At a block club leaders meeting on August 16 at Northpoint Health and Wellness Northside Center, residents voted to write a letter of support for the mission, work, history and role of Northside Residents Redevelopment Council (NRRC). The action followed discussions of two previous meetings at which the role and future of the 37-year-old neighborhood development organization was in question. In July, the block club leaders meeting heard a report of a committee meeting the previous month in which Bob Miller, director of the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP), announced Minneapolis city government’s disfavor with NRRC.
NRP is Minneapolis’ program to involve neighborhood residents in decision-making controlling the distribution of millions of dollars in tax increment financing funding. Northside Residents Redevelopment Council was created to be a conduit for citizen participation in directing the flow of funds to projects given highest priority by neighborhood residents. NRRC’s mission was to make residents of Near North/Willard-Hay Minneapolis neighborhoods the primary agents for the improvement of social, economical and general livability standards of the neighborhood.
Organized as a non-profit neighborhood organization in 1969, NRRC’s boundaries are Olson Memorial Highway to the south, West Broadway to the north, the Minneapolis city limits to the west and the Mississippi River to the east.
Northside resident and businessman Larry Tucker reported that Bob Miller’s presentation made it clear that NRRC had lost favor with the downtown political leaders, and that they would work to make sure that no future funding would come to NRRC. Tucker’s summary report of Miller’s presentation to a Willard Homewood Organization organizing committee led to requests that the matter be explored more fully in the August meeting, and a request that Bob Miller, representing NRP, and Sherrie Pugh-Sullivan, Executive Director of NRRC, be invited to address the meeting. Pugh-Sullivan did attend the meeting. Miller did not.
In the August meeting, Tucker reiterated earlier statements that downtown political leaders have expressed no confidence in Pugh-Sullivan’s leadership and that of the duly elected citizens who make up the Residents’ Council. Residents are elected to 13 districts in the two neighborhoods under the NRRC geographic umbrella. Tucker said that NRRC’s efforts at development projects for Plymouth Avenue were seen as ill-advised, failed initiatives that resulted in foreclosures on commercial properties by bank lenders. He said that NRRC failed to enlist the aid of consultants in assessing the viability of several development projects that, having failed, resulted in financial losses to NRRC.
NRRC is the owner of the Penn-Plymouth Shopping Center, a troubled commercial venture launched in the late 1970s. Envisioned as the engine and reflection of Black community entrepreneurism, the Center opened to high hopes; it boasted a Red Owl franchise mini-supermarket, King’s Supermarket, Carl Eller’s Wine & Liquors, Northwestern Bell Telephone (now Qwest) Phone Store, a Coast-to-Coast Hardware Store and J.C. Clarke Pharmacy. Across the street was First Plymouth National Bank. One block to the west, at Plymouth and Penn, McDonald’s opened a restaurant with sit-down and drive-through service.
In those days NRRC was a powerhouse driver of homeownership and business development. Led first by Richard Parker, former aide to Mayor Richard Stenvig, who was succeeded by his protÃ©gÃ© Jackie Cherryhomes, NRRC opened the doors to homeownership and created access to low interest home improvement loans for many North Minneapolis residents. NRRC, like its counterpart community based organizations — Willard Homewood Organization, Jordan Area Community Council and Hawthorne Area Community Council — championed tearing down and clearing out vacant and dilapidated housing and replacing it with affordable housing. NRRC was the conduit for the urban homesteading initiatives that got people into houses for $1 if they qualified for fix-up loans that would allow the properties to be brought up to code.
NRRC was the launching pad for the stellar political career of Jackie Cherryhomes, who defeated Van White’s bid for re-election representing North Minneapolis’ 5th Ward. White, the first African American elected to city council, like Cherryhomes, benefited from the leadership position he enjoyed at the helm of a neighborhood organization. He was chairman of the original Willard-Homewood Organization.
Fast forward to August 16, 2007: Sherrie Pugh-Sullivan listened intently as Larry Tucker, as promised, repeated statements that he had made the month before; describing his own belief that development decisions made by NRRC were fatal, and that while Pugh-Sullivan remained his friend, he felt that she should resign at Executive Director of NRRC.
Pugh-Sullivan put the conflict with Bob Miller and downtown political interests in context and warned that efforts to destroy or de-fund NRRC, if they are successful, will once again further marginalize residents of North Minneapolis, particularly Black residents. Pugh-Sullivan agreed with Tucker that NRRC had made some bad business decisions regarding its development vision.
“When we couldn’t get cooperation from other stakeholders, we decided to go it alone,” she said. “We believed too hard and we held on to development projects too long, leading to our defaulting on some properties and projects.”
But, Pugh-Sullivan said, NRRC has met its primary goal of bringing about positive social change through fostering a sense of self-determination and motivating residents toward active community involvement. She said that over the last twenty years NRRC has worked with residents to develop guidelines for new housing, renovated apartment buildings and single family homes, and has assisted neighborhood small businesses. NRRC has developed 400 units of affordable housing, built and rehabbed 100 single family homes, facilitated over twenty-four business start-ups and relocations in the neighborhood thus creating new jobs, trained new scores of new entrepreneurs, and assisted families in saving their homes from foreclosure and mortgage “flipping.”
Pugh-Sullivan said that challenges remain, including creating livable communities that are family friendly and include all the amenities that we deserve; providing housing choices to culturally and income diverse families; creating opportunities for employment and wealth creation; employing technology as a means of economic empowerment; and ensuring that residents – including youth – protect and appreciate our environment. She said that NRRC priorities are expressed in its values, including involving people in the decision-making, being responsible to the community, supporting individuals as good neighbors and supporting people who are invested in the community.
Bob Miller, in a telephone conversation Wednesday, said that there have not been any issues of misuse of funds. Asked for the reason behind downtown’s disfavor with NRRC, Miller said that the organization’s financial condition is the problem.
“They owe people money, including the company that did the 2005 financial audit, which is the last one they have given us.”
Last Updated: 9/7/2007 1:18:07 PM
He said that the payables, credit issues and lack of revenue pose big problems for NRRC. Miller also said that NRRC should have approached the city years ago and asked the city to negotiate out of the project that has been the biggest drain on the agency — the Penn Plymouth Shopping Center. When previous owners defaulted, the city took control of the property and project and asked NRRC to take it over. So should the city bear some responsibility for the project’s lack of success? Miller said that NRRC bought the property for $1. He said that NRP put over $1 million into the project, and that the terms of the loans have been renegotiated four times over the past twelve years. Pugh-Sullivan has been at NRRC, however, six years and all the renegotiations Miller referred to took place before her being hired as agency head.
The University of Minnesota has made an offer the buy the center at a price NRRC representatives say is fair, and that will allow NRRC to retire all debts associated with the Center and other debts as well. There is a sticking point, however. Minneapolis agreed to forgive about half a million dollars in loans if certain other loans were retired last month. The University deal creates the means to repay the other loans, and if the city were acting in good faith, allows NRRC to trigger the loan forgiveness clauses built into the large loans. With the large loans forgiven, NRRC could pay all other creditors, including neighborhood businesses that provided goods and services to NRRC and NRRC projects.
Bob Miller is asking the city not to forgive the loans, a move that guarantees that the organization will be further crippled, even after the successful sale of property to the University of Minnesota.
Pugh-Sullivan and other Northside leaders say that attitude is part of the problem. There is a solution at hand, and the city should support NRRC in this decision and with the forgiveness, Pugh-Sullivan said.