Will new buildings help the community?

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Revolutionary? Maybe. But according to members of a North Side neighborhood group, it’s high time the community got guaranteed benefits from a proposed major development.

Harrison Neighborhood Association (HNA) will host a meeting Thursday, Sept. 6, 6:30 p.m., at Harrison Community Center, 503 Irving Ave. N., to talk to residents about its plan to get a community benefits agreement (CBA) in place before the Bassett Creek Valley redevelopment–a $220 million plan that includes 56 acres of public land and $70 million in public subsides–moves forward.

With a CBA, according to HNA executive director Larry Hiscock, the developer agrees in writing that the project will benefit the neighborhood. That includes hiring local workers, being environmentally responsible, and providing the basic retail and services that residents want and need. A CBA is a legally enforceable contract signed by the developer and community groups.

The 230-acre Bassett Creek Valley development area lies in the southeast corner of North Minneapolis, next to downtown. The land is mainly industrial: its boundaries are Cedar Lake Road to the west, I-94 to the east, Heritage Park to the north and I-394 to the south.

Hiscock said the development plan has been in the works for more than seven years. In 2000, Ryan Companies came up with a land use master plan, but after some conflict broke out, then-city council member Jackie Cherryhomes advised waiting, and proposed a formal planning process. Ryan withdrew from the project at that time, but has remained interested. A redevelopment oversight committee consisting of representatives from the Harrison and Bryn Mawr neighborhoods, area businesses, the City of Minneapolis, Hennepin County, the railroad and Friends of Bassett Creek has been meeting monthly ever since, to work on it.

This summer, possibly spurred to action by other development in the area such as the Glenwood Avenue Mainstreet program (which includes new street lights), the city approved a revised land use plan with a feasibility analysis and put out a Request for Proposals (RFP). Ryan Companies was the only responder whose proposal met the city’s request.

Ryan Companies’ proposal “is seen as a more complete proposal,” Hiscock said, but at this point Ryan does not yet have exclusive development rights from the city. The company proposes 1,400 units of housing and 3,000,000 square feet of office towers in Bassett Creek Valley. The development might take up to 15 years to complete; the land includes what is now the city’s impound lot and cement crushing yard.

Meanwhile, HNA has been working on a community benefits agreement since 2005. The group studied neighborhood demographics and found Harrison includes 4,100 residents, with a median family income of $21,000. The racial makeup is 38 percent African American, 30 percent Southeast Asian, and 20 percent European American. HNA enlisted help from the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) at the University of Minnesota, and a civil rights advocacy group, People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, which HNA Economic Development Organizer Malik Holt-Shabazz said is based in New Orleans and has a Minneapolis office.

Hiscock said the city staff and officials have mixed reactions to the CBA. “Some city council members are very supportive of this idea of being at the table with the developer early on. They see it as a way to reduce conflict later. There has been resistance to it, however, among city staff. Part of the problem we have is that the city views itself as being very progressive, yet we have some of the deepest disparities in the country here in our neighborhoods.”

Holt-Shabazz said that the CBA would give neighborhood residents “first dibs” at jobs, and with the two-year lead time before the project would likely start, the contractor would be able to predict how many workers they would need, and the types of skills required. “That’s enough time for us to get people trained through one of our local agencies, like Summit OIC, Dunwoody, Minneapolis Urban League, Employment Action Center. We’re focusing on people who live in ZIP codes 55405 and 55411.

What typically happens, Hiscock said, is that “we train people and give them the skills, the hard hat, and the boots, but there is no commitment for employment afterwards. It’s a huge blow to make it through a training program and not be able to find a job. Here, there is a commitment to be hired. When people have jobs, it benefits the businesses in the community, the grocery stores, everybody that wants to get their bills paid. Even if only a couple dozen families’ life situations change for the better, there’s a ripple effect.”

Harrison neighborhood resident Madelyn Favors said, “We have a work force in North Minneapolis that needs to be trained. There are too many young people sitting around. Their lives are in a rut. They need hope. They need to be shown that they can accomplish this. That’s a big lift in life for them.”

Favors added that she hopes a lot of people turn out for the meeting. “The purpose of this meeting is to make everybody aware of it. Right now they hear about it but don’t think it concerns them. Now’s the time to get on board.”

Hiscock said that Ryan Companies will make a presentation at the meeting and HNA will talk about the data it has already gathered. “We have 10 years of input and a developer at the table. Ryan is looking for [millions of dollars in tax-increment financing, and] that will require special consideration at the state level. And a high consideration will be placed on community support.”

Tom Leighton, principal planner in community planning for the City of Minneapolis’s Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) department, said the city’s RFP was for the city-owned property, the impound lot and concrete crushing yard.

“According to the design, the plan for the impound lot is to turn it into a park,” he added. He has been working on getting the area rezoned; much of it, including Glenwood Avenue, is zoned for industrial or light industrial business. The rezoning would downzone much of it to a mix of commercial and residential zoning.

Privately owned businesses in the Bassett Creek Valley area south of Glenwood Avenue and near the creek include Pioneer Paper, a recycling company, and Leef Brothers, an industrial laundry. The city owns the former site of another business in that area, Scrap Metal Processors, and Hennepin County now owns the former Warden Oil site, formerly a state SuperFund site that Leighton said has been cleaned up.