New councilmen talk West Bank development

Residents and business owners are concerned about the effects of new development.

Abdi Warsame poses for a portrait on Riverside Avenue in front of the Riverside Plaza. Warsame is now the first Somali-American member of the Minneapolis City Council, representing the Cedar-Riverside region.

Lisa Persson

Abdi Warsame poses for a portrait on Riverside Avenue in front of the Riverside Plaza. Warsame is now the first Somali-American member of the Minneapolis City Council, representing the Cedar-Riverside region.

Alex Bitter

Two incoming Minneapolis City Council members say they are open to future development prompted by the light rail Green Line in Cedar-Riverside — but only if the needs of residents and local businesses are adequately addressed.

The soon-to-be councilmen represent areas near the University of Minnesota, and they’ll begin their terms amid concerns from business owners and community groups about the impact of the rail on rent and redevelopment in the area.

Councilman-elect Abdi Warsame, who beat incumbent Robert Lilligren to represent Ward 6 earlier this month, said those concerned need to send a stronger message to developers and the city about what their goals for the neighborhood are.

“They need to be more assertive about what they want,” he said. “What kind of protection do they want from the city? I think this hasn’t been articulated very well yet.”

The rail line will likely impact local small businesses, Warsame said, because of higher property values and, consequently, higher rent.

“If the property taxes increase, property owners will pass that on to the people that rent from them,” he said. “That’s the big worry.”

Gabe Duba, a sales coordinator and part-owner of the Hub Bicycle Co-op on South Cedar Avenue, said he doesn’t expect the shop’s rent or the rent of nearby businesses to increase when the rail opens next year.

But he said the property on which the shop sits, located just down the street from the West Bank Station, could be attractive to developers.

“[The owner] might sell it to a developer, and then we’d be out of luck,” Duba said.

Overall, Warsame said he sees the development as “more of an opportunity than a threat,” since the rail will bring new customers to the neighborhood.

Jacob Frey, who beat incumbent Diane Hofstede for the council’s Ward 3 seat, agreed on the rail’s potential benefit to businesses near the West Bank Station. He said the city could even consider measures such as tax credits to support businesses near the line.

“The rail line is a positive,” he said. “It will increase economic activity.”

Jeff Werthmann-Radnich, who owns the Acadia Cafe near the corner of South Cedar and Riverside avenues, said he hopes his restaurant will benefit from rail commuters passing through the area.

“Increased traffic flow into the neighborhood as a commercial space is something that I’m looking forward to,” he said.

He said a major increase in his rent as a result of higher property values is “not a concern at all.”

Duba said he’s doubtful that there will be a lot of short-term change but added that development is possible if enough property owners sell out.

“I could definitely see some of the building owners around here selling to developers,” he said.

Addressing resident concerns

Warsame, who is also the head of the Riverside Plaza Tenants’ Association, said he plans to look into resident complaints about Fine Associates, which is planning a 256-unit apartment complex on vacant land near Riverside Plaza.

The development, named Five15 on the Park, has drawn concern from Riverside Plaza residents who are worried about increased traffic and construction near the Coyle Community Center.

Warsame said it’s in the developer’s best interest to address residents’ concerns about the project.

“Who’s going to move into this area if the people who live there already are unhappy?” he asked.

Warsame said Riverside Plaza tenants shouldn’t be worried about rail-inspired development displacing them, since the neighborhood survived the opening of the Cedar-Riverside Station on the Blue Line in 2004.

“We haven’t had a big exodus from the neighborhood,” he said. “This is going to be the same.”

Warsame said he wants to  talk to more community members before discussing his policy proposals to deal with development in Cedar-Riverside.

“Our main plan is to protect the people that live here,” he said.