Lake Street Returns – Southside Pride
BY KAY SCHROVEN
In a year or two, can you imagine yourself waltzing in the Coliseum Building in the Longfellow neighborhood at 2700 E. Lake St. for a cocktail party, to buy goods and services, find a job, or see an art exhibit? ? Taylor SmrikÃ¡rova, project manager for Redesign, Inc. (aka Seward Redesign) can. âThe Colosseum has good bones, it just needs help,â she said.
SmrikÃ¡rova, who has an architectural and real estate background, envisions an open and welcoming lobby, rooftop space, and a diverse and diverse tenant population. She is enthusiastic and hopeful about the redevelopment of East Lake Street following the civil unrest of 2020 when 150 buildings were set on fire and dozens torched after the murder of George Floyd.
The Coliseum has had several lifetimes: it was built in 1917 and opened as a Freeman Department Store, successfully operated as a family business until the 1940s when it was sold to the May Department Stores Company based in St. Louis. This sale was unsuccessful and in 1956 the property reverted to the Freemans. In 1975, Freeman sold to Roger Podany, who sold used office furniture and renamed the building for himself. Although Podany didn’t invest much in the property, he kept the ballroom on the third floor and rented it out to rock bands, including The Suburbs, for practice. When Podany sought to sell to a known slum owner, the Longfellow Community Council (LCC) stepped in and sought out a community developer. Enter Fred Lehman. Lehman forged a partnership with a wealthy doctor who eventually withdrew from the market. The LCC came to the rescue in collaboration with the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP). This, along with bank and additional funds from the city and neighborhood, enabled Lehman to purchase and rehabilitate the property. In 2001, the building reopened with tenants such as Denny’s Restaurant, a Latino health clinic, and the 3rd Police Station basement. The 3rd arrondissement moved after torrential rain flooded the basement. An out-of-town financial group then bought the building and managed it until 2020, when civil unrest rocked the building. Enter Chris Romano, Executive Director of Seward Redesign.
Redesign is a non-profit community developer with 50 years of experience in the Seward and Longfellow neighborhoods. It is also one of 16 non-profit organizations that have had access to an acquisition loan program called CAT (Community Asset Transition) created by LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation) in partnership with Hennepin County, JPMorgan Chase and the Minneapolis, Bush and McKnight Foundations, to help recover from the riots and the ongoing pandemic. Redesign and Partners are also seeking funding from We Love Lake Street Grants, PACE Equity, New Markets Tax Credits, Tax Increase Funding, Historic Tax Credits, Minneapolis Commercial Property Development Fund. and Xcel Energy discounts.
Redesign also purchased the Elite Cleaners property at 3101 Minnehaha Ave. SmrikÃ¡rova and others have a vision of what these properties can be and well-crafted plans. SmrikÃ¡rova describes not only a building restoration, but a âresurgence and revitalizationâ much like H Street in Washington, DC, where the 1968 riots that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. burned the neighborhood down. As a result of this event, businesses faced divestment (in the 1970s and 1980s) and eventually fled to the suburbs until the early 2000s, when a renewed interest in city life and a resurgence took place, making it the vital destination it is today, known for its nightlife, festivals, restaurants, pop-ups, and community vibe. âWe don’t want this iconic building to sit empty for long. Getting the Colosseum back online is part of the healing process taking place on Lake Street, âsaid SmrikÃ¡rova.
SmrikÃ¡rova and Redesign are motivated by challenge and enjoy working with other organizations, coalitions and individuals who share their vision. âThis time it will be different. This time it will be an organic process “which will not happen to the community but will belong to the community,” said SmrikÃ¡rova. This time, the plans are built on cultural assets, fairness and transparency. There will be coalitions, community participation and investment with a focus on opportunities for business and talent in Black, Indigenous and Colored (BIPOC) communities. That is to say an entry for people who may have been excluded in the past for various reasons, in particular financial. The goal is community ownership and wealth creation, especially for those who have been excluded due to damaging lending practices and systemic racism.
