Street Fighting Man

neighborhood prophet or capitalist pariah. basim sabri doesn't care what people think of him--as long as they stay out of his way.

"This is what I gathered from you folks," says Sabri, pointing to the sketches. As some residents pick apart Sabri's new proposal, Herron pleads for fairness. "I know people ain't playing the violin for the brother," Herron says of Sabri. "But every drawing he does costs money."

Many seem surprised, even pleased with the sketches. There is a problem, however. Sabri's scheme calls for displacing two occupied houses at the south end of a block he doesn't own. The owners of those homes, David Coral and Corrine Zala, both emphatically tell neighbors that they don't want to sell. Sabri says that he needs the land to make the project financially viable. "Reality is this," he says. "We have to look at the bigger picture."

Sabri doesn't own the land he needs in Lyndale neighborhood, either, so now he will have to start the neighborhood approval process all over again. But in Central, at least for the moment, he can take off the gloves. "I think he's on the right track, and what I'm hearing from people is that they love it," gushes Herron. After the meeting, Sabri chats and cracks jokes with foes, folks such as Coral and Piehl.

David Kern

Still, even though Piehl and Coral like the changes, they aren't prepared to let Sabri off the hook entirely. "You don't come up with plans like that in a week. The hotel was leverage to get those other two lots," Piehl figures. "It's, 'I'm going to build what you hate, or if you give me a little bit more, I'll build what you want.' I think he was aware some time ago that it wasn't going to fly, and continued it as a threat." Sabri says that he's been mulling a housing idea for some time, but he claims that the hotel would still be his preferred project on the site: "I believe what I proposed is very reasonable."

Central neighborhood. Ventura Village. Sabri always seems to have another plan up his sleeve--another way to save south Minneapolis from itself. Does he want to make money? Of course. After all, he's not Mother Teresa: "I am the same Basim Sabri as I was when I was poor as hell. Money does not rule me; it's not everything. You take all my money away today and throw me in China, you know what? I'll find something to do."

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