State of The City 2003
Mayor R.T. Rybak delivered his State of the City speech on April 29, 2003.
Mayor R.T. Rybak – State of the City Address
Special City Council Meeting
Thrivent Financial, 625 4th Avenue South
They came from across the world to build a great city, and they succeed in even the toughest of times. Those immigrants who powered the early mills on the Minneapolis riverfront spent their days surrounded by clouds of dust and deafening noise. But even in the toughest of times, they succeeded. Minneapolis became the Milling Capital of the World, the riverfront mills were the forerunners of great companies like General Mills and Pillsbury, and the success of those immigrants and their children fueled other great companies like Thrivent. The heroic story of those early immigrants will be celebrated this fall when the new Mill City Museum opens on the reborn downtown riverfront. This new cultural landmark will remind visitors that Minneapolis owes a debt to the muscle and grit of those early immigrants.
Today the descendants of those who built this great city with their backs are helping to make Minneapolis better with their hearts -- we know that when we see the work being done at the Swedish Institute, where third- and fourth- and fifth-generation families are reaching out to new immigrant communities to make sure their arrival is as successful as those of the ancestors before them. I am also excited to say that later in this speech I will be announcing something called Faith in the City, in which a collection of powerful Lutheran Organizations, including Thrivent, have come together to say collectively they are going to continue this legacy of building a great city through both our backs and our hearts. This is one of a series of initiatives underway in which a refocused city is succeeding in the toughest of times by harnessing the power of its citizens.
But before I get into that, let me first welcome you to the State of the City Address and also say there are many people out in the audience who I would like to thank. I would also like to apologize to the Timberwolves for upstaging their game tonight. What is it with these pro athletes, I sat in the front row of the Timberwolves game, where’s Kevin Garnet? But, I certainly did want to wish them the best of luck tonight. Let me also thank some very special people, who are in the audience today. First off could I introduce my family, my wife Megan, my daughter Gracie, son Charlie, and my mom Lorraine. Let me also introduce our County Attorney, Amy Klobuchar, who has been a tremendous partner with us. Thank you for all your support, a series of community leaders: Al Jones, African-American Chamber of Commerce; Sam Grabarski, Downtown Council; Justin Huenemann, MUDD Group/American Indian Group who has done so much; Laura Waterman-Wittstock, the new chair of the Library Board; Chief Justice Burke, I can see that you are out in the audience; Wally Swan from our Board of Estimate and Taxation; Bob Fine from the Park Board, and I am sorry that I can not recognize everyone else, but I would like to thank you all for coming.
Could I also have all the City staff stand please? We are in extraordinary times, and I want you to know what these people have done over the past two years. They have done amazing things, we have asked them to do one budget after another, react to one circumstance or another, make extremely tough choices, all at a very difficult time. These are the people who have really helped us reinvent what we do in the toughest of times. I want to thank you very much.
We have spent a lot of time talking about budget and tonight will not be a budget address, we will save that for later this year, when I will introduce the 2004 budget. But before we go too far, I think it is important for us to step back and understand the financial situation we are dealing with. Then I’ll move further into how we’ve tried to put our house in order. I want to set the record straight a little bit, talk a bit about Minneapolis and our relationship with the state. Most of the speech I want to talk about how we are getting things done together, but at the end I really want to put a call out to all of you and everyone in the community about what you can do to help this community at a crucial time, in which all of us I believe can do a bit more.
Let’s start with some of the challenges we are facing. Pat Born, our wonderful Finance Director came up with the term, a "Perfect Storm", like the movie where every element came together to create a perfect but diabolical storm. The same is true of our financial situation. I consider it an imperfect storm, because these elements have created some very serious financial challenges for us. A series of issues are connected to long-term debt, there have been changes in state laws, the Local Government Aid cuts that have been proposed by this legislature, and obviously, the effects of a weak national economy. We face all of these challenges, and together they have created a series of challenges for us.
Let’s talk a little bit about how we’ve addressed that. I want to recognize three tremendous partners in the city council who helped me through a five-year financial plan that set a new direction for the city: Council President Ostrow, Council Member Johnson and Council Member Lane. Thank you all for the great work that you and the other Council Members have done as we have tried to wrestle with something very different that has not been dealt with before in the city. We have come out with a five-year financial plan that does a few things: it sets priorities, public safety being first among them; it says we are going to pay off our long term debts; it says we are going to partner with our unions; and put a cap on our wages, including our own. It also means we are going to try to put a cap on property taxes, and we are going to coordinate with the Park Board and Library Board to have a common property tax agenda in the City of Minneapolis. These aren’t fun issues, these are tough issues, but they are issues we’ve worked on in a coordinated way.
