Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Community Dialoge Continues Around Hennepin County Hub

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.


  1. I can just see that "retail" underneath a county welfare office. Check cashing, Payday Loans, Nail Salon and Cell Phone store.

  2. You know, anon 1:58, Catalyst has been taking it on the chin over this proposal and deservedly so. But if we get to a mixed-use retail and service hub, I would have confidence that Catalyst and Ackerberg would put good businesses in there.

  3. I wish you would quit sucking up to Ackerberg. This is NOT the kind of project we need in NOMI. We will never revitalize NOMI if we keep adding buildings designed to serve those who we would prefer move on to some other neighborhood. There are perfectly good houses that will be displaced for this monstrosity.

  4. Catalyst and Ackerberg rock. I hate to see them taking it on the chin over this.


    You've been prolific the last several days, Hawkman. Keep up the great work. I'm off to another part of scenic Afghanistan and might not be on the internet for a while...

  5. Frankly, blueprints and development plans don't materialize by magic or coincidence.

    The Northside community has worked very hard to break the concentrations of poverty which exist and provide long term opportunities for community development. Establishing Hennepin Counties Social Service Hub along North Minneapolis's primary commercial corridor defeats these goals and flies in the face of the established community goals.

    Interestingly, the Minneapolis Downtown Council (where this Community Service Hub is currently located) has just announced it's 2025 plan which calls for the elimination of homeless vagrants and panhandlers in order to create a huge residential and entertainment complex. Is the idea to relocate these services an effort to transplant additional concentrations of poverty to West Broadway?

    Ackerberg and his non-profit Catalyst have positioned themselves to be the "peoples developers" for the Northside in a very well orchestrated manner. They know full well what they are doing and what is at stake.

    The question is - Is Ackerberg truly looking to support our long term goals of community enhancement or just line their pockets with the administration of public funding earmarked for our "civic development" at any cost?

  6. Everybody knows NOMI serves as a containment zone for undesireable elements of society. Look at the sex offenders dumped in NOMI. Should it be any surprise that the county wants to dump social services in the same section of Minneapolis? The community standards are lower, cost of development lower and it will please all other Minneapolis neighborhoods when this is moved out of their backyard to NOMI where we warehouse anything we want out of sight.

  7. Catalyst hasn't filled 5 points with tenants. What chance do they have of putting decent retail on the first floor of a welfare building? I hear the rent is quite steep at 5 points compared to other NOMI places.

    This HUB is a bad idea on so many levels.

  8. Anon 1254am, what are the so many levels?

    And btw, in Catalyst's defense of the lack of tenants, part of their reasoning is there needs to be more people on Wbro to spend money, and the school HQ and this HennCo hub will bring employees to the avenue M-F bankers hours and more.

  9. I won't pretend to know how if feels to live in North Minneapolis but I work at the county. There will be hubs all over the city and county. But the Health Services building downtown will remain and handle a part of the folks that come to Century Plaza(CP), so will the Lake and 12th Ave site, Sabathani, Brooklyn Park, Bloomington... You won't have ALL the poor people coming to the North site.
    The Century Plaza building costs and arm and a leg to keep up let alone heat. The county wants all services in a hub. I agree it is very hard to picture and scary for the neighbors and I don't have the answers. CP really needs to be torn down. I am also wary of the Downtown Council they seem to be getting everything they want. Money talks and BS walks.
    MCulle NE

  10. Comparing the Minneapolis Public School Headquarters with the proposed Hennepin County Social Service Hub is very short sighted. Like comparing apples to coconuts.

    The $27 million MPS administration building will house 500 employees to administer the day to day operations of Minneapolis's educational programs. It will not be a service related location open to the public.

    The Hennepin County Social Service Center is a public service location for the application and administration of aid to alleviate poverty. It administers Health Care assistance, Cash(MSA, GA)distribution, Food Support distribution, Work Support Programs, Emergency Assistance and referrals to other community resources (which may also relocate nearby) if they are unable to help, and a After-hours shelter for homeless.

    This is not a quick in and out process. Applicants are asked to arrive one hour prior to closing to ensure service. The initial intake interview process may take up to two hours. Client should bring verification of ID, income and assets information and my be asked to provide verification of residence and shelter expenses if applying for food support.

    At the end of the appointment, applicants will be given a list of additional verifications they need to provide. If it is determined that they are are ineligible you will receive a written notice of denial. They have 30 days from the date of application to return with requested verifications. Health programs allow 45-60 days. If verifications are not provided, programs will be denied at the end of the processing period. When a case is approved or denied applicants will receive written notice.

    There is no free parking at Century Plaza, if a client spends over two hours, they can request assistance with parking and will need to pay at least three dollars. The West Broadway development plans claim that the Hub will bring in an additional 200 white collar workers. If you examine the plans for the Hub site you will notice there are less than 200 parking spaces. So - Where are the applicants going to park?

    Or- If this count includes total employees which will work different shifts and part time hours, the economic benefit of this proposal is called into question.

    I will not be baited into the discussion that arguments against using the West Broadway location are prejudicial to low income residents. Poverty is not endemic of criminal activity, but one would have to be naive not to understand the potential problems that could impact this central corridor location from undesirable clientele who will need to loiter in the vicinity. This is in large part of why the county is trying to eliminate the Century Plaza location.

    We have tried very hard to clean up West Broadway and this plan undermines efforts to bring the employees of the MPS headquarters into our shops and neighborhoods.

  11. So...How does Hennepin County save money by heating 6 different locations?

  12. Anon 954pm, did you know that the school headquarters building will be used for much more than just the school administration employees? Did you know it will have the adult learning component of MPS there? (GEDs,etc) Did you know it will also house the teacher continuing ed services there? Did you know there will be constant meetings such as parent organizations and other things, both during normal school days and also continuing into the evening? So to say it is not going to be used for public services is pretty much not accurate at all. Whoever has tried to clean up West Broadway ("we have tried very hard to clean up West Broadway") has a very long way to go. You can clean it up fine, but if you can't get people to come to the avenue to spend some money, what good will it do? These two buildings will bring plenty of people.

    I hear your valid complaint about the parking, so advocate for underground parking, or parking ramps.

  13. Anon 5:56 lets not be disingenuous -

    Tell me you can't visualize the difference between individuals seeking opportunities for further educational enhancement who attend a class vs. those who have to loiter while applying for financial assistance?

    Would you be willing to admit that there are deep rooted social and behavioral inadequacies linked to endemic poverty?

    If you recognize that a strong central business corridor (which we badly need to develop a strong residential community) is dependent on customers who have expendable incomes, why would you advocate to encourage the destitute to populate this streetscape?

    Yes, Broadway has a long way to go. To create an environment predisposed to negative activities will not help.

    How important is it that an economic service center be positioned along this main business corridor when NoMi has huge amounts of underdeveloped commercial property along other major transportation corridors?

    Most welfare recipients are not proud of the fact that they must reach out for public assistance. Why force them into a location of high viability within their community?

  14. Just a reminder, people: I do not publish comments that guess at the identity of anonymous commenters on this blog. The most recent comment in this discussion contained such speculation. Since blogger does not allow me to edit submitted comments, I ask that this person resubmit without that part of the content. Even though the remainder of the comment got a little profane and edgy, it was substantive and I'd like to have it put out there.


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