Jobs, housing, support services for local residents is top priority for CPED
By Charles Hallman
The City of Minneapolis has recently committed to help businesses and affordable housing growth in North Minneapolis, according to their Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) office. The MSR spoke in-depth with CPED Director Cathy Polasky, who described their level of financial investment.
“We actually spend a lot of time and resources in North Minneapolis. During the recession and following the  tornado, we were making a lot of small loans to help people stay in business or fix up damage, and now we are seeing [Northside] businesses at the point where they are expanding.”
CPED last year “invested” almost $4 million or 45 percent of the department’s total budget in Northside services as Northside Economic Opportunity Network (NEON) and nearly $3 million dollars in housing projects as well, Polasky announced.
“We are looking at developing properties, and we also are looking to businesses that are likely to have job opportunities for Northside residents,” she explained. “Thirdly, we are looking for businesses that can provide services to North Minneapolis.”
“There are many organizations that we partner with… We work with a lot of partners,” said Polasky, whose staff is 22 percent people of color. “Almost everything we do is in partnership with community groups.”
“The City has been very supportive,” said Northside Economic Opportunity Network (NEON) Executive Director Grover Jones, who added that his organization has received $75,000 annually from CPED over the last three years.
Her department’s “Grow North” initiative approved last summer by the Minneapolis City Council offers $200,000 in forgivable loans to companies to “grow or expand” in North Minneapolis and hire local residents as a top priority. “It is designed primarily to attract new businesses to North Minneapolis who will create a large number of jobs,” said Polasky.
Among the current Northside development projects are the $6 million DC Group expansion at their present West River Road location, and the nonprofit LifeSource’s new headquarters to be built on nearly five acres on West River Road. “There is a lot of development going on Glenwood [Avenue]” such as a new office building, and a new Hennepin County service center soon will open on Plymouth Avenue, Polasky pointed out.
However, there’s still some undeveloped or vacant “pockets” around the Northside, such as the old McDonald’s site on Penn and Plymouth, vacant since the 1980s. Gloria Freeman’s Olu’s Home, Inc. “is hoping to purchase” the old The City, Inc. building, says Polasky.
“I think the ongoing challenge is that despite that there are vacant properties in North Minneapolis, there aren’t that many good-size sites available,” says Polasky. “When you are looking to build a 50,000-square-foot building, there really aren’t that many [industrial-type sites] available to put in a new business. Some of [the vacant lots] have been rezoned for residential [use by the City Council in 2007], and the buildings that we do have for manufacturing, some of them are functionally obsolete.”
She says the negative impressions about the area still exist, but her office works hard to move past them in their conversations with potential businesses. “I think there are lingering perceptions about North Minneapolis that are not right. In addition to those misconceptions, I think people sometimes don’t know all the real good things about North Minneapolis.”
CPED as a result has developed a “pitch package” on North Minneapolis that includes “a strong labor force there, great accessibility to the highways, proximity to the river and to downtown,” notes Polasky. “The key for us is not just about bringing jobs to North Minneapolis. It’s about connecting those jobs to North Minneapolis residents, and give them opportunities to get those jobs.” states Polasky.
CPED also is involved in Northside residential development: The City last year invested $1.2 million in the “largely affordable” West Broadway Crescent project and $1.6 million in Gateway Lofts on West Broadway.
“Many of the projects that CPED works on are either entirely affordable or have a large mixture of units that are affordable,” said Polasky. When asked to define “affordable,” the CPED director pointed out, “Some units are funded at 50 percent of the median income — some are less than that or a little bit more than that.
“We do think that there are some good projects in North Minneapolis, both retail and manufacturing businesses that are going to bring more jobs. We are particularly excited about that.”
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