With help slow in coming, Minneapolis mayoral candidates present post-riot revitalization plans

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Letters from around the world adorn a wall at Curry in a Hurry, an Indian and Bangladeshi restaurant in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, with greetings reminiscent of a dark period in Minneapolis history.

A young child from Michigan wrote a letter. Another person gave $ 20 and said that was all they could send. Letters poured in after business partners Ruhel Islam and Riz Prakasim lost their southern Minneapolis restaurant, Gandhi Mahal, when arsonists set it on fire in the 2020 riots following the murder of George Floyd.

The pair have an ambitious redevelopment plan at their old site, but say they’ve received little government help other than a small initial grant and platitudes.

“I think words are powerful, but those words need to be backed up with actions,” Prakasim said in an interview. “If there isn’t, then you have half-baked rhetoric.”

Ruhel Islam and Riz Prakasim are looking to remodel their southern Minneapolis restaurant, Gandhi Mahal, after it burned down in the 2020 riots. But they received virtually no government assistance. (FOX 9)

Islam and Prakasim are not alone. Local business owners in the East Lake Street, South 38th Street and West Broadway corridors face a tangle of financing problems after areas suffered uninsured losses estimated at $ 250 million. The task of rebuilding the corridors marked by the unrest of 2020 awaits the elected mayors and members of the city council on November 2.

Redevelopment efforts are crippled

Minneapolis’ modest redevelopment efforts were initially crippled by tight budgets during the COVID-19 pandemic and recession. Recently, the city committed $ 28 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act to provide capital and reduce business costs, although much of the money goes to businesses that lost revenue during the pandemic.

The city also spent $ 914,000 to clean up debris from seven lots. Inspectors ordered a total of 18 landowners to raze their land after the riots, and a city spokesperson said the remaining 11 had loss insurance. Islam and Prakasim said the insurance covered $ 50,000 of the $ 125,000 for cleaning their property, and that they paid the rest out of pocket.

It took 17 months for the state to provide meaningful aid due to a debate in the divided state legislature over whether to fund riot reconstruction. This month, Minnesota economic development officials awarded the nonprofit Minneapolis Foundation $ 20.8 million as part of a state grant program approved by lawmakers this summer.

The top three in the mayoral race have come up with a series of plans to tackle economic development in hard-hit hallways.

The incumbent, Jacob Frey, said he was not happy with the city’s progress. If voters give him a second term, Frey said he would expand the city’s business development fund which gives minority business owners the ability to purchase their company’s real estate.

“The focus has to be on (local businesses) because they’ve made these hallways like East Lake Street and West Broadway wonderful to begin with,” Frey said in an interview. “It’s not just about helping them like a paint job or a new facade or new awnings. It also gives them the tools to enjoy long-term economic gain and value – which we’ll see.

The challengers say the city hasn’t done enough

Challengers Kate Knuth and Sheila Nezhad said Frey’s administration had not done enough to revitalize the hardest hit areas.

Knuth, a former three-term DFL state representative, said her goal would be to mobilize public and philanthropic funds for the reconstruction effort.

“We haven’t seen this as effectively as we needed to over the past 18 months,” Knuth said in an interview. “I have an excellent relationship with the legislators who still work in the State House and Senate. And this knowledge and these relationships would make me more effective in bridging this state-city collaboration more effectively.”

Nezhad said his priority would be to add “navigators” or staff who help small business owners navigate government bureaucracy.

“I spoke to business owners who hadn’t heard of the city at all after the uprising and weren’t aware of the services available to them,” Nezhad said in an interview. “As a community organizer, I know the power of individual awareness. That’s why, as mayor, I would invest more in staff who can speak directly to business owners. “

The mayor elected in November will need to be prepared to lead efforts to rebuild Minneapolis businesses after the 2020 unrest.

“Much can be done”

As the city prepares for election day, money from outside is now flowing.

The $ 20.8 million pool of public funds represents less than 10% of overall needs, but “a lot can be done with $ 20 million,” said RT Rybak, president of the Minneapolis Foundation. Rybak was mayor of Minneapolis from 2002 to 2013.

The foundation is embarking on a community contribution process and will be giving out awards in a month or two. Consensus has already developed around some projects that will go forward, Rybak said.

The Minneapolis Foundation also has a separate philanthropic effort called the Restore Rebuild Reimagine Fund targeting corridor revitalization.

Islam said he employed 25 workers to cook and serve food at his former Gandhi Mahal restaurant. Now a small team of 15 works in a cramped kitchen in a rented apartment building which he says can produce about half the income.

“We were collecting taxes for the city. Now they are not getting anything,” he said. “So the sooner they help us build, the sooner they generate income. “

He planted a garden at the old Gandhi Mahal and offered a restaurant, theater and community space on the vacant site. But like other business owners, funding for the project was hard to come by, he and Prakasim said.

“It is incumbent on those responsible for our city to embark on this reconstruction endeavor as soon as possible because Minneapolis has so much to offer,” Prakasim said.


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