Cedar-Riverside among designated ‘cultural districts’ in mayor’s budget

Mayor Frey’s budget allocates funding for six culturally diverse districts in Minneapolis.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey spoke to students at an Minnesota Student Association forum in Blegen Hall on Tuesday, Feb. 26. Frey talked about affordable housing, racial equality, and better ways to handle sexual assault.

Tony Saunders

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey spoke to students at an Minnesota Student Association forum in Blegen Hall on Tuesday, Feb. 26. Frey talked about affordable housing, racial equality, and better ways to handle sexual assault.

by Mohamed Ibrahim

Using community input, local officials hope funding from the City of Minneapolis will put the city’s diverse cultures on display.

In his 2020 budget presentation Aug. 15, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey proposed designating six “cultural districts” around the city that would aim to celebrate the city’s diverse communities. The districts, including Cedar-Riverside, would receive funding for public works projects and investments in local businesses that city officials say will highlight the cultures of communities that live there.

The proposal allocates $550,000 for street sweeps, trash pickup and improved lighting, and $200,000 for facade improvements of local buildings. 

An additional $350,000 would go to the city’s nonprofit tourism arm Meet Minneapolis to promote cultural small businesses in the area, and another $200,000 would be invested in local art projects.  

This is something that the city of Minneapolis is realizing the importance of, said Ward 6 City Council member Abdi Warsame, who represents the predominantly East African neighborhood. “[It’s] how culture can actually empower people, and how culture can bring people together.”

The five other proposed districts are along 38th Street, East Lake Street, Franklin Avenue and Central Avenue in northeast Minneapolis and West Broadway Avenue in north Minneapolis.

Warsame said he thinks the new funding would promote economic growth and prevent gentrification by investing in local businesses. The designation would also make these areas destinations, like Chinatown or Little Italy in other cities, he said.

“It’s going to make sure that everybody in the city of Minneapolis and the surrounding suburbs knows that this is a place to visit,” Warsame said. “This neighborhood is safe, it’s vibrant, and you can get a bit of African culture here.”

In another effort to highlight the neighborhood’s diversity, Warsame and Frey announced in late June a proposal to build an Africa Village public market on a city-owned lot in the area. The development would feature the market, including retail space for small business vendors and potential affordable housing units.

The announcement was met with backlash from community members, who organized a protest in early July to denounce the project. The response from community members escalated Friday when a listening session for the public market hosted by Warsame and Frey at the Brian Coyle Center was overtaken by protesters, causing the event to end early. 

 

Some residents and business owners expressed a variety of concerns about the proposal, including a potential increase in crime and a lack of spaces for youth programming. 

Omar Mohamed, a Minneapolis Community and Technical College student and Cedar-Riverside resident, said the market does not address the area’s most pressing needs. 

“I don’t have a place in my own neighborhood for me to study [or] to have a tutor,” said Mohamed, who was among the protesters Friday. “Do something that’s beneficial for the youth and answer our concerns.”

Local artist and community organizer Sisco Omar echoed many fellow community members who have concerns about the project’s timeline and their lack of input in the process. 

“Can we have that conversation?” Omar said. “Business owners coming to the table, youth representatives coming to the table, everybody that’s part of this community coming to the table and saying yea or nay to this plan and weighing the pros and cons.”

The City Council will vote on Frey’s budget in December following discussions throughout the fall. A request for proposal for the Africa Village public market will go to the Council later this fall after further meetings and input from the neighborhood. The project’s completion is slated for 2022.