Riverside Plaza to welcome safety center


A safety center will open in August at the multi-colored Riverside Plaza apartment complex, considered the hub of the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

The center, one facet of a larger safety plan unveiled Friday, is a response to the January shootings outside the Brian Coyle Center.

The plan was organized by community members and police in hopes of both deterring crime and encouraging residents to report it. It calls for community monitoring and communication, and cooperation from Minneapolis, University, Metro Transit and Park police.

The center will occupy an accessible ground-level space. Sherman Associates, which owns the troubled high rise, donated the space rent-free for 10 years, said Russom Solomon, chair of the West Bank Safety Committee.

The center’s creation will weave into the current renovation of the Plaza, a 4,500-resident complex, said Mahad Farah of Sherman Associates. He said the larger renovation is 20 to 25 percent complete, and will be done in Dec. 2012.

In an effort to get residents more comfortable with reporting crimes, a community officer will be at the center during business hours, Solomon said.

“One of the issues is a lot of people don’t call 911 for whatever reason,” he said, and the on-site officer will be an “informal way to report crime.”

The safety center will house a TV room, meeting spaces and cubicles for officers to stop by and file reports, Solomon said.

Cedar-Riverside residents, mostly Somali immigrants, may not be familiar with the criminal justice system, and the center will be “almost like one-stop shopping,” said safety committee member David Alderson, who works in the neighborhood.

Police will pay special attention to and install a security camera at the 400 block of Cedar Avenue, a spot near Riverside Plaza where loitering and drug sales are a problem.

Sherman Associates is also donating $7,500 a year for the next decade for the center’s general operations; the city’s department of Community Planning and Economic Development is putting forth $5,000 a year.

In other parts of the plan, Park Police will patrol Currie and Riverside Parks on weekends, including keeping the lights on all night. The Brian Coyle Center will implement a sign-in policy and will keep track of and tell Minneapolis police about anyone trespassed from the property within 24 hours. Riverside Plaza will follow a similar policy.

Hoping to alleviate tensions on the street, Minneapolis police will instead go head-to-head on the court with Cedar-Riverside youth in a basketball game early next year.

University of Minnesota Police Chief Greg Hestness said that while not as many students live in Cedar-Riverside as in the past, its proximity makes it a key area for UMPD.

“It doesn’t matter if campus is safe if it’s not safe two blocks off campus,” Hestness said, adding the department wants students to feel comfortable venturing off campus.

Logistically, campus police are also often first responders to larger crimes — another reason Hestness said UMPD is involved in the safety plan.

Of the community work and the plan, Solomon said, “We have achieved what was thought to be unachievable.”