The next issue is complicated, having to do with factors beyond our control. We can put our own house in order, but we also face a series of challenges based on decisions made beyond our borders. There has been a significant change in state tax law, shifting the tax burden away from the most expensive commercial property and onto residential property, especially middle-income and low-valued properties. Property taxes on this average home in the City of Minneapolis have more than doubled over the past six years.
The next slide is one of the largest office buildings is downtown Minneapolis. That shift in property taxes, coupled with the fact that we have an extremely high vacancy rate in downtown Minneapolis mean that the property tax on that office building has been cut in half in those same six years. In other words, the City of Minneapolis is getting six million dollars less off that building than we were getting just six years ago today. The downtown office core has been an engine that has allowed us to do a great many things, but something has changed. In ten years we have gone from having downtown offices make up 45 percent of the city’s tax burden to now its making less than 35 percent. The difference is being picked up by residential property owners.
As we look at how we address these tax issues along with reforming city government and cutting spending, we do need to look for additional revenue streams. We cannot ask for more property taxes from our residential homeowners. It also means we need to continue our partnership with Downtown Council and others to explore the issue of service districts and others that can maintain the high level of service we want to have in the downtown core in these tough financial times.
Let’s move to the issue of the cuts in Local Government Aid from the state of Minnesota.
The State of Minnesota faces huge challenges, and we certainly want to partner with them in addressing these challenges. The implications for the City of Minneapolis are enormous. We don’t know what the state legislature will do this year. We do know we cannot wait to ask, so the Council and I made some very tough choices, cutting the first $20.6 million dollars out of this year’s budget. This involved pain in every part of our enterprise. I credit the managers and the workforce that have lived through these transitions and have seen close friends lose their jobs, as we’ve lost ten percent of the city’s workforce.
What it also means for citizens is that it will hit us at every place that I believe will hurt, I hate to say that, but it is quite clear.
The State of Minnesota is proposing a 20 percent cut in the Local Government Aid to the City of Minneapolis. You cannot cut 20 percent and not affect basic core services, because three out of every four dollars in our general fund go to Police, Fire, and Public Works. These are the direct issues that hit us on our streets every day. It will mean that a Fire Department that has reached out around the region to be a leader in responding when incidences occur, a Police Department that has done the same will be less able to respond to situations that happen to our friends beyond our borders. It means we will be less aggressive in helping the region and attacking pressing issues such as terrorism. It means that we have made a significant reduction in the basic core services for the long term, delayed infrastructure improvements in the City of Minneapolis, none of these are choices we want to make. All of these issues will have huge impacts on the City of Minneapolis.
Unfortunately, this is not where it ends. The Governor’s proposal calls for even deeper cuts. Next year, we will continue to fight this at the Legislature and make the case that if half a million people come to the City of Minneapolis every single day, to our offices, our parks, our hospitals, our libraries, and our schools, we must make sure that the basic core services we deliver are protected. We will continue to make that case and we will make it as strongly as we can, because it affects not only the residents of Minneapolis, but residents all over.
But it is not enough to just say what is happening outside of our borders, it is very important for us to put our house in order, and that involves a number of issues. We have already talked about the financial stewardship that I believe we have under way.
Let’s move to the issue of how we streamlined our Planning and Development function. When I came into office, this new Council came into office with many of us recognizing it was time to move in a much more coordinated way.
Great gratitude goes to Council Member Lisa Goodman who has helped lead us through this effort, along with Council Members Scott Benson, Gary Schiff, and Council Member Dean Zimmerman. We have reorganized something called the Community Planning and Economic Development Department. Lee Sheehy, who has lead that effort, is not with us today because of illness in his family, but Lee, the Council Members, and the staff have come together with something very different. We have taken the powerful elements of the City of Minneapolis and fused them together into a single development agency that can focus on the key goals of job creation and housing. This not only helps us in building communities, it also helps us work across departmental lines. As I mentioned the downtown service district to you earlier, this will allow us to take the powerful parts of our development agency, partnered with our Public Works Department, to create something greater. On the other end, Klara Fabry, our wonderful new Director of Public Works is looking at how we can focus transportation planning throughout this city. Again, this can be done in partnership with our development agency.
