Will Northside development bring Northsiders jobs?


The top concern of the Harrison Neighborhood Association is whether Ryan Company’s project will offer employment opportunities to current residents.

On September 6, the Harrison Neighborhood Association (HNA) invited community members to hear a proposal by Ryan Companies to develop 56 acres of land. The proposal is the first of a multi-phase plan to develop over 200 acres of land in the North Minneapolis area. HNA’s objective is to ensure that the concerns of the community are heard regarding the development and the thousands of jobs and hundreds of housing units it is expected to bring.

The east/west boundaries that define the area are from Lyndale Avenue to Cedar Lake Road, and the north/south boundaries are from Olson Memorial Hwy to Hwy 394. Of the 56 acres included in the first phase of development, a smaller portion falls into Harrison neighborhood proper; the larger portion is located in the Bryn Mar neighborhood.

A request for a show of hands at the meeting revealed only a few residents from the Bryn Mawr neighborhood. The description of Harrison neighborhood, as provided by the Redevelopment Oversight Committee (ROC) and HNA board member Jeannie Sur, showed that residents there had much at stake.

Sur’s statistics gave an ethnic breakdown of the population (38 percent African American, 28 percent Southeast Asian, 24 percent of European decent, and 10 percent Somali and Latino) as well as of resident incomes (median approximately $23,000 per year, with 63 percent of the residents living in poverty).

Through a survey, the community had previously determined the five issues most important to them. These included: 1) first consideration for jobs created by the development, 2) training to prepare residents for jobs, 3) contracts made available for minority-owned firms in the area, 4) affordable housing for residents already in the neighborhood, and 5) “a binding agreement” [with the community] before the proposal is approved.

After a presentation by Rick Collins of Ryan Companies discussing the benefits the redevelopment would bring to the community, there was a question-and-answer session. A resident asked how Ryan could make housing affordable to residents with incomes below the poverty line.

Collins replied, “At new construction prices, the chances that a brand new home is going to be affordable to a family with an income of $23,000…that only happens with the application of public subsidies to lower the cost of construction.” Collins stressed the fact that although Ryan is not a housing developer, they work with organizations skilled in obtaining funding to reduce construction costs and allow housing to be affordable.

However, the hot topic of the evening was employment. Collins repeatedly fielded questions that asked for hard numbers — a percentage of jobs that current residents could expect to obtain. Collins used the company’s redevelopment of the old Sears building and surrounding area on Lake Street in South Minneapolis, now Midtown Global Exchange, as an example of the process.

Allina relocated from nine separate suburban areas to the Midtown area. Collins explained that relocating businesses are “existing businesses [with] existing employee bases…but it is the rare business that doesn’t have something in the order of 10-15 percent turnover per year among their employee base.”

Collins explained that Ryan’s job is not to convince companies to hire 100 percent of their workers from the area, but to connect relocating employers with training agencies that can prepare residents for jobs as they become available.

Collins revisited this issue of jobs several times. Approximately 60 percent of the meeting attendees were immigrants, as evidenced by the number of people wearing headsets through which interpreters translated for each speaker. A Somali interpreter expressed the concern of a resident who wanted to know the benefits the development would bring to the Somali community, where language presents an additional challenge.

Collins responded, “Specifically for the Somali community, what can we do? We’re real estate developers… We bring momentum to your neighborhood. We bring jobs to your neighborhood, so that there is a reason to be trained… We are not English teachers, but we provide a reason for people to assist you to become stronger employees in their employment centers… So, we play a role — we don’t solve all the issues.”

After the meeting, Mitch Thompson, HNA board president, was most confident that residents made their position clear, but he felt Ryan offered nothing new to the conversation. “It’s hard, when you’re advocating for a neighborhood like ours, to say yes to development…[because] once we agree to it, that’s sort of a done deal, and we’re stuck.”

The reputation that Ryan built for itself by working with the community on the Global Exchange redevelopment, Thompson said, is a step in the right direction. But he is skeptical due to recent reports revealing that the City doesn’t keep accurate information on whether or not the community needs are effectively met.

Donald Allen II, also in attendance at the meeting, is a North Minneapolis business owner who started attending community meetings when he noticed low participation among African Americans. In response to the HNA meeting with Ryan, Allen said, “If there was a vote or something to be decided that night…the Hmongs would have walked out with the majority vote, Somali’s would have came in second place, and the 10 Black people that were there — our vote wouldn’t have been effective.”

Allen said the most important aspect to consider is that major developers like Ryan commonly complete projects without neighborhood involvement. “It was not Ryan’s duty to come to the table like they did and say where to get this money to help out with jobs,” he noted. Allen spoke with Collins after the meeting and thanked him for attending.

Allen believes the community is inadequately prepared for the proposed development. “[Ryan] knows that our communities — NorthPoint, Urban League, Harrison Neighborhood Association — are not going to make the preplanned arrangements to get these 500 to 600 [employees] together…send them through training, put them in the union, [and] make sure they get funded to go into the union.”

Allen said that if the community would step up to the plate, Ryan could both encourage and require that employers give residents, prepared with the necessary training, first consideration for jobs.

Though he applauds local training efforts and believes Malik Holt-Shabazz, economic development organizer for HNA, is doing all within his power to prepare the community, Allen said no one can do it alone. “Black quote-unquote leaders are not picking up the slack”; as a result, there is no mobilization to prepare the community for jobs.

In trying to obtain definite answers to the community’s questions, Mitch Thompson said HNA should not be viewed as Ryan’s enemy. “It seems that we’re trying to be a roadblock, and that isn’t true. We really do want to see development, but we want to link it to the people that live in our neighborhood now… If the development doesn’t do that, then we’re not really doing what we [HNA] were elected to do, which is to represent the 4,500 people that live in our neighborhood.”

Likewise, Madelyn Favors, a longtime North Minneapolis resident and former HNA board member, believes the development could have a positive impact on Harrison residents. “This is a golden opportunity for us, as a neighborhood, to stand together [and] do something positive and give hope to these people,” she said. “There is a lot of untapped resources… There’s a lot of young single mothers that I would love to see get some training instead of sitting waiting for a check once a month.”

Though Allen remains optimistic, he fears the results of the community’s ill-preparedness. “I walked outside one day and sat on the bus stop. [I saw] 22 Mercedes Benz, 14 Hum Vee’s going down Glenwood headed downtown… We’re sitting dormant, not doing anything. [For] every Black person on the North Side that lives in that area, life is going to change… They have a small window of opportunity here.”

For more information on the Ryan’s Companies redevelopment proposal, contact Harrison Neighborhood Association at 612-374-4849, or go to www.hnampls.org.

Vickie Evans-Nash welcomes reader responses to vnash@spokesman-recorder.com.