City officials look to open new Somali mall

Current mall management influenced development of a new mall.

A Riverside Mall shop filled with traditional Somali clothing  on Friday, Oct. 27.

Jack Rodgers

A Riverside Mall shop filled with traditional Somali clothing on Friday, Oct. 27.

Kelly Busche

A dispute between city officials and owners of local Somali malls has pushed some to work for solutions on their own.

City officials have clashed with Sabri Properties over alleged tenant mistreatment – high rent and intimidation – in the company’s existing malls. Community leaders now want to construct a mall on Minnehaha Avenue to give tenants a more welcoming atmosphere.

Sabri Properties owns the Karmel Mall near West Lake Street and the Phillips neighborhood’s Village Market.

Ward 6 Minneapolis City Council Member Abdi Warsame is working on the development of the new mall because he said the Sabris have exploited tenants. 

“We want to create a mall that’s cooperative, that’s owned by the people, so people will own their own spaces,” Warsame said.

The current malls don’t represent the Somali community, he said, adding that he wants a new mall to better reflect community culture and entrepreneurs.

Warsame said this can be achieved by modeling it as a partnership between the city and the community, which is different from current mall management.

Ward 3 Minneapolis City Council Member Jacob Frey said a new mall would be an “excellent opportunity” to let community members hold more control over management and operations.

“New Americans can and should be in control of their own destiny,” Frey said.

Basim Sabri, owner of the Karmel Mall and Village Market, said the concerns are unfounded.

Sabri said hundreds of tenants have made the malls popular places for the Somali community.

“This is a gathering place for families,” he said.

Sabri said he works with his tenants to help them succeed, sometimes by providing them with small loans. 

“I am proud of many of them who have made it and succeeded in this community and in this city,” he said.

A mall under Warsame’s guidance would be short-lived, Sabri said, because he would lack the dedication needed for long-term success.

“Mark my words, it will not succeed,” he said.

Warsame said the malls have always been a problem in the community, so many residents are excited for a new place to gather.

“The community [has] always been talking about it,” Warsame said.

He said the new mall would be a model for other Somali communities looking to construct a mall.

The location for the new mall is “at the heart of the city of Minneapolis,” Warsame said. Because of the location, he foresees it as an attraction for members of the East African community.

Frey said the next step in constructing a mall on the publicly-owned land is to accept proposals from those interested in building and developing the mall.