I can’t tell you how happy I was when I went to the opening of the new Kowalski’s store on south Lyndale. Bob Kowalski stood up in front of the whole group, he talked about how much easier it is to do business in the City of Minneapolis. He said "I had more trouble putting a deck on my house in Inver Grove Heights than I had opening four stores in the City of Minneapolis." Nothing makes me happier, but there are still far too many obstacles, far too many hoops to jump through. That’s why I am so pleased that this summer we will be opening the first phase of the One Stop Shop, which will make it easier for businesses to do business within the city. Our Regulatory Services Department has been working hard on that, this first phase will include putting permitting up on the web and will include some of those basic customer service issues, such as less expensive ways to park at City Hall. It will open in two phases over the next year and that is a good start.
So is Homeowners Night: On Monday nights, citizens who are trying to do home improvements, but are working during the day can come down to City Hall and find the lights on. That is an important innovation in trying to make sure that we are simply a place where it’s easier to do business.
We’ve talked a lot about snow plowing in the past, and I think one thing that is good about this is that we’ve worked with our Public Works Department, traveled through the neighborhoods, worked with our drivers, tried to understand some of the key issues, and we’ve done some good things. Some of them are basic common sense. The Council was smart when they said let’s move ahead, let’s let the people park on the street once it’s plowed, they don’t have to wait until the snow emergency is done. Basic common sense. This also meant creating the Snow Oasis Program, which are parking lots in highly dense parts of town where people can move their cars so we can get them off the street. This has been successful in the University area, we are opening a new one in Lyn-Lake, and that will be part of not only making these streets easier to plow, but also reducing the number of people towed.
What you see up on the screen right now is an interesting slide, that Tim David from our Finance Department helped us analyze how these services are being delivered. Look at the slide that talks about the vehicles tagged in the City of Minneapolis. We are an equal opportunity tagger -- we tag all over town. That’s a good thing in some ways, it recognizes that we are looking at equal enforcement. But now take a look at the slide on the right displaying where we are towing, and recognize that it is concentrated in just a few areas. Those areas also happen to be unfortunately right at the edge of all of the towing districts. What are we seeing here is an indication that the contractors are plowing in the easiest possible place. Go right across that line to the easiest car, but don’t tow all around the city. We can use this sort of tool to just simply manage the city better. It is an example of the sort of innovations that Baltimore has used with their City Stat program, where a number of core services are analyzed like this to get a better outcome for our citizens. Council Member Samuels has said that this is one of the issues on his agenda. I agree, we are going to follow Baltimore’s example, we are going to do that throughout the city, and I believe deliver a much better result for our citizens.
Affordable Housing is very important to this city and we are once again leading the way. We are creating far more affordable housing units than in any other city in the state and we will continue to do that. What is important is not only what we are doing, but how we are doing that. Council Member Goodman has led us through creating an affordable housing trust fund. We are working with a number of citizens and advocacy groups out in the community to do that. However, one of the complaints we’ve gotten from our partners in affordable housing over the years has been that it is has been hard to understand exactly what the city is doing, what our goals are, and how many units we are creating. The public needs to see this more clearly – celebrate when we have a success, challenge us when we don’t, stick the numbers out there in the public.
So, today we are unveiling something new, our affordable housing thermometer. If you followed my campaign, you know I talked a lot about this. The United Way does this. They put a goal out in public, where the public can see it, the public can celebrate when they succeed, they can challenge when they fail, and we are doing the same now with affordable housing. We are putting out a three-year goal of creating 2100 affordable housing units, and you can go to the website to check our progress. What’s important about that is like snow plowing, like affordable housing, we are going to give you the tools that you as a citizen need to judge our performance, and if we aren’t performing, we need to be held accountable.
I want to move for just a brief second to the environment. We just hosted a two-hour session the Sierra Club put together for us, in which we outlined the City’s environmental agenda. I don’t believe we should ever talk about the City of Minneapolis and its future without focusing on the environment. We are blessed with the most extraordinary natural environment of any urban center in America, we need to continue that stewardship and the city should lead the way. Especially in a city where the values of these citizens are green as they are in this city. We’ve given new life to the cities interdepartmental Environmental Coordinating Team, this is a team that comes together across city lines to talk about a focused approach to the environment. We’ve fused that together with a citizen group that pushes us and prods us and moves us in new directions. The key to our environmental work is not necessarily where the source of the pollution is, but how do we deal with the outcome. It is about airport pollution in south Minneapolis, it is about converting the Xcel plant on the Riverfront in north Minneapolis and northeast Minneapolis, and it is about traffic in Uptown. All of those are about air quality, which is why we have added new air quality monitors in the City of Minneapolis, so we can have a baseline. It’s not about whether you think you’ve smelled gas being dumped from the airplane or whether you think there is something from the Xcel plant that is creating a problem for our kids. It’s really about having those standard measurements that we can have and work across different lines. It’s tied really to the vision many of us have for a sustainability plan. That we should not only have an environmental purchasing strategy in this city, and not only have monitoring, but this entire city should be based on a sustainable plan that focuses development along transportation lines. In the coming years, we should follow the lead of Council Member Zimmerman, who has laid out an innovative city energy policy. It’s a great challenge for us and we need to move into it.
