Up For Grabs
Deep in the Target Corp. website is a page called "Community Giving," where one of Minnesota's wealthiest companies promotes its longtime reputation as a corporate do-gooder. There is a depiction of a smiling black girl and the boast that "Target gives back over $2 million a week to education, the arts, and social services." Since its first store opened in 1962, the website claims, Target "made a strong commitment to support and empower the communities its store serves" and offers grants to promote, among other things, "peace at home."
You might forgive some folks in north Minneapolis for finding a little irony in the feel-good aphorisms. It's been nearly nine months since Target announced it was closing its store on West Broadway, taking away 123 jobs and leaving a hole in what is essentially the North Side's only true economic corridor. When the retail giant said last May that it would shutter the West Broadway Target in August, there was an outcry from community leaders, most of them African American.
"They never invested in it," Greg Gray, a former state rep for the area, told the Star Tribune at the time, adding that Target "did not work with the community" to keep the 20-year-old store afloat.
The implication was that Target had turned its back on a racially diverse part of town, where roughly a third of the residents live in poverty. Many noted that while the company had closed fewer than 40 stores in its 40-year history, it was closing a store in a similar part of Detroit on the same day it was bailing on the Hawthorne neighborhood. There was even talk of picketing at the entrance in the store's final months.
Target reps quickly met with city and community leaders to do a little damage control. Though there was much talk about turning the 83,000-square-foot space over to the neighborhood, Target eventually sold it to Edina-based Jerry's Foods, which promised to open a Cub supermarket. There was also a lot of lip service paid to what Target could give back to the community. By July, insiders say, various neighborhood and economic groups were putting together a major grant proposal to solicit funds from the Fortune 500 company. (Some rumors, incredibly, put the number as high as $20 million.)
Perhaps not surprisingly, that money never materialized. Instead, Target offered to cut a check for $300,000 to go toward the West Broadway corridor. But it was never clear exactly what it was to be used for. And so the months dragged on.
But in recent weeks, there's been a fresh clamor over Target's community giving, and the north side is divided again. Just before the new year, the African American Leadership Summit and Coalition of Black Churches held a meeting at the Urban League that turned to the subject of the Target funds, and it became clear that most of the community leaders present were not in on the process. And there was confusion over who would be responsible for the check. Anger prevailed, and suddenly rumors were flying.
At least one community leader, the Rev. Jerry McAfee, reacted with disdain and walked out. "I didn't see how this was going to help any of the people I serve," McAfee says. "I decided I don't want anything to do with it. It's just hush-hush money."
Ask McAfee, or Urban League President Clarence Hightower, or Shane Price, director of Hennepin County's African American Men's Project, about the Target check, and you get the same jilted response: They have no idea where the money is.
It turns out that Don Samuels, a Minneapolis City Council member who took office just a year ago, is involved in overseeing the grant. Target was having trouble finding a viable "fiscal agent" to handle the money, so Samuels stepped forward with a nonprofit he had co-founded--before the $300,000 surfaced, he notes--called the African American Economic Development Coalition. "Nobody else was really doing anything, so we thought we'd do it," Samuels says. Eventually the Samuels group presented a plan to Target regarding West Broadway, and last week put the money in the hands of the Minneapolis Foundation, a philanthropy group founded in 1915.
On paper, Samuels seems like a natural to oversee the money, having made much ado about his entrepreneurial background when he ran for office, and likewise having expressed interest in revitalizing the West Broadway corridor.
But privately, some community leaders view Samuels as an interloper. For starters, the Target location is not in his Third Ward, but rather in Natalie Johnson Lee's Fifth Ward. And he has never entirely endeared himself to local black leaders. Samuels himself notes that "the brightest and best of African Americans tend to go corporate," a belief that likely doesn't play well on the streets.
Further troubling to some observers is that the economic coalition arrayed around Samuels is largely a mystery. Samuels admits that the group has been "trying to stay under the radar," and is waiting to get its 501c(3) status as a nonprofit. He's also mum about who is actually part of the group, though many say State Rep. Keith Ellison and North Side neighborhood activist Jonathan Palmer have been involved.
Mostly, though, it's the lack of community input that bothers North Side residents. "I'm not pleased with what I hear," says activist Carol Ann White, who has lived on the North Side for 29 years. "There's a sense of hidden agendas with the community not knowing, and not able to pose questions about it."
But Samuels says the guidelines laid out in the grant are very specific about planning for the West Broadway corridor and "marketing the avenue" once a plan is in place. In other words, it's for a preliminary study, with the details to be worked out later. Samuels says the money will not be divvied up: "This money is for planning; it's not intended to be piecemeal."
What's at stake here is a declining business district that city leaders have long talked of reviving. More than 20 years ago, Minneapolis spent $15 million for the land to make Target an anchor tenant, and now that the store is gone, a new struggle for the future of West Broadway has emerged. Samuels and Mayor R.T Rybak have been predicting a West Broadway renaissance, but North Siders have heard such proclamations before. They are skeptical of city leadership, and, understandably, they don't trust Target.
Certainly the company didn't have to throw any money toward West Broadway. But $300,000 is not much from a business that claims to give away $2 million a week and, as the nation's second-largest discount retailer, counted $43.9 billion in revenue in 2002. And it doesn't make up for abandoning the neighborhood altogether. Samuels insists that the money "wasn't a ticket out of the neighborhood" for Target. But many share McAfee's feelings that it's "simply blood money, chump change to keep us quiet."
The remaining question is whether the West Broadway plan will be the "coming-out party" Samuels promises, or will come to nothing appreciable in the end. As Shane Price notes, "There's all kinds of poor people fighting for crumbs up here. For that to get in the way would be equally shameful for both sides."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss City Pages' biggest stories.