Residents seek ‘community benefits agreement’ with Seward Co-op for new Central/Bryant store

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The ground has been broken. The church that previously sat on the lot at the intersection of 3rd Avenue and 38th Street has been torn down to make way for the construction of Seward CO-OP’s second store, which is scheduled to open in late summer of 2015. While some have cheered the decision to build a grocery store in the Central and Bryant neighborhoods, many residents still have questions regarding the affordability of products, and jobs in both the construction and operation of the store.

This is a Community Voices submission and is moderated but not edited. The opinions expressed by Community Voices contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the TC Daily Planet.

To address these concerns, a group of residents have organized to draft a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), which they plan to negotiate with Seward CO-OP. A community meeting will be held to discuss the proposed CBA on November 1 at Green Central Elementary School, 3416 S. 4th Ave., Minneapolis, from 10 am to 12 pm. A coalition of residents along with the Central Area Neighborhood Development Organization (CANDO) is leading the push for a CBA.

A Community Benefits Agreement is a project specific contract between developers and community organizations to ensure that local residents share in the benefits of major developments. A CBA allows residents to have a voice in commercial developments that may alter their community. Due to the “back to the city” movement, CBAs are critical where sports stadiums, hotels, office parks, hospitals and retail stores are occurring more often in existing and established neighborhoods. Normally, a CBA is negotiated before a project is approved. In this case, the CBA will be negotiated after the deal to build the grocery store has already been agreed upon.

The proposed CBA contains provisions to address issues that have been raised by residents at several community meetings hosted by Seward CO-OP. These issues include:

  • affordability of items to low-income customers;
  • affordability of membership to Central and Bryant neighborhood residents;
  • employment of Central and Bryant neighborhood residents for the construction and operation of the store, and employment of African Americans and Latinos;
  • accessibility of the store’s meeting space for neighborhood events;
  • language accessibility for non-English speaking customers; and
  • support of existing small and minority-owned neighborhood businesses.

Eduardo Cardenas, a CANDO board member who organized the group drafting the CBA, said “one of the main reasons to push for a CBA is that it provides a platform for our community to build upon for future developments. It establishes the interests of our community that need to be addressed in order to create an alternative to gentrification.”

Advocates of the grocery store contend that it will address the “food desert” problem in the Central and Bryant neighborhoods. A food desert is an area lacking in fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods largely due to the absence of grocery stores, farmer’s markets and healthy food providers, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). However, many are concerned that the grocery store may spur gentrification by raising property values, and making the neighborhoods no longer affordable.

The Central neighborhood is bordered by Lake Street on the north, 38th Street on the south, Interstate 35W on the west, and Chicago Avenue on the east. In 2010, the neighborhood demographics were 44% Latino, 25% African American, 21% white, 2% American Indian or Alaska Native, and 4% Asian or Pacific Islander, according to 2010 Census data. In 2012, household incomes in the Central neighborhood were less compared to incomes for all of Minneapolis with 42% of households earning less than $35,000 compared to 38% for Minneapolis, according to Minnesota Compass. In 2012, the average single family housing price in the Central neighborhood was $178,442 compared to $243,654 in Minneapolis, according to City-Data.com.

The Bryant neighborhood is bordered by 38th Street on the north, 42nd Street on the south, Interstate 35W on the west and Chicago Avenue on the east. In 2010, the neighborhood demographics were 33% African American, 30% white, 28% Latino, 3% Asian or Pacific Islander, and 1% American Indian or Alaska Native, according to 2010 Census data. In 2012, household incomes in the Bryant neighborhood were slightly less compared to incomes for all of Minneapolis with 37% of households earning less than $35,000 compared to 38% for Minneapolis, according to Minnesota Compass. In 2010, the average single family housing price in the Bryant neighborhood was $154,640 compared to $243,654 in Minneapolis, according to City-Data.com.

Some have argued that grocery stores are agents of gentrification under the guise of solving low-income communities’ food desert problems. (See Irrigating the (food) desert: A tale of gentrification in D.C.,By Vann R. Newkirk II, Gawker. com, August 11, 2014.)

In a written response to questions raised at the July 9, 2013 community meeting, Seward CO-OP stated “We are not interested in creating a situation wherein property values and rents make the community unaffordable. This issue is bigger than the co-op deciding to build in Bryant. At the root of this issue is the price of real estate and whether it goes up or down.” Seward CO-OP further stated “We believe that cooperatives are a solution, not a contributor, to this problem. Co-ops build community-owned wealth that is a positive anchor in the community in which they exist.” Finally, Seward CO-OP stated “Our intentions are not gentrification, but rather the improvement of access to healthy foods for current co-op members and the broader community residing in neighborhoods near the Friendship site.”

While gentrification may not be the intent of Seward CO-OP, residents are concerned that it may be an unintended consequence. To combat possible gentrification, the proposed CBA seeks an agreement from Seward CO-OP to assist in the development or re-development of affordable housing initiatives by helping with market research, analysis, consulting and financial planning.

Cardenas urges residents and community groups to attend the Nov. 1 meeting. “Without an active community it (the CBA) is only a nice idea, but it won’t keep anyone from losing their home or give anyone healthy food or a good job. We need engaged neighbors to carry this effort forward.”

Tina Burnside is an attorney and writer who lives in the Central neighborhood. She is also part of the neighborhood group working on the proposed Community Benefits Agreement.

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