I cannot say anything about the city without touching deeper on the issues of public safety. We have challenges in the area of public safety, we will continue to have challenges in the area of public safety. Chief Olson’s response to increased gang activity has been to put additional patrols on the streets in the Jordan neighborhood this summer, it’s one of several key initiatives in the summer, but the key is to it is put the patrols out before the activity starts. Last summer these community response teams which sometimes were visible to perpetrators, sometimes were not very effective. And Chief Olson’s decision to put them out a month earlier is an attempt to get ahead of the problem before it takes a deeper hold. The work of the gang strike force and the directed patrols continues. All of these are part of the strategy Chief Olson used last summer and we’ll continue to use this year. But we need to recognize that this is about tough enforcement for the most serious of crimes. It is also about recognizing that while we have serious crimes we need to also make sure that we don’t lose track of basic nuisance crimes that matter so much to citizens day to day. Council Members Niziolek and Zerby, who serve on the criminal justice coordinating team, where Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein just joined it, is also a member. County Attorney Amy Klobuchar, who is a member, suburban Police officials, people from the courts, we all get together and look at coordinated responses to crime. One of the issues we are looking at within that group is the issue of a nuisance night court, where if a person is a perpetrator of something that is a basic nuisance crime, public urination on a downtown street for example, we can bring them in, immediately get justice and get them back out in the street instead of placing them in a court system, where the consequences don’t take place for a long time. It’s important to recognize as we do that, we do that across different jurisdictional boundaries. One of the areas where County Attorney Amy Klobuchar has been very helpful is at helping us look at a case management system for our City Attorneys’ office, which will allow us to better coordinate with what she doing at the county level.
As we innovate within the city, it’s important that maintain as high an ethical standard as the citizens in the City of Minneapolis do. That is why I am especially proud that Council Member Benson helped us develop an ethics policy for City Hall, the first ethics policy that we’ve had. I also wanted to thank the chair of that effort, Ellen Trout. Ellen was absolutely tireless in her efforts. She continued to come back at us, and come back at us, with one innovation after the other, a pleasant, but a very powerful force that got something through that meant all the best for the City of Minneapolis, so that we adopted the best practices in the nation.
As we look at how we’ve gotten our house in order, I believe it’s quite clear that Minneapolis is leading the way in many ways. We have looked these struggles in the eye and acted decisively. Let me take a minute to brag about the City of Minneapolis. We hear an awful lot about the City of Minneapolis these days, and frankly some people from outside our borders don’t always say good things. Let’s set the record straight here, Minneapolis generates 12 percent of the state’s sales tax and 15 percent of our corporate taxes. We only have about 8 percent of the population, but 12 percent of the work force. Our arts community alone generates 20 million dollars in government revenues. We send more money to the state than we take back. Let no one tell you anything else. Minneapolis leads the state and it will continue to do so. We are the number one creator of jobs; 162,000 people work here every day. As I mentioned, half a million people come into the city every day, and when you look at Chief Rocco Forte and the tremendous efforts he’s done in emergency preparedness, we have led the way protecting this region in emergency preparedness. Let no one tell you that the City of Minneapolis is not leading the way. Minneapolis has done great things for the State of Minnesota and Minneapolis can continue to do great things for the State of Minnesota, as long as the State of Minnesota understands Minneapolis for what it is - a leader, an innovator, and the true economic powerhouse that is going to lead this region out of the recession.
How are we going to do things? That’s a question a lot of us look at each other and say, how are we going to get things done with fewer resources, with all sorts of additional challenges, it’s quite clear that we can’t do this alone. Now the first thing to do when you are forming a partnership is not to hold your hand out, but to get your own house in order and that’s what I hope we’ve illustrated we are beginning to do. I want to take the next couple of minutes and take four key areas: Economic Development, the Riverfront Revitalization, Community Building across the city, and Arts and Culture, and show how we’ve created new partnerships for the City of Minneapolis. It’s the way we are going to have to do business in a period of scarcity, but it’s also a way I believe harnesses the true power of what is happening in the City of Minneapolis.
