Scared, shaken, but still strong: Twin Cities businesses face a long road of return one year after unrest and destruction |
Rudy Trujillo stood outside his tax services business along Lake Street, recalling the troubled days after George Floyd was murdered by police a year ago, how he ducked as bullets were fired from moving car and watching other businesses burn.
“You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve seen,” said the 60-year-old, owner of Trujillo Tax Services at E. Lake Street and S. 5th Avenue in Minneapolis. “It was really scary. Protesters, arsonists and looters, all mixed up.”
Reconstruction during a pandemic has put Trujillo and other business owners to the test – mentally, emotionally and financially. The mile-long Lake Street corridor, the epicenter of the riots a year ago, is still a shell of what it used to be. The empty lots look like anonymous graves for once successful businesses that have been destroyed.
More than 1,500 businesses were damaged along Lake Street and other business districts in Minneapolis and St. Paul in the riots. With more than $ 500 million in damage, it was the second costliest civil disruption in U.S. history, behind the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
Now, if there weren’t signs posted in the windows or, in many cases, spray-painted “We’re Open” on the onboard doors, those who didn’t know might assume they were closed. Occasionally, however, a door to a boarded up building opens, revealing activity and transactions.
“I continue to be heartbroken when I hear what business owners are going through,” said Allison Sharkey, executive director of the Lake Street Council, the nonprofit serving businesses along this line. which was a thriving business district.
“I hear about them struggling to reopen after a COVID shutdown, then civil unrest strikes, then they reopen again, then they’re robbed. It’s that series of trauma and setbacks.”
Reconstruction is not halfway and could take years.
For many, insurance and legal issues persist. For those with insurance, some plans did not cover the full cost of reconstruction, leaving financial gaps that are difficult to fill. Government funds have been pledged but are not available, as nonprofits and corporate money try to fill the void.
The Star Tribune surveyed a 6 mile stretch from the Speedway at 3800 W. Lake St. to Dunn Bros. Coffee at 4648 E. Lake St. Of the 334 businesses damaged along the route, 110 are still closed. Only 21% of the most damaged properties are back in business.
Olivia Rodriguez, owner of El Rey Car Audio in front of Trujillo’s office, tries to find meaning or normalcy. Looters broke into his store at 417 E. Lake St., nearly depleting inventory. Funding from the Lake Street Council and organizations, such as the North Foundation and Urban Ventures, have helped.
Repairing her property and restocking inventory continues to be a problem. The same goes for withdrawing customers.
Rodriguez said some customers intentionally shopped at his business after the unrest as a sign of support. Without these clients and the support of nonprofits, “it would have been impossible to stay in business,” she said.
“This [train trip] mentality where you get out of Minnehaha and the lake and get all my needs met, now it’s a little more challenged, ”said Erik Hansen, director of economic policy and development for the Minneapolis planning department. , especially those traveling by car, will go further to find a more convenient place to shop. We have lost these regional shopping centers. People couldn’t get what they needed. “
COMMITTED TO RECOVERY
Wellington Management, based in St. Paul, which includes six buildings at or near the intersection of Lake and Hiawatha among the 100 commercial properties it owns and manages, is on schedule this year to reopen three of the buildings that burned down. during the unrest, said David Wellington, executive vice president of the company.
One is Everlake, an 189-unit low-income apartment building on 29th Street E. that was under construction when it burned down. The units were to be ready for rent by the end of 2020. Using most of the original contractors, the project started again six weeks after Floyd’s death and progressed faster than initial construction. It should be ready in the fall.
About 74,000 square feet, or about half, of the Hi-Lake Mall in the 2200 block of Lake Street burned down or was decimated. The insurer considered it a total loss and said it needed to be demolished, Wellington said. The center will be presented to potential tenants in a few weeks and will be built on the discounted Burlington department store.
“We knew pretty quickly that the financial and economic impact for these neighborhoods and for the people who live around Lake Street, West Broadway and University Avenue would be very significant,” Wellington said. “This is part of the reason why we wanted to reinvest.
