Q&A: Councilman Samuels on tornado recoveryby Tom Crann, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — It's been ten months since a tornado tore through north Minneapolis causing more than $16 million in damage to public infrastructure.
Minneapolis City Council Member Don Samuels represents much of the north side of Minneapolis. In a Wednesday interview with Tom Crann of All Things Considered, Samuels said the neighborhood is heading in the right direction — 90 percent of home insurance claims have been settled — but that there is much work left remaining.
An edited transcript of that discussion is below.
Tom Crann: Is a number like that, 90 percent of insurance claims, telling the whole story?
Don Samuels: No. It's not telling about the 10 percent of insured properties and it's not telling about regionally disproportionate number of uninsured properties. Then you had investors who bought properties for a song, $10,000 for properties that were foreclosed or abandoned or owned by banks in Europe. They got some bulk package and they have these cheap houses and some of those were not insured.
Crann: How well have people in north Minneapolis recovered from the tornado ten months later?
Samuels: The disaster-responding experts like Catholic Charities and the Lutheran Brotherhood and so on, gave us a chart that showed a steep rise in common goodwill right after a disaster that lasts about a week. Then there's a precipitous fall into some deep dungeon of despair. We've found that we have beaten the odds in north Minneapolis.
It was almost outrageous the level of generosity from the north side community among neighbors, and from the regional community... We had two days of 2,000 volunteers then a couple weeks of on average about 700 volunteers pouring in. Then we had a generous fundraising effort among foundations, raising several million dollars.
In addition to that, we brought together all the north side contractors, put them on a preferred contractors list and informed the community of their availability and their skills and their approval. And those people were first in line to do the work.
All around there was all of this goodwill, this highly organized response between the city and neighborhoods and non-profits and the goodwill of neighbors helping each other.
Crann: After the tornado, in the weeks after certainly, there was a lot of public goodwill and a lot of people chipping in. Ten months later, at the top of your list, what needs to be done?
Samuels: We still have some people whose homes are not repaired, who are still arguing with insurance companies. Some insurance companies have not been fair, so some people are holding out on settling for less than they think they should get. Or there are some people who just did not have insurance, and what is required to make them whole is such a big investment that non-profit help has only been able to help them some.
Crann: In that neighborhood, Broadway [and] Penn [avenues], what would you say the business situation is now, ten months later?
Samuels: It's pretty devastated. A lot of these small businesses, their tenancy was taken away, they were renting the spaces.
We declared a development area... Now we've taken the opportunity to expand the node by acquiring those properties up. At night, for instance, or even during the day, you don't get the sense of commercial energy. There is a lot of energy brewing in the background as we are busily acquiring properties and designing plans for future [proposals] that will address housing, mixed use, commercial, residential on a grander scale.
Crann: The city is acquiring the residential properties and changing it so [that] it's a more business-oriented neighborhood?
Samuels: We're very excited about that because the north side has a lot of disposable income. It's estimated that $7 million leaves the north side for the surrounding areas suburbs and downtown just for restaurants every year... We want to keep our money and we want to keep our people and we're going to design the kind of amenities and facilities that will attract us and folks from outside because the money's here.
Interview transcribed by Jon Collins, MPR reporter.
- All Things Considered, 03/21/2012, 5:53 p.m.