The Colosseum will host various entrepreneurs. Old tenants, as well as new ones, will be invited and offered affordable leases. Already three pillars have been established which will co-own and operate the 70,000 square foot building – a new bar, restaurant and event space from the owners of Du Nord Social Spirits; Urban Design Perspectives, an architectural firm owned by a black woman; and Commonsense Consulting @ Work, a black woman-owned consulting firm. The redesign is also in the process of listing the Colosseum in the National Register of Historic Places. The first stage of the request has been completed. The second step is underway and involves approval of the design. If approved, this statute allows for state and federal tax credits.
Peter McLaughlin, former Hennepin County Commissioner and State Representative for Minnesota, has been the Executive Director of LISC since 2019. LISC is dedicated to supporting projects aimed at revitalizing communities and providing greater economic opportunities for residents. This requires capital, strategy and know-how. LISC is funded by foundations, companies and governments. Regarding East Lake Street, McLaughlin said the goal is to “take local control of damaged properties” rather than allowing outside investors to enter who would not have an understanding or commitment to the community. . This is done by using financial loans to community members, especially BIPOC members who seek to become stakeholders. âIt’s not just about fundraising, it’s about creating places,â said McLaughlin, which can be described as preserving and nurturing the soul of the community. Now that the Colosseum building is secure, LISC is raising funds for the renovation, which are estimated at $ 16 million. Construction is expected to last a year and will be carried out by two local community-focused companies, TRI-Construction and Watson-Forsberg, owned by minorities, with a target to open in the summer of 2023.
Redesign is also purchasing the Elite Cleaners property just south of Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue, with a loan of $ 827,250 from LISC. The property was heavily damaged during the same civil unrest and now stands among other vacant buildings including the Old Post Office, the Odd Fellows Building and the Colosseum. Less than a day after the destruction, the Lake Street Council was on hand to help secure the building and a disaster grant, but Samir and Pinky Patel, who own the cleaning business, couldn’t afford to rebuild without help. A $ 1.1 million renovation / expansion began in November 2021, a small fraction of the estimated $ 350 million in commercial destruction caused by the riots. Redesign will eventually sell the dry cleaning property to the Patels for approximately $ 475,000. The redevelopment will also retain adjacent land for the purpose of developing what is known as âmissing intermediate housingâ.
When Samir and Pinky Patel contacted the Lake Street Council for help, they were referred to Nancy St. Germaine. St. Germaine, a member of the Turtle Mountain Ojibwa of North Dakota, has a college education, but said, âIt has virtually nothing to do with what I do today. I’m learning by doing and started by installing tiles in bathrooms throughout college. Today, she owns Raven Construction and Jack’s Hardware on Franklin Avenue (the former Welna II hardware store). With the help of the Community Property Development Fund (CPDF), Raven was able to secure a 40-year forgivable loan at 0% interest. Raven Construction has joined Elite in reconstruction plans and will relocate the warehouse and offices to the rear of the Elite property. St. Germaine, with its team of 10, is working with the Patels on the redesign, expansion and construction of the Minnehaha Avenue property.
Ironically, the rioting of neighborhoods with many immigrant-owned businesses has created opportunities for minority-owned businesses as reconstruction takes place. Raven has grown rapidly, often through networking and community involvement, and intends to branch out into the mechanical and electrical fields. Unlike large projects with one owner, this type of rebuilding involves hundreds of small business owners with their own goals. Small minority-owned construction companies often have difficulty obtaining bank loans; barriers still exist, access to capital remains a challenge and competition, especially with large construction companies, is fierce. Only 2.8% of public construction contracts go to minority-owned companies and only 0.02% to black-owned companies. As St. Germaine said, âThat’s why we need co-ops, partnerships and shared services. She is also developing an internship / mentoring program to give BIPOC and women a fresh start – an opportunity to learn construction skills and business.
In the meantime, as construction kicks off, keep an eye out for art projects in and around the Colosseum, designed to alert us to upcoming changes and inspire us to a better day. Redesign works closely with fivexfive Public Art Consultants. Robyne Robinson is the director of fivexfive, which you may remember from her career as a television reporter. Fivexfive will engage local artists from BIPOC to create a tangible invitation to the community and a message of hope for what is to come.