“We’ve been on our own trying to figure out two crises,” Two Bettys owner Anna Tsantir told Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020.
The first communication she got directly from the city was to instruct her to clean up the graffiti at the Two Bettys Refill Station, 4010 E. Lake St., or face a fine.
It’s not the sort of communication she thought she’d get, or what she’d like to be receiving right now.
“People have had to take things into their own hands to keep functioning,” stated Tsantir.
She’s part of a group of businesses that have formed Longfellow Rising to figure out next steps.
“I just want to stress how lacking communications has been,” Tsantir added.
Mayor Frey responded, “The confluence of these events has tested the city in ways never before. That’s not an excuse, but the truth.”
He added, “I hear the frustration.”
The two were part of a video call between the mayor’s office and representatives from neighborhood organizations including the Longfellow Community Council, Longfellow Business Association, Corcoran Neighborhood Association, Midtown Phillips Neighborhood Association, Seward Civic and Commerce Association, Standish Ericsson Neighborhood Association, and Longfellow Nokomis Messenger.
The organizations had sent a letter to the city in August concerned about the lack of leadership, transparency and coordination by elected officials and government agencies, particularly at the city level (see September 2020 edition of the Messenger). Entities had initially expressed concern at a local meeting on July 23 (see August 2020 edition of the Messenger). It took until Nov. 17 to schedule the meeting with the mayor’s office.
‘It feels like we’re on an island’
Longfellow Community Council Board Co-chair Marya Johnston-McIntosh asked city officials about coordination among elected officials. “It does not always appear that city elected officials are working openly or collaboratively with one another, which presents both challenges for making progress on key issues and makes it difficult for community orginizations, residents and business to know what’s happening - how can coordination among elected officials and communication to the public be improved? For example, we need to stay in touch with our city council members and mayor separately,” she said.
“It feels like we’re on an island,” stated SENA resident Chris Romano, who works at Seward Redesign and serves on the board of the Latino Economic Development Center. “We’re doing the heavy lifting by ourselves.”
He asked how local groups and businesses can engage with the Minneapolis Forward Coalition, including how to get more details on their work and how to channel resources to Southside communities.
“How can this city-wide effort work in a collaborative and complementary way with our more area-specific needs and efforts?” the group asked.
Shauen Pearce, the city’s Economic Development and Inclusion Policy Director, said she would add members from the day’s call to the Minneapolis Forward Coalition email list.
Romano has been part of local conversations about site acquisitions in downtown Longfellow where buildings were damaged and destroyed, such as maX it PAWN and Arby’s. “We have a moment in time,” he observed, to create affordable housing development and mixed-used developments that will benefit the neighborhood.
“There’s great opportunity to acquire those sites and redevelop them that are more in line with the vision of our community,” pointed out Romano. “What sort of resources can we expect to get from the city?”
He added, “We need resources to be able to step forward and acquire those properties. My concern is that if we don’t act now, we’re going to be looking at a return to how things were before, exactly some of the things that brought about the circumstances we are in.”
Pearce remarked that funding for initiatives such as this is part of what the city asked the state for from day one.
Mayor Frey pointed out that the city’s Commercial Property Development Fund could help with this, and it also could provide due-on-sale loans to businesses that need repair.
In mid-November, the city announced a Rebuild Resiliency Program to help those who are repairing and rebuilding to use sustainable and resilient options, such as LED light bulbs and solar power. It is anticipated that about 200 businesses will get grants of about $40,000.
The city has invested $2 million to help with rubble clean-up, Mayor Frey observed. “Why did we not allocate this in June or July? We wanted insurance companies to step up and do what I believe they are obligated to do.”
What about Third Precinct?
Kim Jakus of the Longfellow Business Association asked about community engagement on future of policing and the Third Precinct. “We’ve seen the city launch its phased process for community engagement on the future of public safety - how will this engagement reach all communities, particularly those most impacted by the future of policing and those who do not trust a city-led process? What will the city process around the Third Precinct look like?”
Mayor Frey pointed out that the Third Precinct is currently housed at the convention center, and that is not a place they can be long-term, in part because of the cost of renting the site and the “massive financial deficit” the city is facing right now. Nor is the convention center physically located in the third precinct. He stated that the city is working on a process around this, and the information will be disseminated once they know it themselves.
“It is not just a building anymore,” observed Longfellow Community Council Executive Director Melanie Majors. She pointed out that the Third Precinct site is larger than the Longfellow neighborhood it sits in. “We can’t take ownership of something that really belongs to everyone. It’s a broader community issue,” Majors said.
LBA Board member Dan Kennedy of Kennedy Law Group also stressed the importance of that central site at E. Lake St. and Minnehaha Ave., and he’s been part of a group of stakeholders who have been talking about it. “These discussions are going forward because they are so important to us, Kennedy stated. “We can’t wait a year.”
Wayne Bugg of St. Vincent de Paul-Twin Cities (2939 12th Ave. S.), who serves on the Midtown Phillips board, noted that local organizations and businesses are coming together to manage the increased crime in the area. Previously, there were video feeds from local security cameras that went directly to the Third Precinct. He asked if those could be linked up again.
“Residents don’t have the opportunity to sit on these groups and know what’s going on,” said Bugg. He suggested that the city have regular updates like the governor that are at the same time and same channel.
“I look forward to better communications in the future,” said Tsantir. “Thank you all for your time!”