Post and photo by the Hawthorne Hawkman.
Last night community members met with representatives from Catalyst Community Partners, the Ackerberg Group, Hennepin County, and the City of Minneapolis to discuss the proposed social services hub at Broadway and Girard/Irving. Other NoMi bloggers who, like me, live in the impact zone, will surely have their say. What follows is my perspective.
I'm not convinced that the Hub proposal on its face is a good idea for Hennepin County taxpayers - at all, anywhere.
Eric Johnson of the Irving Inquisition blog beat me to the point that what we are doing by decentralizing services from downtown is essentially spending tens of millions of dollars to create duplicate delivery of services. And after a while budget concerns could drive the county to specialize services by geographic location, making it even harder on those in need of assistance. Commissioner Stenglein responded that the way they've been doing it until now, with a central downtown location, hasn't been sufficiently decreasing poverty.
While Stenglein seemed genuine about his desire for the County to do better in that regard, I'm still not following the logic that decentralizing will in fact give us that specific improvement. Yes, it's what their clients have said they want, and yes it will make things more convenient for them. But I haven't yet heard a direct relationship between the hub project and an actual decrease in demand for or use of services.
Asking for the addition of a DMV, passport photos, or other similar services as compromising amenities is pointless.
On multiple levels. Here's why...
...First and foremost, these are not Hennepin County services. They are state services that the County performs at some of their sites in collaboration with the state. And the County is getting out of that business.
From an individual perspective, when was the last time you told your friends about a positive experience at the DMV? For that matter, when was the last time you actually went to one? License tabs can be ordered online now, so that once-a-year trip isn't necessary. Passport photos are renewed once every ten years, drivers' licenses are what, five years? So unless you buy a new car or change addresses and need a new license, what else does one do at a DMV?
The only such place I go to now is at the Midtown Global Market. Whenever I need to take care of that kind of business, I set aside three or four hours - and not for the DMV, but for the market. I love being able to shop for Thai and Lao groceries, pick up a shirt from Honduras or Guatemala, and eat at a Turkish restaurant. But what draws me there and makes me gush about the experience? Not the DMV, but the amenities around it. Even if we could get the county to add this aspect, it would do absolutely nothing to improve the impact of the hub in NoMi.
There may come a time when meetings like last night's are just as pointless.
We can discuss things like adding a site for the West Broadway Farmers Market, public art, a Nice Ride kiosk, or curb cuts to control traffic. Those are all things that make the hub proposal less bad for West Broadway. But the fundamental concern of a large number of residents is not whether there are enough niceties within the proposal. We are concerned about the site plan itself, and believe that concentrating government and non-profits along a commercial corridor will have a detrimental impact on our community. Who will want to live next to a social service center? Even if it's not a problem in terms of crime and safety issues, it's quite likely to be perceived as such to potential new home buyers. And there is a palatable sense of frustration among NoMi residents that we can't spend our money on West Broadway because there isn't enough here. From our perspective, adding this building does not change that dynamic.
Since we had all the players in the room together, I decided to put them on the spot and ask them very directly, "How committed are you to this site vs. other areas of north Minneapolis?" At first my question was dodged, which is telling in and of itself. When pressed by another neighbor to give an answer, County reps essentially said this location was where it would be. That response had me ready to walk out of the meeting in protest. I was thinking of a way I could do so while making my reasons clear to Catalyst and Hennepin County, when Stenglein offered up a potential concession: retail on the first floor and services on the second.
I'm frankly not sure how feasible that is, but I will make one thing clear. This proposal as it stands right now is very far from being seen as acceptable by many who would be directly impacted. Little tweaks here and there are not enough to keep a real dialogue going. Wholesale changes to the site proposal are necessary, and if those do not come along soon, I don't know what more community listening sessions would accomplish.
"The purchasing power of north Minneapolis is grossly underestimated."
This particular meeting started as an extension of a block club meeting held over the weekend. I'm not sure how it expanded into a larger forum, and I know that change put off some Hillside residents. In the end though, the best quote of the night came from someone who lives south of Broadway and wouldn't have been there if not for the broader invitation. I can't stress this enough: NoMi residents are clamoring for quality businesses along our commercial corridor. I hear Catalyst's and Ackerberg's concerns, that without sufficient daytime traffic, retailers will choose to locate elsewhere. But the MPS headquarters will bring hundreds of people to Broadway. Won't that be a shot in the arm for business? Let that influx take root. We're sick of having to spend our money in Robbinsdale or Northeast.
If the proposals for this site are to garner sufficient community support, those bringing it forward will need to have a plan that will add a net benefit to the corridor. We're not there yet.