Off the Map
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.
In January of this year, however, city officials told King that developers would like to bulldoze the newly revamped education center to make way for more housing. The official vision for the redevelopment had quietly been expanding, from 450 new housing units on the north side of Olson Memorial Highway, to 900 straddling both sides of the thoroughfare. Planners were running out of room for facilities not already sketched onto the map. Expensive rehab or not, Summit was in the way.
"They just tried to tell us what they were going to do with our building," King says. City officials said that if the school would move down the street, Minneapolis would help it build a whole new facility. King says the planners were shocked when he balked. The other agencies facing the potential loss of their buildings get their space from the city, he notes, which is probably why the bureaucrats didn't anticipate much resistance. "We are not dependent on them for funding at all," he says. "Most of the other agencies are in city-owned buildings. They don't pay rent, so they have to do what the city tells them they're going to do. The city is just not used to dealing with an agency in north Minneapolis that operates from this standpoint. We don't need them in any meaningful way.
"The city hasn't demonstrated that you can always trust them," he continues. "By asking us to answer this questionnaire they're either ignoring the proposals we made about our building or they aren't taking us seriously. So at this point it's out of our hands. I hope we can avoid things getting to that point, but if they try to declare eminent domain and take the building, we'll take them to court and we'll win."
Jackie Cherryhomes won't say whether the city plans to negotiate with Summit, other than to say that things are definitely "at a standstill" at this point. She disagrees, however, with Lutz's statement that the makeup of the new neighborhood may render the agencies irrelevant. "We don't know who's going to move in there so we can't say that these services won't be necessary," Cherryhomes says. "I don't feel at this point that we can say any agency will be lost from the neighborhood and, at the end of the day, the city council will be making the decisions. Chuck Lutz is an administrator of the process and that's his opinion and I don't share that opinion. I'm looking to build a community of the future here that benefits everyone."
Ron Edwards, who represents the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) on the city's implementation committee, isn't convinced that Cherryhomes is truly collaborating with anyone other than the project's developers. He says committee members have yet to hear anything about the survey. "I'm just shocked," says Edwards. "I attend all those committee meetings and if the city just goes and sends out surveys with broad implications without talking to us first, then we are essentially just a rubber stamp for the city's decisions. The NAACP would never have supported this plan to bring about the demise of local organizations in the community." (The NAACP participates in the planning process because, along with public-housing tenants and the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis, it was a plaintiff in Hollman v. Cisneros, the 1992 lawsuit against city, state, and federal officials.)
"What they're doing here is encouraging those agencies to give answers that will bring about their own demise," adds Edwards, who grew up near the redevelopment site. "Just like the poor who thought they were going to be able to move back in there, these agencies have been hoodwinked....If the city had ever intended for those organizations to be in the development, they would have put them in the master plan in the first place." That plan, which lays out the city's vision for the redeveloped Hollman site as a whole, was in the works for more than two years and was debated and ultimately approved by the city council in March.
Cherryhomes says Edwards, with whom she frequently butts heads during implementation committee meetings, is just plain wrong. "There are lots of agencies in the neighborhood and I'm looking to best meet the needs of everyone," she says. "We are committed to finding ways for them to continue to serve the community as the area changes. I had meetings with individual agencies and everybody wanted a new building and this and that and the other thing and it seemed to me that we needed to approach this as a collaborative process. We've had two meetings so far with the agencies and they've been some of the most exciting meetings that I've been to in years."
Carl Jones is president and CEO of Phyllis Wheatley Community Center, which offers educational and recreational programs for children and adults. He's not so sure that the changing economic status of the neighborhood's residents will necessarily mean that his organization has outlived its usefulness. "Typically we serve people with lower incomes," he says. "But people may be living over there in $200,000 homes [who] may still benefit from our services if we are able to expand enough to add new programs like anger management or parenting classes. People living in expensive homes can still have anger problems."
Jones says this is his first experience trying to make plans with the city. And, while he wouldn't go so far as to say that he believes his program will ultimately find a home in the Hollman redevelopment, he doesn't have reason to distrust the bureaucrats, either. "I know that I'd rather be involved in the process now and be able to sit at the table and say that I don't like something than to just be told later what things are going to be like."
The implementation committee is scheduled to discuss the survey at its July 21 meeting. Cherryhomes says the city had hoped by then to be finished gathering answers to the questionnaire and conducting interviews with agency directors, but the process is slightly behind schedule. By early September, she continues, the city will have a much better idea of which programs will stay in the community and under what circumstances.
Brian Herron, the lone minority member of the city council, says he's been voicing concerns about this very issue since the city first left some of the agencies out of design plans for the area more than three years ago. "I looked at the big-scale model they had laid out for us to see and I said, 'Hey, where's KMOJ, where's Glenwood Community Center?'" he recalls. "They told me that they would find a place for them later. But they haven't."
Herron says that what he fears is happening on the north side is nothing new: "Why is it always good for black institutions to be there when things are bad, but when we begin to change the area, redevelop it, then those institutions are not seen as relevant anymore? My hope is--or was--that we would do something different this time and the agencies would be part of the new community. This should not be happening."
Back at the Glenwood, Christian Akale sits working. He hasn't received the questionnaire yet and he's not sure what to say about it at this point. "But if you talk to Jackie Cherryhomes," he says turning away from his computer, "do let her know that we do take her seriously when she says there will be a place for us. Okay?"
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