From the outside, Glenwood Lyndale Community Center looks closed. The streets are nearly deserted, save for some empty pop bottles rolling around in the wind. All of the public housing in the area has been demolished, so the building's light-brown concrete blocks blend with the dirt-covered vacant lots. Inside, though, the basketball court is alive with teenage boys shouting for the ball, then shadow-boxing the air in between shots. In the lobby three younger boys play foosball while a gangly preteen girl holds her infant brother with one hand and plays Donkey Kong with the other.
Across the hall the center's director, Christian Akale, concentrates on his computer screen, unfazed by the high-pitched squeaks of tennis shoes on wood. What might sound like fingernails on a chalkboard to some is music to Akale's ears, and he's worried that he may not be hearing it too much longer.
After decades of serving a diverse group of low-income residents, the community center, located two blocks south of Olson Memorial Highway on Fifth Avenue, is one of several north-side agencies now facing an uncertain future as redevelopment plans for the area unfold. As the result of a 1995 court decision known as the Hollman decree--which promoted the "deconcentration of poverty"--the 73 acres of public housing that lined Olson Memorial Highway as it marches west out of downtown Minneapolis has been razed; its former residents are now spread out across the Twin Cities. When the court decree--the agreement that settled a lawsuit filed by public housing residents--was first signed, residents were told that eventually they would have first dibs on the new affordable housing that would be built on the site.
But as the controversial Hollman project has unfolded, activists and former residents complain that the poor are being priced out. The map that shows the city's vision for the rebuilt neighborhood boasts higher-priced homes flanking tree-lined streets that wind past grassy islands and ponds. But now just one-fourth of the new homes will be reserved for public-housing residents. The plan is to make neighbors out of those who live in $200,000 homes and those who make do on social security benefits and food stamps.
What still has to be settled, however, is whether there will be space in the new neighborhood for the organizations that have been serving local residents for decades.
Until recently Minneapolis officials repeatedly assured north-side residents that each of these agencies would have a place on the map. But in recent weeks, city council president Jackie Cherryhomes, who heads the city's Near Northside Implementation Committee, and other city officials have been questioning whether the redeveloped community--and its presumably more moneyed residents--will need all of its current social-service providers. Firm places on the official map have yet to be created for the Glenwood Lyndale Community Center, KMOJ-FM, Bethune School, the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center, the Sumner Library, the Urban League, and the Seed Academy/Harvest Preparatory School. The city has also asked the Summit Academy O.I.C. if it would consider moving a few blocks west despite the fact that the vocational training center just completed a $2 million, taxpayer-funded renovation.
Chuck Lutz is the director of the city's Special Projects Office, which is responsible for coordinating Hollman planning. (Until two months ago, the office was a part of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority. In May, Lutz's office was moved to the Minneapolis Community Development Agency.) He says the city still plans to find homes for agencies as promised. It's just that the promise may have to be modified a little bit because there's not much available land left to work with, he explains. "Twenty-five percent of the development will be public housing for people with low incomes," he says. "We don't need five gyms, for example. That would be redundant. We have to figure out what the most efficient use of space will be. Should some of these agencies be in one big center?"
According to documents obtained by City Pages, the city recently sent surveys to the aforementioned agencies in the hope of determining who should stay and who will go. How many people does each agency serve, the questionnaire asks, and how does that compare to the number it used to serve? How much space does each group have, and will they need all of it? Are they willing to share space with others?
While those questions surprised some of the agency directors interviewed for this story--none of whom had yet received the questionnaire--another alarmed them: After the new neighborhood has been built, will the area's new residents still need all of these organizations and their services?
One agency not taken by surprise is Summit Academy O.I.C., which provides literacy, basic skills, and job training for low-income teens and adults. Louis King, president and CEO of the nonprofit, has sat at the city's planning table many times and complains that he has never found it to be much of a democracy. He says Summit's board of directors sent proposals to the city back in mid-1998 when it became apparent that the building might become entangled in the redevelopment. "We had just settled into the building and we wanted to be on top of what was going on," King recalls. Summit had spent $2 million in federal grant money to purchase and refurbish its training center, which stretches across two city blocks on Olson Memorial Highway.