Watchdog Training

City council members vow to pay closer attention to the Hollman project

"I go to those implementation committee meetings and half the time I'm thinking to myself: 'I don't even have any idea what they're talking about,'" says north-side resident Natalie Johnson Lee. "You get certain types of information at those meetings, but all of the deals are made behind closed doors. We just seem to get updates in the committee, and I thought we were supposed to be in on discussions. Council members just seem to vote this stuff through, because if they admit that they haven't really read about it all they'll look stupid. So they just vote yes. If this keeps up, the people who should have benefited from this process will get nothing at all."

Council member Lisa McDonald, who represents the Tenth Ward, agrees. "This started out as having 50 percent affordable housing, and Jackie Cherryhomes dropped it to 25 percent. It does make you feel like some gentrification is going on. I don't have a problem with that, necessarily. But when we're forcing people and agencies to move out of the area, that's a problem."

City work crews will begin tearing up streets, sidewalks, and underground utility pipes on the north side of Olson Memorial Highway in October to make way for new infrastructure. Construction on the first 270 units of rental and for-sale housing will begin next spring. Additional housing will be built during the next three phases. The project is to be completed by 2007.

To avoid budget battles in the future, Cherryhomes says, she's going to meet with Chuck Lutz, the city's special projects coordinator, to devise communication strategies to keep council members in the loop. "In retrospect, we probably could have done a better job of keeping people informed over the last eight or nine months," Cherryhomes admits.

Whatever happens, it needs to happen fast. The City of Minneapolis began paying the Hollman project's developer, St. Louis-based McCormack Baron, $30,000 a month on June first of this year. That figure won't drop to $15,000 per month until the first phase of infrastructure and housing-development funds are secured.

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