If you want to understand how Minneapolis gets things done, not just today, not just yesterday, but for decades, I want you to go to the Phillips neighborhood. Now a decade ago, there were many people around this state who wrote off the Phillips neighborhood. They said the Phillips neighborhood would never succeed. I want you to look at the Phillips neighborhood today – no other neighborhood in the State of Minnesota, no city in the State of Minnesota, no region in the State of Minnesota is creating more jobs than the Phillips neighborhood. It starts directly on the former Honeywell Campus, where Wells Fargo Mortgage now has 2200 employees and will have a grand total of 4200 employees, more than Honeywell ever had at that site.
Abbott Northwestern Hospital is developing a $300 million Heart Institute. Cutting edge medical work is done at Abbott Northwestern Hospital and they are not just doing it for themselves, they have also created the Health Careers Institute, in which residents of the neighborhood are trained in health care and are brought into the hospital to work. The story of Abbott Northwestern Hospital today is very different than it was a decade ago. A decade ago most of the people who worked there did not live around the hospital, today they do. That has had a tremendous impact on the housing and economic development of that area. Abbott Northwestern and the community have not stopped there. They went to the former Sears building, which is only the beginning to a story that’s being told, as Council Member Lilligren, who was there last week, and can attest to. Robert has been able to look at the Sears building off his back porch, and as wondered, like so many other people in the Central neighborhood and neighborhoods surrounding it, what can possibly happen there.
Well last week we announced that something big is going to happen there. It’s MnCRI, a Medical Research area that’s founded by the same people as the Heart Institute. MnCRI has attracted one of the top heart researchers in the world. This will become a biotech incubator, right in the Sears building. Now what we are doing is taking the rest of that building -- a building has more office space than any building in the State of Minnesota except the Mall of America -- and putting out a request for proposals for other parts of that building to be developed. There is a great future for that building that many had given up on, and it’s the future that we believe will encompass the tremendous new vision that is taking place along Lake Street. Let’s thank some of the people who’ve been a part of the Phillips partnership and recognize what they have done. Jim Campbell and John Campbell from Wells Fargo are true heroes in the effort. So is Gordon Springer, who’s no longer at Abbott Northwestern, but clearly was a leader in this, as is Denny DeNarvaez who is now at Abbott Northwestern. My predecessor, Sharon Sayles Belton, was tireless in this fight, as has been Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin and Mike Christenson, who has led the Phillips partnership.
But now walk with us down Lake Street over the next generation and see what happens, not only in the Sears building, but also as Latino businesses have sprung up on all parts of that street. A street again many people had given up on, just a few years ago. Lake Street is becoming one of our most vibrant streets. It’s important to recognize the work is not done, it’s only just begun. That’s why today we are announcing two new initiatives that will work directly in this area. The first is something called the Pilot Cities initiative. This owes tremendous debt to Rip Rapson of the McKnight Foundation. Rip Rapson has gone up and down Lake Street like so many of the rest of us and said something special has happened here, something special that deserves support not only from this community, but from around the nation. Rip Rapson went out and recruited foundations from around the country to come in and be part of this initiative that will focus on Lake Street and help residents realize their dreams of a revitalized Lake Street that’s about economic development. It’s about street-level activity, and it is also about reaching out to our immigrant communities and making sure they are a part of it, as well as those residents who have been rooted in that neighborhood for generations. Lake Street and the surrounding communities will be better because of the Pilot Cities initiative, which includes not only McKnight, but the Rockefeller Foundation, the KC Foundation, McArthur, and the Knight Foundations. I’d like us all to give a round of applause to Rip Rapson and the McKnight Foundation for their hard work.
But we aren’t stopping there. As I mentioned earlier in the address, I wanted to talk a little bit about Thrivent. A few months ago I got a call from some of the leaders of the Lutheran organizations in town, who wanted to find a way to work together. We’ve had a series of meetings and today we are beginning to move forward on something called Faith in the City. This is a coalition of some of the most powerful Lutheran-based organizations in town: Augsburg College, Central Lutheran Church, Fairview Health Services, Lutheran Social Services, Luther Seminary, Thrivent Financial of course, the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area synods of the Lutheran Church, all coming together to say what they want to make a contribution to the City of Minneapolis. As they thought about the contribution they wanted to make, they thought about the legacy that they inherited and looked at the neighborhoods they’ve been part of. They recognized that many of them came from the area that intersects along Franklin Avenue, along Park and Portland, along these parts of the center city where many of the people who created these companies first got rooted in this country. And as this moves forward you’ll see Faith in the City taking hold in that area partnering with communities, understanding what the community needs, but knowing that they have resources to bring to the table as part of that.
