Minneapolis works toward revival on West Broadwayby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — West Broadway used to be one the city's most vibrant commercial corridors. The key to bringing it back lies somewhere in the middle of the age old chicken-versus-egg mystery. Which comes first: economic development or public safety?
Speaking of chicken, Fire and Ice restaurant serves nuggets, fingers, wings and gizzards. However, the specialties here are Philly cheesesteaks and lemonade.
Manager Mohammed Abraham says Fire and Ice opened about four months ago. It's located near the corner of Penn Avenue and West Broadway. Abraham says he's lived near West Broadway and cooked at various restaurants here for the last five years.
"I know this area very, very well," he said. "And I know how they like food here."
Abraham says business is going well, but he knows that crime and the fear of crime keeps customers away. Abraham says this restaurant, because of it's size and location, is safer than places he's worked for in the past.
"For the small stores I worked for before, many people said that to me. They said, 'we like to get some gyros, some Philly steaks from your store, you're a good cook. But we're scared to go over there.'" he said.
Across Penn Avenue from the restaurant is the Gear for Less Warehouse clothing store. Here, owner Michael Pierson sells clothing by Baby Phat, True Religion and other brand names.
"Basically urban clothing, [what] kids want," he says.
Pierson says one way to encourage more development on the avenue is to hold farmer's markets or bring street food vendors here like in downtown. He says that will bring more foot traffic to the area.
"It's like this. If more numbers come down of solid people and they see the solid people, then it makes them less afraid," he said.
That's exactly what a coalition of city agencies and neighborhood groups are trying to achieve. Law enforcement agencies, like the city attorney's office focuses on prosecuting some of the so-called 'non-solid' people.
Martha Holton Demick manages the criminal division of the city attorney's office. She and her colleagues prosecute so-called livability crimes like public drinking, urination, prostitution, and non-felony drug offenses. Those are the crimes, Demick says, that make people feel unsafe.
"Broadway used to be, pretty much, the hub of a number of these types of crimes," she said.
Demick says it's important to let business owners know how they can prevent crime.
"And they're being taught how to keep people from gathering in front of their businesses or behind their businesses engaging in illegal activity by using the trespass law," she said.
Demick says the city is also cracking down on repeat offenders, and there are signs that the effort is paying off. Demick says a program designed to focus resources on the area's nine top offenders has successfully turned around two chronic criminals.
Like the city attorney's office, the Community Planning and Economic Development Department is focusing a lot of energy on West Broadway.
"I think West Broadway now stands as one of the hottest corridors in the city," says department director Mike Christenson. He says in the last few years, millions of public and private dollars have gone into development projects along the avenue.
The latest is a renovated building which is the new home of KMOJ radio. Christenson is particularly encouraged by the plans for a new Minneapolis public schools headquarters building on West Broadway. He says the headquarters and other new businesses bring hundreds of daytime workers and potential customers for local businesses.
But Christenson says crime is still a barrier to success on West Broadway, and so are the number of home foreclosures in the neighborhoods that surround the corridor.
"We intend to turn around the residential market in the Northside and it's happening very fast. From the north and west, we have new homeowners in north Minneapolis," Christenson said. "And we need strong residential neighborhoods to support the future commercial corridors. We know that."
Christenson is optimistic that West Broadway will rebound, but for every step forward there are several vacant or underdeveloped buildings still languishing along the avenue.
- Morning Edition, 05/24/2010, 7:40 a.m.