news to my neighbors. And as it turns out, very, very bad news.

Minneapolis Lifesciences Corridor
It took only two hours and a DSL for one of our block club members to find the limited information that is reasonably accessible online—from the city and other sources—regarding the “Minneapolis Lifesciences Corridor.” Nonetheless, when we were finished we knew more about this designation than 99.9 percent of the residents of Phillips West. Council Member Lilligren must be informed, and I suppose there might be another person or two “in the know.” But I’ve yet to find a single person who knows any details about it, and I’ve talked to dozens. Astonishingly, most people who today are homeowners in the Corridor appear to have no idea that their once-safe properties are now on a de facto “endangered list.” A little background is in order.

The Minneapolis Lifesciences Corridor is an arbitrary designation bestowed by the City of Minneapolis upon a tract of land that spans significant sections of five neighborhoods. What these neighborhoods have in common is that the “Chicago Avenue Corridor” runs through them, and as near as we can tell neither those neighborhoods’ official organizations, nor the residents who live and own property in them, gave their consent. Indeed, I wasn’t consulted, and I don’t know anyone who was. It happened recently—in fact, when we bought our house six years ago it was “Lifesciences Corridor”-free. Today it’s not, and it’s teetering on the verge of extinction.

Now you may be asking yourself, “How could this have happened? How could our mayor, as an elected official and public servant who is supposed to protect us, have allowed a designation of “Lifesciences Corridor” to be forced upon us, thus jeopardizing hundreds of homes in our neighborhoods? And how did this happen without my knowledge?”

These are all good questions, and I wish I had the answers; I promise I will ask Mayor Rybak these question when he returns my phone calls. I’ll also ask him who decided that the boundaries of this Lifesciences Corridor would span from the Metrodome (or thereabouts) on the north to Lake Street on the south, and from 10th Avenue on the east to Portland Avenue on the west, which is a pretty large area. In fact, the “Corridor” comprises approximately two-thirds of Phillips West (extending, inexplicably, a full four blocks west of Children’s and Abbott Northwestern Hospitals), along with significant portions of Midtown Phillips, Ventura Village, Elliot Park and Downtown.

Apparently (and I think the view from my windows qualifies me to vouch for this), this designation of Lifesciences Corridor makes it possible for the city, and those healthcare institutions that seem to have either paid their way in (a bargain at $20K for Children’s Hospital, Abbott Northwestern, and HCMC) or been appointed to the Lifesciences Consortium, to prioritize medical uses over residential uses in a part of the city where most homes are 100 or more years of age. And as we’ve learned all too tragically, it’s not only possible but pretty darned easy to demolish the homes that have anchored our neighborhood for generations to make way for health-related facilities. So we now find ourselves in the position of having to justify our existence, as the “highest and best use” of our land has been redefined to benefit powerful healthcare interests over the interests of Mayor Rybak’s own constituents.

A few words about the “Lifesciences Consortium.” Apparently the board that has been placed in charge of the Lifesciences Corridor, and Community Planning for Economic Development (CPED) takes credit for creating it. In their 2004-2008 Business Plan, CPED defines the Consortium as “a board composed of 16 doctors and other interested individuals and chaired by the mayor, to govern the Chicago Avenue Lifesciences Corridor.”

Now, if you’re a resident of the Lifesciences Corridor, you might be saying to yourself, “I thought I was governed by my elected officials,” and you might be thinking that it feels kind of weird to learn that without your knowledge, you’ve been governed by “16 doctors and other interested individuals” for over two years (the “board” was slated to meet quarterly beginning in February 2004, according to CPED). And again, you might be wondering how in the world Mayor Rybak could be chairing this board, given their goals at startup, as stated by CPED, included the creation of “a medical conference center, expansion of labs and other facilities along the corridor, and creation of a Minneapolis Lifesciences capital fund.” You might be thinking to yourself that those goals seem to benefit the healthcare interests in the area, but not the neighbors—especially given that proposed expansions of facilities almost certainly mean the loss of housing. And if you’re familiar with the definition of “consortium,” you might be even more concerned. American Heritage defines this noun as: “1.a. An association or a combination, as of businesses, financial institutions, or investors, for the purpose of engaging in a joint venture. b. A cooperative arrangement among groups or institutions.” Now you might be asking yourself how Mayor Rybak could possibly deem a joint venture between the city and powerful healthcare institutions that seek to enlarge their footprints into the surrounding residential areas beneficial to his constituents. You might even be thinking, “I wonder whether there might be a conflict of interest here?”