To both of these two initiatives, Pilot City and Faith in the City, I believe we as city government are reaching out our arms in a different way. We have tremendous capacity out in the community and these great partners are helping us realize it.
Let’s turn to the river. When we think about the legacy that has been left to this generation and we look at the tremendous amenities in this city, such as the lakes and the parkways and the creeks, we were left with something very special by people with great vision. It’s clear we also have that opportunity on the riverfront. Ten years ago, fifteen years ago, when people began to talk about their great hopes for the riverfront, many of us (and I might include myself) were not certain it could ever happen. Everything envisioned for the downtown riverfront has actually taken place.
We are doing tremendous things on the downtown riverfront, and we can’t lower our expectations as we move north. We must recognize that the upper river plan is something that is not about mediocrity, it is not about doing it the small way, it is about having the vision that every part of this city deserves. And as we do that I believe the special challenge on the upper riverfront is not just to look at a narrow band along the river. The real challenge for the upper river is to take a look at some of these neighborhoods like Marshall Terrace, McKinley, Webber, Camden, and Lind-Bohanan that deserve to be tied to the riverfront. We cannot have the riverfront turn its back on those neighborhoods. The key challenge for the city is to weave them together and tie them into the development along the riverfront.
No greater opportunity exists for us along the upper river than the Upper Harbor Terminal, which the city currently owns. We need to begin to question whether we should be in that business any longer. I joined the Council on a bus tour along the upper river, and I have to tell you that the developer in me salivated as I looked at this tremendous riverfront property with some of the best views of the City of Minneapolis. We need to analyze all parts of the Terminal business and move forward aggressively in trying to take this great natural amenity and tie it to the neighborhoods that have so long deserved an amenity like this in their part of town.
The riverfront is also one of those places where we can learn from our neighbors in Saint Paul. Saint Paul has done the river better than we have. City planning has been good in both cities, but Saint Paul formed a riverfront development corporation that tied the river with development, reached out to the private sector and brought them together at the table. Minneapolis has a tremendous citizen committee that’s now working on the north river, and we need to fuse these elements together so we can take all the power of the city and harness it onto the river. We have a great opportunity, it won’t happen overnight, especially in times like this. But we owe it to future generations to form that partnership, think big and make sure that this happens well.
When we’re thinking big in the City of Minneapolis there is no development that’s bigger than the Heritage Park development in Council Member Johnson Lee’s ward. This neighborhood that many have only envisioned for many years is now beginning to take shape. As you go through the Heritage Park neighborhood, you can see that now the first rental units are being completed and the owner-occupied units are about to go under construction. As we build this neighborhood we also need to recognize there are two key challenges. Number one is tying Heritage Park into existing neighborhoods, to make sure that this is not an island onto itself, but is really part of the north side of Minneapolis. The second challenge is linking it to the park amenities nearby. Theodore Wirth Park is one of the greatest and I believe most under used parks in the system, and it is within a short bike ride from Heritage Park. We need to remember that as we upgrade Olson Highway, we need to consider bike paths both there and along Plymouth Avenue. We must weave this neighborhood together, creating not just a small island of new housing, but a greater community.
It is also a place where we can have a great vision in the arts. McKnight Foundation and Cargill Foundation, thanks to Tony Green, have launched an initiative working with our library on a great arts center tied in with the area public schools. Heritage Park can be more than a housing development, as great as that can be. It can be a true community center that is really about a great neighborhood. As we look throughout the community, we need to recognize that along our commercial corridors we can also do much more to build community. We have a new partnership that is being funded by the Minneapolis/Saint Paul Family Housing Fund. Look at our commercial corridors and understand how we can create more housing along them, more density along them, in the places where we can most affect density and really create great streets.
When we look at the future of our commercial districts, I think we can look to the past. I’ve talked a lot about rebuilding the streetcar city. This part of city life was dying off as I was being born. This was a city where a person would take a streetcar, get off every few blocks, find a corner store there, and live in housing above the corner store. This would also help us to realize of many of our commercial corridors. Council Member Schiff has been helping to lead this thinking along 38th Street as that ties into the light rail line. Rebuilding the street car city is an important initiative, it will not happen without great engagement from our neighborhoods, which is why the Center for Neighborhoods approach on that will be very helpful.
