Bringing Lake Street to Life: Community Nonprofits at the forefront of the Recovery
For Allison Sharkey, the traumatic events following George Floyd’s death were immediate and personal. As executive director of the Lake Street Council (LSC), the nonprofit representing businesses on Lake Street, Sharkey had promoted a decades-long effort to revitalize South Minneapolis’ aging trade corridor. Now, as large swathes of Lake Street were ablaze, Sharkey learned that his own office in Lake and Chicago was destroyed during the civil unrest that swept through the Twin Cities.
âWe lost our office, but luckily we had worked remotely before, so the loss of the office didn’t really slow down our response,â Sharkey recalls. âWe didn’t have time to mourn our loss. We had to get to work immediately as there was so much to do. “
As part of a community network focused on the recovery of Lake Street, Sharkey and her LSC team have started contacting businesses in the area to assess the extent of damage along the corridor. As the demands of her small staff increased, Sharkey realized that she needed to rapidly expand the organizational capacity of her group. âWe brought in two outreach workers, one from Somalia and one from Spain, to make sure every business in the corridor that needed help knew where to find it,â she said. “Overnight, our annual budget went from $ 500,000 to $ 12 million.”
The increase in the budget was largely due to a new grant program created by LSC to help businesses in the region with their most pressing financial needs. Known as the “We Love Lake Street Fund,” the new program allowed Sharkey’s group to pool the contributions that flowed into the council as news of the damage on Lake Street began to spread around the world. .
âInitially, we allocated about $ 3 million in early disaster relief to help businesses make repairs, purchase inventory and equipment and reopen,â said Sharkey. âOnce the claims started to come in and we saw the extent of the damage and how little coverage the insurance would cover, we increased the initial emergency grant allocation to almost $ 6 million. dollars. The maximum grant was $ 25,000, and while that was enough to reopen many, others suffered hundreds of thousands of damages that were not covered by other sources.
Soon the board recognized that it had to adopt the characteristics of a foundation in order to properly manage a stimulus fund, now exceeding $ 12 million. âWe needed to make sure that businesses that were least connected to sources of support (like banks, investors, and government programs) had access to support, so we needed to balance the need to move funds as quickly as possible with equally important is the need to ensure fair access and a transparent process, âsaid Sharkey.
Julie Ingebretsen, LSC board member and longtime Lake Street business owner, has seen LSC transform over the past year to meet the increased demands on the organization. âThe Lake Street Council has served our business community for many years with a dedicated and talented staff of four,â noted Ingebretsen. âThen 2020 arrived. Helping us deal with the pandemic has been a challenge well met. But the social unrest after the murder of George Floyd took things to a level we could never have imagined, âsaid Ingebretsen. âSuddenly we had a $ 12 million fund to oversee. Overnight, the board had to convert from a business support organization to a granting foundation. “
As the Lake Street Council continues to assist with recovery efforts throughout the Lake Street Corridor, other nonprofit groups are focusing their work on major Lake Street intersections. Redesign Inc., based in Seward, was responsible for preserving and rehabilitating the historic Colosseum building which anchored the 27e and the lake intersection since 1917. Redesign purchased the century-old building from an out-of-state owner who intended to demolish the vacant building and sell the land to the highest bidder.
âThe owner argued that the building itself was worthless and that the only value of this property was the land it stood on,â said Taylor Smrikarova of Redesign. âFor us, the building had value as a community asset, so we accepted their asking price of $ 2 million. We were able to get in touch with the demolition contractor, who told us that the building had good framing; although the interior was badly damaged during the civil unrest, he saw no reason for the building to collapse.
Redesign was able to organize the financing of the acquisition of Coliseum thanks to a loan from Support society for local initiatives in the twin towns (LISC), a non-profit funding organization that invests in affordable housing and business development in targeted neighborhoods. LISC brought together a group of banks, foundations and government agencies to create a Community Asset Transition Fund (CAT) to support projects like the Colosseum. CAT’s intention is to help community organizations take control of key properties along damaged corridors, according to Peter McLaughlin, executive director of LISC. âWe had memories of what happened in the aftermath of the Great Recession of 2008-09 when outside capital and capital came in from the coast and started buying distressed properties,â McLaughlin told Neal St. Anthony of the Star Tribune. âWe didn’t want that to happen on Lake Street. We wanted to keep local ownership.
Although Redesign was able to purchase the Coliseum with the help of CAT funds, it will need to raise funds to cover the cost of the building’s rehabilitation. âWe will do everything possible to make sure the building does not sit vacant longer than necessary. In the short term, we will be using public art to send the message that a new day is coming for the Colosseum, âsaid Smrikarova.
A mile and a half west of the Coliseum Building, based in St. Paul Neighborhood development center used $ 1.6 million in CAT funds to purchase a vacant site in Lake and Chicago that had been occupied by a small commercial building destroyed during the 2020 civil unrest. NDC, which operates the Midtown Global Market adjacent to the Chicago site Avenue, plans to hold the property until it completes a neighborhood planning process to determine future use of the site.
Further down the corridor on Lake Street at Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis Project for the pride of living (PPL) is teaming up with Wells Fargo Bank to develop the site of a Wells office that burned down in the days following the death of George Floyd. With construction set to begin in 2022, PPL hopes to develop affordable housing in a mixed-use building on the site that will include a new Wells Fargo branch on the first floor.
âHow we develop the site is as important as what we build on it,â noted Mike LaFave, vice president of PPL. âWe know we needed a strong engagement process with the surrounding community to ensure the project produces tangible benefits for the people who live there. LaFave said. He explained that PPL is in partnership with the non-profit organization Cultural wellness center to get feedback from area residents who do not often attend formal evening meetings.
Nonprofit development helps ensure that Lake Street’s recovery continues to be community-driven, said Elena Gaarder with the Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers. âAs the process of reimagining and rebuilding Lake Street continues, efforts must be grounded in the values ââand vision of the community,â argued Gaarder. âWithout community development, we not only risk losing local and Black, Indigenous and Colored (BIPOC) property, but we are perpetuating the very systems that fueled the civil uprising. Harnessing the rich cultural assets present along the corridor will lead to long-term growth and dynamism on the south side.