As someone whose house didn’t show up on the maps of Children’s architects, I can understand how that question might arise in your mind. I could even understand how you might view our designation as a corridor for the lifesciences a death sentence for the residential communities that had the bad fortune to be within two blocks east, and four blocks west, of Chicago Avenue.

The High Price of Convenience
Today eight houses are gone from Block 5, each a violation of the Multi-Block Land Use Covenant, and the land is ready for health-related use, should Children’s have their way. All of the trees are gone from those lots, too, and though that’s not a violation of the Covenant, it’s certainly a tragedy. Children’s gas station is still a problem for those of us who live here, as is their duplex. So we’re down to four houses battling a powerful healthcare institution. And we’re trying to convince the other powerful healthcare institutions, Allina, Abbott Northwestern Hospital and Phillips Eye Institute, to vigorously enforce the Land Use Covenant as they promised back when being good neighbors apparently meant something.
What’s worse, we’ve studied Children’s stated reasons for invading our block and breaking the Multi-Block Land Use Covenant, and determined that our block has been obliterated for convenience. Children’s says they need to expand, that they’re turning poor sick children away, but they’re not proposing an expansion of the hospital. What they are proposing is to move support services like Human Resources, Information Technology, Accounting and the Foundation from the suburbs to our block because, in the words of Dan Kratz at the April 11 Midtown Phillips Community Meeting, “There’s a fair amount of inefficiency with people travelling back and forth.”

Neighbors tell us there were several other viable options for housing these departments close to campus (as Allina did at the Midtown Exchange) but Children’s chose not to explore them. Children’s has also stated that part of the medical office building will be leased to physicians in private practice who might like to be a little closer to the hospital. These are doctors who already enjoy successful practices in other parts of the city, who don’t need to move to our block. Indeed, from all indications (ANCAC minutes, Children’s presentations at community meetings), much of Children’s planned use for the proposed development has absolutely nothing to do with improving treatment outcomes for their patients.

I suppose Children’s might dispute this now, but ANCAC minutes for the past year are clear on this point: the proposed development is primarily intended to make things more convenient for Children’s Hospital. There have been occasional references to a clinic or two, or a few more beds, but clearly that would not require an office building and 468-stall parking ramp. It’s primarily about bringing people onto our block who are performing their jobs just fine in other parts of the city. And building a medical office building to house them. And complementing that with a monstrous parking ramp, because the city won’t approve the office building without it. And that’s no reason to destroy a city block. It’s no reason to destroy beautiful homes that have stood for a century or more. And it’s no reason to break a “formal, solemn and binding agreement,” a decades-old promise to the community.

Children’s actions may or may not have legal implications; that will be determined in due time. But there are ethical lapses of monumental proportions here—a moral bankruptcy with respect to the community that Children’s Hospital professes to care about when the cameras and microphones are visible, then treats with utter contempt when they feel confident no one is looking.

Dr. Alan L. Goldbloom, M.D., Children’s CEO, shares these inspiring words in his Phillips Partnership Profile: “Phillips is our neighborhood: we share in the responsibility for its growth, development and quality of life.” Yet those of us who still live on, and/or care about, Block 5 can speak to the decline in quality of life that Children’s has needlessly forced upon its most immediate neighbors. Those folks who truly invested in the Phillips Neighborhood, who bought houses near the hospital and brought them back to life, who started block clubs and created community with their neighbors, who became active in neighborhood organizations, who did the many little things that people do to improve their communities—pick up trash, lend a hand, watch out for their neighbors—are today fighting Children’s Hospital for our very existence.

From all indications, Children’s Hospital invaded our block because they thought they could. An opportunity presented itself with PPL and Prima Land, and they jumped on it, broken promises be damned. I’ve said plenty about that. But in truth, the situation we find ourselves in is the result of a creative lapse of epic proportions. Stand on Chicago Avenue across the street from Children’s Hospital, in front of the blighted dirt lots that Children’s now owns and uses as a parking lot, in violation of city ordinance, and look across the street. Ask yourself if Children’s is using their current footprint efficiently. Think about the expansion that Abbott Northwestern has accomplished in recent years, all within their own footprint. The neighbors surrounding this proposed development know without question that if Children’s is barred from developing on Block 5, they will get creative and figure out how to expand in their current location, or even consider some of the other options that currently exist within a block or two. It’s not about whether it can be done, it’s about whether Children’s has the will to do it.