We have scant resources, but huge needs along some of our key commercial districts. Central Avenue, where great work is going on, including the Holy Land Deli and the new co-op that’s being planned. Franklin Avenue, where Ancient Trader’s Village has come in and the wonderful new housing developments and the Children’s Village along Portland. On Broadway Avenue we will be looking at new initiatives that will realize the dreams of Council Members Samuels, Johnson and Johnson Lee and I, who all believe that the new Broadway Avenue can and should be reborn with entrepreneurial spirits that represent the true community.
Let me turn finally to the Arts and Culture. Stop just for a moment and think about what is happening in this community with the development of the arts. Just list them off one by one, all the great facilities that are being built in this region right now. A great new Guthrie Theater on the downtown riverfront, the Institute of Arts expansion, the Children’s Theater expansion, the McPhail expansion, the Walker Art Center expansion, all of them, part of major capital campaigns that are doing tremendous things for this city. The Schubert, where the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra proposes to play a season, is again part of that vision, as is the Ritz Theater in northeast Minneapolis. We are in the middle of the greatest build-up of arts institutions in the history of this city, and it comes at a time where we are opening the Mill City Museum and we are finally going to realize a great vision for a great Central Library. A great city has great cultural amenities and we are building all of them.
How do we weave all this together to make sure the arts are not just something we do over here on a Sunday in this part of town? How do the arts become a true part of everyday life? There has been a pioneering effort over the past year and a half, thanks to our partners at McKnight. They have been looking at northeast Minneapolis, where great artists have come in and made sure that they are fused with the existing neighborhoods to create an arts action plan for Northeast Minneapolis. That plan successfully helped outline where we should go, where should the scant public investment we have be focused. That’s pioneering work, and we are now working with McKnight to hopefully fund a citywide arts plan. Those are two important initiatives, but what I’d like to talk a little bit more about today is one that you really saw evidence of at the beginning of this speech with the wonderful performance group.
This is MOSAIC. MOSAIC is an idea that was born about a year and a half ago. We have a remarkable arts community that is also not only about our large institutions, but about creating tremendous energy at a grass roots level. In addition, we have an incredibly diverse community, with languages being spoken in this city. How do we fuse these together? The answer was MOSAIC. The dream was to have a summer celebration that would tie together these multiple arts sectors. We’ve worked hard at fundraising over the year. Co-chairs Robyn Robinson and Karl Reichert and many great volunteers, including and especially, Scott Mayer, have worked hard. I am very happy to say that we have exceeded our fundraising goals. We’ve raised more than $175,000 from private sources, led by Emmett Carson and the Minneapolis Foundation, who deserve a great debt of gratitude. We now have more than 40 organizations and activities that will be celebrated throughout the months of June and July. And MOSAIC will be a time where we can go out in the community, see all sorts of presentations like this today. It’s about the arts, but it’s also about community building. It’s about recognizing that a city like we are today can come together in many different ways on the best of levels.
As a final challenge I’d like us all to look at, and to think a little bit about, that challenge involving our children this summer. To put this in context, I want to step back to earlier this year, when Tyesha Edwards was shot by a stray bullet from a gang shooting in south Minneapolis. It was one of the most tragic moments in the city over the past year, when an eleven-year-old girl was sitting at her desk doing her homework. It was a clear illustration of what happens when gang activity takes root in neighborhoods. It was also a clear illustration of what happens when our kids do not have productive things to do in town and get drawn into the sickening web of gang violence. In the wake of that, we called together the Youth Coordinating Board, our partners in the parks, the schools the county board, the library, and we sat together on a Friday night and thought about what we could really do to help. What can we do as a coordinated community response, to make sure we are taking productive action this summer? The most important issue that came up from everyone in that room was summer employment. Summer employment was the key to so many issues. It was certainly about giving kids resources and money that they can spend, but it was more importantly about creating a path where they could see something great happening with their lives, something to live for and something to strive for. So we are putting out a call to do something that we are calling Step-Up. Step-Up is a single challenge to the business community and individuals to create summer jobs for our kids. We’re very thankful that the Minneapolis School Board and Superintendent Johnson made the decision to keep the summer schools open this summer. That involves huge, tough choices for you this summer and we know it. But we appreciate the work you are doing, because it is an important part of all of us stepping up together.
