Environmental coordinator working on University turf

Justin Eibenholzl works with local businesses to improve their exteriors.

by Angela Gray

The Southeast Como Improvement Association’s environmental coordinator, Justin Eibenholzl, works to make the air cleaner, the water clearer and the roses smell a little sweeter in the neighborhood.

Southeast Como Improvement Association is one of 80 nonprofit neighborhood organizations in the Twin Cities and one of 56 funded by city-administered neighborhood revitalization funds.

The association has existed in an unorganized fashion for more than 25 years, but only since the early 1990s has it had staff members and funding.

“We have full-time and part-time staff and University students that intern and volunteer,” Eibenholzl said.

He said the organization has set up some positions to be filled by Minnesota Student Association and Graduate and Professional Student Assembly student-representatives who have been active in Como activities.

Eibenholzl said the organization’s main goal is to get neighborhoods to cooperate and serve the people and the area where they are.

He said he has been with Southeast Como Improvement Association since April 2001, working with local businesses with grants and loans to improve their exteriors and with larger industries setting up dialogue to reduce pollution.

He listed some of the two dozen local businesses the organization works with, including Mannings Cafe and Bar, Joe’s Market and Deli, and Muddsuckers Coffee.

Jeff Rosenberg, urban studies and music senior, and co-chairman of the urban studies student organization, is involved in two organizations similar to Southeast Como Improvement Association, and he questioned whether they fulfill their goal of promoting community participation and solidarity.

“There is such a small portion of people involved, and these issues are only so important to them,” he said.

Sarah Smooker, an urban studies graduate, said she worked for Southeast Como Improvement Association as an intern.

“I worked on community outreach and tried to encourage student involvement by organizing bagel giveaways and information handouts,” she said.

Eibenholzl lives in Minneapolis and went to school at the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire, majoring in environmental geology and business.

He said what makes him enjoy his work are results.

“It’s great to see improvement in neighborhoods and the local community,” he said.

“I guess my passion comes from trying to make the air cleaner and the world a better place,” Eibenholzl said.

One of those results is the lighting from Eighth Street Southeast to Como Avenue Southeast.

“Most of the property owners were skeptical about paying the assessment at first, but because they saw a beneficial outcome between students, apartment renters and residents, they signed on,” he said.

Another positive outcome has been the numerous agreements with power plants pledging to clean up their plants.

Xcel Energy agreed to improve its Riverside plant in northeast Minneapolis, one of its oldest, by “cleaning up filters and upgrading some of their equipment from the 1940s,” he said.

Nina Wong, owner of the East River Market on the corner of 15th Street Southeast and Hennepin Avenue Southeast, said her business has become involved with Southeast Como Improvement Association.

“They gave us a grant that allowed us to afford new windows for the store; it was a very good thing,” she said.

“I think a lot of other businesses in the area have taken advantage of the grants and have benefited from it,” she said.

Eibenholzl said, “The neighborhood organization provides a first step to get involved in what’s happening in the city and is the place where grassroots action and mobilizing starts.”?