Big Day for the West Bank Pt 1: Riverside Plaza
This morning, the Council voted to grant up to $80 million in tax exempt multifamily housing entitlement revenue bonds and $1.9 million in from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to the Riverside Plaza renovation project.
This project is a very, very big deal, and has been one of the most important issues on the West Bank for most of this year. It has generated more discussion, controversy, and interest than anything I've seen in a long time.
At its most basic, this is an affordable housing issue. There are more than four thousand people who rely on the affordable housing provided by Riverside Plaza. Unfortunately, the quality of that housing has been decreasing over time, and its long-term viability was threatened. This project stabilizes and improves the housing for all of these low-income residents. That's a very good thing.
The renovation will also employ a significant number of people (200) in an economy that has left many people desperate for work. It will significantly reduce the Plaza’s carbon footprint through energy efficiency enhancements.
But in addition to all of those benefits that are 'baked in,' the neighborhood group, with my help and the able support of Community Planning and Economic Development staff, has insisted on and received a very strong development agreement between the developer and the City. Some of the most important aspects of that agreement include:
- Ninety jobs for residents of Riverside Plaza, the West Bank, and surrounding neighborhoods. This includes $50,000 from the contractor and the City towards job training over the course of the project, and a temporary resident and neighborhood employment and training office on the Riverside Plaza property.
- A commitment by the City to fix some of the poorest-quality streets in Minneapolis: 4th St S and 15th Ave S. These streets primarily serve the very dense population of low-income residents of the Plaza and the Cedars, and I have long believed that the level of underinvestment in them is basically immoral. I'm thrilled to see this commitment to invest in this infrastructure, and I want to personally thank the Mayor for making it possible. This project is anticipated to cost $1 million.- Pedestrian improvements on 6th Street. Since taking office, I have received numerous complaints about how hard it is to cross 6th. There is one long block, between Cedar and 16th Ave S, that has no adequate crossing. People cross illegally and unsafely where 17th Ave S used to be, before it was taken out as part of the Plaza's construction. The renovation project is dedicating $10,000 to a new signal and other enhancements to right this historical mistake.
- More money for safety. Together, the developer and the City have committed to contribute $12,500 per year to police buy-back. These resources are to be controlled by the West Bank Safety Committee, literally the only group in the neighborhood that coordinates between the West Bank Community Coalition, Cedar Riverside NRP, and West Bank Business Association. In addition to these annual funds, the developer will be creating a Safety Center in cooperation with the Safety Committee and RPTA, which will serve as a community gathering space.- An on-street parking solution near the Plaza. People have been requesting this for a long time, and having a commitment spelled out in the development agreement will be very helpful.
- Improvements to the privately-owned public plaza at the northwest corner of 6th and Cedar, with public art that I hope will help augment the neighborhood-funded beacon right across the street. These improvements will be worth $60,000, and the Cedar Cultural Center will be contracted to oversee them, which gives me confidence that they will be of high artistic quality.- A possible new community space on 4th St S, where there is currently a surface parking lot. The developer has agreed to offer the right of first refusal to the Cedar Riverside Partnership, creating an opportunity for a great collaboration between the institutions in the area and the residents of the Plaza.
- Continued funding for the Riverside Plaza Tenants Association, in the amount of $150,000 annually.- $7 million worth of improvements to public areas inside the complex, including lighting, sidewalks, wayfinding and more.
- A NiceRide kiosk on Cedar.- A comprehensive and well-funded relocation plan for tenants during construction, including temporary apartments within the complex.
- An agreement by the developer to be part of special service district, which I believe is vital to the long-term maintenance of the improved streetscapes likely to be installed on Cedar and Riverside Avenues, and possibly 4th and 15th.
- Allowance for a mural on wall of the African Mall facing the LRT Trail.
I realize that this is not everything that everyone in the neighborhood wanted, and that some will continue to believe that the project should have done much more to support safety, green space, youth programming and more. But I am convinced that this development agreement will ensure that this renovation project will make not only significant improvements to the affordable housing relied on by thousands of Second Ward residents, but the West Bank as a whole. I joined the West Bank Community Coalition, City staff, and all of my colleagues in supporting the project.