Cedar-Riverside residents discuss Africa Village development

Neighbors in Cedar-Riverside aren’t convinced that the potential development will improve their neighborhood.


Image by David Stager

Cedar-Riverside Community Council Board Director AJ Awed poses for a portrait in the 1500 South 4th Street lot on Thursday, Jan. 20. Sherman Associates is hoping to build a public market for stores and affordable housing on this empty plot.

by Caleb Hensin

Plans to construct Africa Village have stalled in Cedar-Riverside, while some residents continue to oppose the development.

Africa Village is planned to be a public market for stores and affordable housing. Minneapolis has been planning it since 2019, with Sherman Associates granted exclusive development rights by the City Council. It would be located at 1500 South 4th Street, which is a parking lot across the street from The Red Sea and West Bank Diner restaurants.

“The city is currently in a holding pattern on this project,” wrote Casper Hill, Media Relations Coordinator for Minneapolis, in an email to the Daily. “The project has a significant funding gap, which the developer is trying to fill through various competitive funding sources.”

Original timelines projected the project’s completion for summer or fall of 2022, but Hill said it is now unsure when developers will break ground.

Hill said that the city expects Sherman to report back later in the year on the project’s feasibility.

“At that point the city can evaluate how and whether the project could potentially proceed,” Hill said.

Sherman Associates did not respond to requests for comment from the Minnesota Daily.

Some members of Cedar-Riverside said they worry that Africa Village would lessen economic opportunity for its residents.

A.J. Awed, the executive director for policy and programs at the Cedar-Riverside Community Council (CRCC), said he believes Africa Village would attract new companies and residents from outside the neighborhood. Without anti-displacement measures, such as giving local businesses first access to expand into new developments, this could push out the already existing businesses.

Awed said he believes the development is a “ploy of gentrification.”

Sherman owns the Riverside Mall and Riverside Plaza properties in the neighborhood.

“Without that [parking] lot, I would be out of business immediately,” said Russom Solomon, co-owner of The Red Sea restaurant located across the street from Lot A. Solomon said his customers use Lot A to park.

Solomon said he felt a lack of communication from the city. He first heard about the development on the news.

The 1500 South 4th Street lot on Thursday, Jan. 20. Sherman Associates is hoping to build a public market for stores and affordable housing on this empty plot. (David Stager)

CRCC Board of Directors President Sisco Omar said he shared Solomon’s sentiments: “If you really look at the pros and cons, it hurts the community. All the businesses that it hurts, those business owners are residents of the Cedar-Riverside community.”

Omar said that both previous and current City Council members have been either unresponsive or unhelpful when it comes to hearing the community about their concerns, specifically citing a lack of communication from Ward 6 City Council Member Jamal Osman.

Osman responded via text to the Daily, “There is a year and a half until further action must be taken by the city [on lot A], and I intend to spend that time working to engage with community members about their vision for the space.”

In the same text, Osman said he understands the need for green space, a community center and housing in the Africa Village development, and community ownership over those commercial spaces is “non-negotiable.”

Omar also worries that the neighborhood’s youth would become displaced with redevelopment. Omar and Awed said that many young people in Cedar-Riverside typically hang out in public spaces, such as Lot A, because they don’t know where else to go.

Omar and Awed both mentioned concerns that the affordable housing at Africa Village would not be reasonable for Cedar-Riverside residents, as neither the city nor the developer have stated how much rent would cost. The average income in Cedar-Riverside is around $21,000 a year, which is a third of the average Minneapolis income, according to data from Minnesota Compass.

Instead of the current plan of a public market, Awed said he’d rather see a new community center. Currently Cedar-Riverside has the Brian Coyle Neighborhood Center, located around the corner from Lot A, but Awed said it is small and outdated.

“We would like to instead have a center with business incubators on the first floor and space for youth recreation on the upper floors,” Awed said.

Hodan ‘Mama G’ Ali is a CRCC board member and has been a Cedar-Riverside resident for twenty-four years. Ali is considered an “elder” to Cedar-Riverside residents, according to both her and Awed. She spoke to the Minnesota Daily in Somali while Awed translated.

Ali said that she felt that new developments brought more negatives than positives. She said that there is less green space than there used to be and more noise pollution.

Ali also said she has protested redevelopment in the past and said she plans to continue to do so.

“It is something we just do not want,” Ali said through Awed’s translation.