City Stalls Development on Grocery Store Meant for North Side Food Desert

An artist's rendering of Praxis Marketplace.

An artist's rendering of Praxis Marketplace.

It took about two years, but local developer Glenn Ford has finally found investors willing to fund a much-needed grocery store on the empty lot at Penn and Plymouth. Now he needs just a little more time to draft the contracts needed to secure the cash, but the members of the Minneapolis City Council decided they've waited long enough to see shovels hit dirt.

Instead, pissed council members are pulling the plug on Praxis Marketplace. They say they won't extend Ford's rights to build, scolding him for lagging behind schedule throughout the entire development process even though he's just now gathered the funds to complete it.

"This project would have been great for the North Side," said council member Blong Yang. "The developer, Glenn Ford, came in and made all these promises, but it took forever for him to get to a point where he was going to build something. We're nowhere close to getting it done."

Surprise surprise, seeking investors for North Side projects takes time.

The site at 1256 Penn Ave. N. has been sitting vacant for decades. The gas station that operated there last had spilled contaminants all over the property, so the city spent several months looking for funds to scrub the place. Ford asked for another year's extension to secure investors, which the city granted, but he says the project hasn't been easy to sell (even with the promise that yes, it would cease to be an environmental hazard in the near future).

Ford says there's a whole group of local investors that have just thrown their hands up and said no more North Side projects simply because it's a poor area. Israel Ishmael of the Northside Residents Redevelopment Council says even his personal friends who are developers won't touch the area because there's the impression that the city won't support them through the expected difficulties of securing funding.

"We're looking to get more out of the project," Ishmael said. "If the city had been more patient and given it more time ... I don't think we ought to rush through this."

He says the community is willing to wait for Praxis, especially as they probably wouldn't have had to wait much longer to charge ahead with engineering plans. Currently, the Northside Residents Redevelopment Council provides bus transit plans that take people to grocery stores outside of the neighborhood.

In the end, Ford had to promise investors that he'd build an aquaponics project elsewhere in the Twin Cities in order to have them sign on with the grocery store. Aquaponics, a system of growing fish and produce together, has the potential to be much more profitable than a grocery store might be in a low-income, inner city community. Ford has his background in that, but he says when he told the city of the deal he'd struck to round up last-minute capital, council members didn't seem to understand.

But the point is, Ford says he's got the funds and bringing a grocery store to the North Side food desert won't take much longer. "Basically if you're going to pick up some of the most difficult projects in the city, shouldn't there be a little more leeway or a little more flexibility when there is a delay not caused by the developer, but something that the developer has to deal with?" he said.

Yang says as far as he knows, no one else is interested in making anything of that empty lot, so the council plans to try harder at targeting certain businesses to drop anchor.

That might be even harder now after Praxis's failure -- Ford's reputation has taken a hit despite his efforts to build in the North Side, and other Minneapolis developers are no doubt taking note.

See also: Metro Transit Bus to be Converted Into Mobile Grocery Store