Superintendent Johnson has also been part of this effort to recognize that it is about creating summer jobs. It’s creating reading opportunities in our schools, but most important for all of us to look inside ourselves and find a way can you help create a job for a kid this summer. There is a single number to call: 399-9999. We need to spread the word throughout the community. We have kids waiting, we do not have the jobs we need, we are dramatically underperforming in what we have to do as a community to make sure we put our kids to work on a productive path this summer. Can you all find a way to talk to someone you know, to create it in your own way, to create a job for a kid this summer, in the hope that we can create a new opportunity for them? It is about making sure we are thinking about our future. It is about making sure we are thinking about our past, Tyesha Edwards, and everything else. But I think more than anything it will say a lot about what this community can do in a coordinated way to step forward and do this.
I want to just finish by telling you kind of a funny story that happened when my wife Megan and I were at an event a few weeks back. Somebody I had known for awhile walked up to us and put his hand on my arm and he said, "How are you doing?" And the tone in his voice was a little bit like I had some sort of terminal disease. I get this every once in a while -- people who have read the paper, watched TV, will look at the City of Minneapolis and wonder how those of us in public office here are managing. "How are we doing?" they’ll say. My answer was that I have never felt more optimistic about the City of Minneapolis. They usually respond with something like I am delusional. But part of the reason they may not feel as optimistic as I do right now, is that they haven’t had the privilege of doing what I have had the privilege of doing over the past year. For the past year, and really frankly over the past two and a half years, I’ve spent most days and nights going around this city, every neighborhood, going in to see people doing the work of the City of Minneapolis. Not just in City Hall, but in the community. What I’ve seen is that there are hundreds of people, every single day, every single night, doing great things in the City of Minneapolis. And when I see these challenges, I recognize that something very extraordinary is happening in the City of Minneapolis. You can name a challenge, but you can see citizens out there doing the great work. People can talk to us about the challenges we face in our schools and our neighborhoods. But if you wonder about our future, come with me sometime to the Elliot Park neighborhood. There you will find a group of Somali kids who spent all day in school and now on even the most beautiful of nights they come back to the school at night to make sure they are catching up. And when you sit there and look at those kids and recognize that they’re our future, you can feel great, because I have been to the Harrison neighborhood and I’ve seen the exact same thing happening with Hmong kids in all parts of town. I’ve talked with people who’ve walked the Bloomington street patrols for a full year, every morning, to make sure that drug dealers and prostitution doesn’t take place in their neighborhood. It is a tough fight, but they continue to do it. And so does Council Member Don Samuels and his neighbors in the Jordan neighborhood. For two years they have been walking along the 26th Street corridor in Jordan to take back their neighborhood and make sure it works. And so do Council Members Lilligren and Schiff -- this past weekend they went out along Chicago Avenue trying to bring peace to a neighborhood where there was a shooting. In every single neighborhood, we have an example like Muriel Simmons. Muriel lives on Portland Avenue, and a few years ago her neighborhood was one that people had given up on. She walked out into the street, she looked a drug dealer in the eye and said to him that this was her neighborhood. She did what she could, she confronted them, she reported them, she worked with the police, she worked with businesses and not only were the drug dealers chased out, her neighborhood has been rebuilt. And this summer Muriel Simmons will sit on her new swing on Portland Avenue and look out at a street she owns. She did not give up!
And so, you can look at these challenges and recognize all over this city, great things are happening. You can see citizens doing great work every day, you can see it great leaders like Russ Nelson, who has come into the Downtown Council with a remarkable and aggressive agenda. You can look can look at Tony Lookingelk and Justin Huenemann with the MUDD group who have looked at the urban Indian issues in this city and come up with a memorandum of understanding of how we as citizens can work together. It’s pioneering work, and it’s done out in this community every single day. I see it in big ways, I saw it today at lunch. American Express had a lunch to celebrate their volunteers, 1400 people were doing great things at American Express, 1400 volunteers standing out throughout this city. So ask me if I feel optimistic? And it happens those big ways, but it happens in small ways too. I see Bernie Kootsia in the Bottineau neighborhood, who has spent years making sure there is summer baseball for kids from the Edison area. That’s important, it happened this Sunday when I went to tiny Sacred Heart Church in north Minneapolis. Back in the kitchen there were people sweating over making pierogi for the annual Polish dinner that they have done for three generations. We see great things happening in this city. Big and small. Our challenge is look these issues in the eye and not lower our sights. We have come from all over the world to do great things, and we are succeeding in the toughest of times. Our challenge is not to lower our scopes, our challenge is to make choices, but to never choose mediocrity, and in that way if we can harness the power that is being generated already in this community, we can truly be a city as great as it’s people.
Thank you very much!
Last updated Sep. 27, 2011