Ideas for the Hennepin County hub building, questions from neighbors

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Why not tear down and build new, asked some of the participants in small groups looking at the Hennepin County proposal for locating a services hub at 1001 Plymouth Avenue, a former printing facility. (See related story, page 1) “I used to work in a print shop, I know what kind of pollutants must be there,” said one.

Joanna Hicks and Kevin Kuppe of Ackerberg Group said that they are doing the environmental testing needed. “The building is in great shape,” Hicks said. Earlier in the May 14 meeting she said the 1980s-built building had been vacant for years and is not desirable for new manufacturing interests. “The height of the clear spans is 14 to 16 feet high where now they are looking for 24 to 35 feet high.”

Stuart Ackerberg told NorthNews that they have an agreement to buy the building contingent on the County signing a contract with Ackerberg Group for the hub location and buildout.

Hicks talked about the building’s great accessibility through the number 19, 7, and 5 bus lines with the 22 close by. There are 80 parking stalls around the building and the ability to use the connected High Praise Ministries 67-stall lot farther away from the street for overflow when needed. The hub building would have “the ability to have a transformative effect on the community” and be an anchor for the eastern end of Plymouth, she said.

Coincidentally, the Minneapolis Public Schools have signed a non-binding letter of intent to buy the building across Emerson, the former Cooperative Printing plant, to house the maintenance functions that are now at the 807 NE Broadway complex, as well as other district functions, storage and the district gymnastics program. Assistant County Administrator Rex Holzemer, in charge of the hub project, said he was unaware of the district’s choice.

At another meeting, held May 22, the basic content was repeated for a similar-sized crowd, with answers to some of the May 14 questions incorporated. A meeting targeted to Hmong people May 15 attracted half a dozen participants, and a June 7 meeting for Lao is being arranged.

Northside Residents Redevelopment Council (NRRC) is the neighborhood group the city contacts for input; Hennepin County will work with NRRC on a community benefits agreement relating to the hub, Holzemer said. NRRC has not taken a formal position on the location; an earlier media report was in error.

The Ackerberg plan adds many windows throughout and a small addition on the Seventh Avenue side of 1001 Plymouth; “we want everyone to have access to light.” Hicks said they are working with Juxtaposition Arts on a way to “give a sense of arrival” through the building design.

The floor plan would have about two-fifths public reception and child care space, about three fifths meeting spaces of various sorts. “There will be a couple months of planning to do if this goes ahead,” Hicks said.

Partners in the design and renovation include Mobilize Design (Jamil Ford) and EVS, a minority-owned civil design firm for the landscape architecture, construction by Knutson as the lead with West Broadway-based Tri Construction. Reve Consulting , also based on West Broadway, would build a website that will report “inclusion metrics.” Students from Reve Academy would do the work as part of their classes on branding.

Hicks said Ackerberg is a relatively small company with 28 people, specializing in repositioning buildings and committed to art. Examples are the Kindred Kitchen building at 1200 West Broadway, built with 45 percent minority contractors, and the Five Points building at Penn and Broadway. They also created Spill the Wine at Lake and Lyndale, and the MoZaic building.

More from small groups

For one group at the May 14 meeting, the facilitator read from the instructions, “While the site is mostly decided, the design is not.” There were comments about “I thought we were going to have input into the location. I feel tricked, given a false sense of power.” There were questions of why the County didn’t partner with UROC (the University of Minnesota) which had been explained earlier, “or Summit OIC, they have lots of space there.”

Holzemer, answering questions May 22 about why residents hadn’t been brought in on the site selection, said if there had been multiple qualified answers to the County’s requests for proposals, the community would have been involved in choosing. “We’ve found it difficult in every region, even the suburbs, to find multiple possibilities that meet some of the criteria.”

One group reported that renters’ opinions are as important as homeowners, and they should get more doorknocking to get involved about this project.

Most comments reported out from small groups addressed the site. “This is not going to be accessible to the new light rail, the Number 7 is the worst bus route, it barely runs, the Number 5 is crowded. And this is the most crack-infested area; it’s a recipe for disaster with the liquor store across the street.”

Holzemer addressed the liquor store concerns May 22: “Village Social Services co-existed with Merwins [liquor store at Broadway and Lyndale], and there were times when people felt intimidated. Wherever we are, we spend time working on relationships with our neighbors so that if something happens, we can make a phone call immediately. Over time, you’ll see because of the presence of our security people, they’ll know that if something is brewing, we’re not afraid to call police. But in 30,000 visits a month to Century Plaza, there have been very few calls to Minneapolis Police.”

One of the comments May 22 was concerned with who the security officers would be, and to not use off-duty Minneapolis police who may know the clients. They were assured that the security force is either county employees or Viking Security.

There was a suggestion to move the entrance away from traffic. To be “green” and put plants on the roof.

About integrating the facility into community life: “You need to get guerrilla marketing to the people you’re serving. Social media and laundromats would be good places to visit.”

“Have some fun events there for the whole community.” There should be education and job placement (hiring from the community). County officials said talks regarding co-locating with a new Workforce Center were unsuccessful.

Holzemer talked in depth May 22 about hiring from the community. He said that a lot of the employees who will be relocated already live here or will have requested to work here. There are a lot of retirements coming up, and those leave opportunities for more local people. The answer was unclear on whether “jobs that don’t require a master’s degree” would also be especially opened to local people but that would likely be covered in the community benefits agreement.

About the art: “It should be reflective of the diversity of the community, with Hmong, Somali, African American. It should be kid-friendly, adult but almost child-like, comfortable, colorful.” One suggested histories of African American inventors. Another, aquariums for stress reduction.

About how staff treat people receiving services: Some felt talked down to, or profiled because they committed a crime many years ago and it still shows up on their record. “We have felonies, we need training and a way to get jobs. Staff need to have customer service and cultural training,” reported one facilitator. On May 22, there was a small group question about whether clients would have confidentiality in the intake area (answer, yes), referring to Century Plaza as “the World’s Fair” where nothing is private.

There were also questions of what other services will co-locate or partner in the hub, particularly the question which surfaced during the West Broadway discussions, would there be driver license renewals.

The County will review the results of these meetings and then decide on the next steps.