There’s no doubt about it: Our block is in peril. So why do we feel so hopeful? And why are we working so hard to save it? Because we know others who have been successful in situations that were every bit as dire. Because we owe it to our neighborhood, especially the other 13 blocks surrounding the hospitals, to fight back against corporate expansionism that is neither necessary nor honorable. Because we truly believe that It’s not too late to save Block 5! We are seeking a moratorium on health-related development within the Minneapolis Lifesciences Corridor in our community, to protect Block 5 and the other endangered residential areas in the Phillips Neighborhood. We will succeed, thus buying the time we need to bring all the stakeholders in the community together for a community-driven dialogue, and to involve the most important of all stakeholders—the residents!—in the development of a land-use plan that does justice to the hard-working folks who love this neighborhood, are investing in it, and are building community together. Again, we will succeed, and in the process send a message that this drastic and radical violation of both the Multi-Block Land Use Covenant and inclusive governmental process will not be tolerated.

When my partner and I had a fence installed a few years back, we learned that the City of Minneapolis required that the posts and cross boards face our yard, thus presenting the more attractive, seamless side to our neighbors. This is one of the ways in which we’re encouraged to be good neighbors, and we feel proud to live in a city that holds its residents accountable for the little things that enhance our collective quality of life, and foster mutually beneficial, peaceful relationships. Imagine what life would be like on Block 5, and throughout our community, if our corporate neighbors were held to the same standards.

How You Can Help
We are a group of neighbors and other concerned residents of Phillips West and surrounding neighborhoods who are having fun, making new friends and building community. To sign our petition supporting a moratorium (sorry, Minneapolis residents only) or volunteer (anyone with a little energy and an hour or two to spare), please call 612-872-1772. We need your help—whether you like canvassing or dropping literature, taking photos or posing for them, writing or speaking, working on a computer or strategizing long-hand, designing flyers or designing a web site, making phone calls or talking with people face-to-face, baking cookies or running out for food…there’s room for everyone. So get involved, meet your neighbors—and help us make history!

Block 5 : “We could have done better”
By Robert Lilligren

Our part of the city is characterized by a wide variety of land uses existing in very close proximity to one another. It is not unusual to find a large institutional building like a hospital, corporate headquarters, or museum right across the street from a block of single-family homes. It is this jumble that makes Midtown and the near South Side the dynamic and interesting place we love. It can also create unwanted friction in the community and intense competition for land and space.

I see the following pattern repeated throughout the Phillips region and other neighborhoods on the near South Side. People purchase homes or start small businesses, invest in the community, get involved and make our neighborhoods better. This improvement creates interest for larger developers to buy property and buildings in our area. Properties get purchased for redevelopment and the businesses, homes, apartments, or investments of our urban pioneers are threatened.

As we attract new developments to the area, we need to protect the interests of the people who are already here; those who were willing to invest early on in our neighborhoods, whether they are the homeowners, renters, or business owners. I think we have made a false step with the way we’ve gone forward with the proposed expansion by Children’s Hospital.

I believe we could have done better. Early, open and frequent communication between Children’s and their nearest neighbors would have benefited all sides in avoiding the conflict we now face. Stricter adherence to the Land Use Covenant agreed upon by the hospital and the community would have produced a plan with less negative impact on our neighbors. Comprehensive land use planning by Phillips West neighborhood would have helped the community to direct any expansion plans by the medical campus. A better planning process that accompanied the city’s designation of Chicago Avenue as a “bioscience corridor” would allow us to increase well-paying jobs in a more community-positive way.

Now we have a clash; a conflict between Children’s Hospital and the residents of Phillips West that needs resolution. My preferred way to proceed is to have the community and Children’s work closely together to create a design for Block 5 that can be embraced (or at least tolerated) by all parties. Then we must have a community-based planning effort for the whole area. If nothing else works, I believe that we must put a moratorium on development in the area until planning for the life science corridor is complete.

Robert Lilligren is Sixth Ward Council Member and Vice President of the Minneapolis City Council.

Let us know your thoughts on the Phillips land grab in our “Government forum”: