West Bank liaisons could improve security and livability of neighborhood

A West Bank Improvement District, similar to the Downtown Improvement District, would employ community members to keep the neighborhood cleaner and more secure.

J.D. Duggan

Following Downtown’s example, leaders in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood want to enroll community liaisons to promote safety and livability throughout the area.

The West Bank Improvement District would follow a similar model to the special services district in Downtown Minneapolis, employing locals to clean up the neighborhood and welcome visitors. The special services district in Cedar-Riverside would be a self-managed program requiring support from a majority of neighborhood businesses.

Ward 6 City Council member Abdi Warsame is leading the push to garner local support for the West Bank Improvement District, calling the WBID the “missing link” the neighborhood needs.

In the wake of recent shootings in the area, Warsame believes community assets like the initiative will make the community a safer place that is more welcoming to students and visitors. He said local police are overstretched and nonviolence campaigns and posters have a limited impact.

Community ambassadors in special services districts promote the well-being of the neighborhood by serving as a resource to residents and keeping the neighborhood clean and properly maintained.

“What you need is continuity, you need continuous work,” Warsame said. “So you clean up the neighborhood, you have people on the ground, you know. In the summer you have activities for the youth … that continuous work has a huge impact.”

For the WBID, all services would supplement current City resources and would be funded by commercial and industrial property owners in the area.

The idea was discussed at an Oct. 1 Cedar-Riverside Partnership meeting led by local community leaders, including representatives from the University of Minnesota, Augsburg University, Cedar-Riverside Opportunity Center and the West Bank Business Association. 

The program was first proposed in 2012 by WBBA, but previous efforts faced pushback from some local businesses and residents. 

Louis Smith, a partner with the Cedar-Riverside Partnership, said some property owners did not want to invest additional funds into a special services district.

The CRP’s goal is to amass 65 percent support from local businesses before presenting the petition to the City to establish the WBID.

“I think the way we posture this [Cedar-Riverside] Partnership is we don’t want to do anything that doesn’t have community support, so we’re just trying to align resources to help meet community priorities,” Smith said. 

There are currently 16 special services districts throughout Minneapolis, including both self-managed and City-operated designations. The Downtown Improvement District, a business-led special services district launched in 2009, spans 120 blocks of Downtown Minneapolis. 

Kathryn Reali, chief operating officer for the DID, said their improvement district took years of discussion to get off the ground. The original proposal sought a consistent experience throughout the downtown area and clean, welcoming blocks throughout.

She said the need for the program must be continually demonstrated, and that by improving the whole community, each business improves.

“For any … special service district to get launched or even to stay in existence, you have to kind of continually demonstrate how it’s a good investment of [business owners’] money to have [it],” Reali said. “So I think it’s continually kind of setting up that ‘rising tide, lift all boats’ theory that we have to continue to live up to.”