Other redevelopment projects are on hold. A group of buyers have secured the purchase of the centennial Coliseum building at 2700 E. Lake St. for around $ 2 million and say they want to make it a hub for businesses that were displaced during the riots, but also businesses owned by people of color, immigrants and women. Neighborhood Development Center, a St. Paul real estate company, has acquired corner land at Chicago Avenue and E. Lake Street, the site of a two-story building destroyed by arson during the riots. The site could become a multi-storey commercial complex with affordable housing.
For small businesses, funds are deployed to speed up the take-over process. Part of the $ 12 million raised for the Lake Street Council’s We Love Lake Street Recovery Grant program will go towards acquisition and pre-development costs for local businesses, Sharkey said.
The objective of the allocated dollars is to transform tenants into owners, but also to keep local owners. The funds will cover up to 10% of the purchase price, with a cap of $ 100,000 per project. Businesses can also apply for up to $ 50,000 in pre-development grants, she said. Applications will be accepted in multiple rounds on the first day of each month until funding is no longer available.
The City of Minneapolis Community Property Development Fund, which has around $ 8 million, will also be used to help with the reconstruction. The city said it was further assisting reconstruction efforts through newly designated cultural districts, an initiative implemented before the pandemic and Floyd’s death, Hansen said.
About $ 270 million of the $ 1.9 trillion US federal bailout could spill over to help businesses that are still struggling, Hansen said. The intention of the city is to invest the money directly in the communities.
State money could be added to the mix, although all measures are expected to be adopted at the special session next month.
Henry Jimenez, executive director of the Latino Economic Development Center, is not impressed.
“I have the impression that the government is still working the same way, as if the world is going on,” he said. “It’s a time for creativity and a time for innovation. I feel like it’s the same process.”
The take-over process, he said, will have to be driven by businesses in the home town and their customers.
“If the people of Minneapolis really want Lake Street to survive, they have to go beyond the intention of spending money on Lake Street, by making sure these businesses survive,” he said. “I feel like the pandemic is forcing businesses to go above and beyond to make it safe for customers. It’s to the point where businesses need customers to go beyond.”
IT WILL TAKE YEARS
It may take a year or two before other reconstruction projects materialize; there could also be empty lots lingering for a long time, Wellington said.
“Lake Street and West Broadway, and to a lesser extent University Avenue, will never be alike,” he said.
A more unfortunate consequence of the riots could be the loss of shops for those living in the affected neighborhoods, according to stakeholders.
“On either side of these commercial corridors are also some of the more modest housing we have in the Twin Cities,” said Kathryn Greiner, executive director of Minneapolis-based Rebuilding Together.
Efforts to support some neighborhoods will take several years, Greiner said.
Jimenez said Minnesota’s economy couldn’t afford to see the Lake Street corridor deteriorate. “The number of businesses on this corridor and the amount of products and services and products they acquire outside of the subway, in the region and the state, is not just a driver for Minneapolis and St. Paul, but the state, ”he said.
IT’S OUR HOUSE
For Trujillo, the effect is personal. He has operated his business from various locations on Lake Street since 1993. His goal was to end his career there.
Trujillo was able to recover computers and other equipment from the building on the first night of the riots. Other than two bullet holes outside the building, his office was not hit.
He has yet to remove the wood covering his windows since Derek Chauvin was convicted of Floyd’s murder. He awaits Chauvin’s conviction on June 25. But now it has security cameras and bulletproof windows, ready in case there is a next time.
Business has improved, but not to pre-pandemic levels, Trujillo said. To stay afloat, he used government grants and Lake Street Council funds, as well as a loan under the Federal Paycheck Protection Program.
But with the construction of streets and sidewalks just outside his office, the flow of traffic near his intersection has decreased significantly, he said. Trujillo believes potential consumers are avoiding the area for this reason, along with increased violence. After tax season, he anticipates a significant drop in clientele.
“It was a hub of Minneapolis,” Trujillo said. “It all happened on Lake Street.
Editors Jeff Meitrodt and Evan Ramstad contributed to this report.
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