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Cedar-Riverside prepares for Dania Hall open house

Community will be having an open house on Dec. 8 to re-envision Dania Hall Lot.
The hall opened for the first time in 20 years.
Image by KJ Starr (courtesy)
The hall opened for the first time in 20 years.

Cedar-Riverside’s Dania Hall lot has opened for discussions about its future use and construction nearly 20 years after its destruction.

Dania Hall at 427 Cedar Ave. has been sitting empty since the accidental fire during its renovation in 2000. The building was a neighborhood staple since its construction in 1884 and served as a cultural center and performing arts space.

The community is holding an open house on Dec. 8 to hear and consider community feedback. The event is from 3-8 p.m. at the Brian Coyle Center. There is currently a community survey to address and gain feedback on the task force’s outline.

Decades after the fire, the West Bank Business Association created a task force and it partnered with the University of Minnesota’s College of Design and Assembly MN in 2021 to reimagine the Hall. Assembly MN is a commercial and real estate firm based in the Twin Cities that helps sell, lease and develop local buildings.

The task force outlined a plan to develop affordable housing spaces in the rear parking lot, reopen Fifth Street as a walking mall area and create a shopping center on the first floor of locally-owned small businesses. Floors two through four would be dedicated to office spaces for small businesses and local artists, while the fifth floor and rooftop would be made into a community space.

KJ Starr, executive director of WBBA and one of the hosts of the open house, said the goal of this event is to solidify what the community wants, share what their vision is and move forward together. Starr added the planning and development of Dania Hall will be an extensive process due to figuring out the expenses, how they will be covered, city approval and gaining developers.

“A really big priority for us is to figure out what the larger development goals are for the neighborhood that are responsive to community and not opposed to community,” Starr said.

Youth organizer Burhan Israefel said he believes this event can help preserve a sense of community in Cedar-Riverside. Israefel added it is important to consider all the different symbolic aspects of a community like businesses, culture and religion.

“I’m hoping that would open up that sort of discussion about what does it look like to maintain the history and the community altogether,” Israefel said.

President of the Cedar-Riverside Youth Council Mahad Ahmed, said as a resident of Cedar-Riverside, the open house is an opportunity to build trust in the community. Ahmed added it is important for the community to see a large project like Dania Hall succeed because of how many prior projects have been abandoned.

“It’s a really, really amazing opportunity, but there is trust to be built and to see if the work has been done because there have been a lot of projects that fell off,” Ahmed said.

This is an opportunity for the residents of Cedar-Riverside to be heard by the city council and ensure they are getting the support they are requesting, according to Ahmed. He added once the community is aware this open house is meant for them and what they need, change can finally begin.

“Once you did the outreach with as elderly and young adults it really gathered them that said, ‘Oh, we really want to do this and how can we invest in our own community,’” Ahmed said.

Israefel said he is excited for the open house to bring the community together and empower them to envision new possibilities for the neighborhood. According to Israefel, he wants to make sure the local youth is included in these conversations to empower their voices.

“It’s a discussion that goes back even when I was growing up as a teenager about the lack of space and just the overall lack of opportunities for [the youth,]” Israefel said.

Ahmed said it is important to ensure local youth voices and concerns are being heard with the Dania Hall project. According to Ahmed, having fun and safe public spaces for youth to hang out, do extracurricular activities or do school work can foster a connection with their community.

“[We] want to see the kids do more and have more art and more space for kids to go,” Ahmed said. “Having all those accessible places and having Dania Hall be that space, the kids really love it.”

Israefel added besides youth involvement, local business voices are equally important for the open house. Re-envisioning ownership opportunities for small businesses that currently run out of their homes is a top priority for the project, according to Israefel.

“We’re trying to give businesses that sort of vision for what this could look like for them too,” Israefel said. “They can have a lot more power and control over these spaces.”

The task force outlined the different payment options to cover the future costs of building a new Dania Hall. Options include community land trusts, community investment trusts, cooperative ownership and nonprofit ownership. Ultimately, the City of Minneapolis owns Dania Hall and will decide who it is sold to and other requirements included in the development.

According to Starr, a large aspect of revising Dania Hall is to ensure affordable live-work spaces for tenants who currently run their businesses from their homes.

“In this model that we have put forward, there are ownership opportunities for residents too. That was something that we had not originally included and that was basically demanded from the conversations we had in the community,” Starr said.

Israefel said this open house event is an opportunity for the community to have better control of these new resources and where they are distributed. Israefel added the Dania Hall open house is not just about creating a new space for the community but creating a more united community.

“This is a way for you not to only survive but to thrive,” Israefel said.

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