Stevens Square approves $1.6 million NRP plan

A Stevens Square/Loring Heights community meeting approved a five-year, $2.6 million neighborhood improvement plan, with the bulk of the money going to housing, development and community events.

The Stevens Square Community Organization, which wrote the plan and organized the meeting, expects to pay for the bulk of the plan through the Neighborhood Revitalization Program. It is slated to get $1.6 million under NRP Phase II, according to the NRP website.

Stevens Square is the third neighborhood to approve its Phase II plan. Powderhorn Park was first, followed by Whittier.

Roughly three dozen people attended the Oct. 30 meeting at the City of Lakes building, 110 E. 18th St. The neighborhood group expects to submit the plan to the NRP Policy Board in December, said Doug Kress, SSCO’s executive director.

Neighborhood representatives worked for more than a year to develop the plan, said Chair Gene Blackledge. SSCO had held an earlier neighborhood meeting to present the plan’s goals, but the Oct. 30 meeting was the first time it had assigned dollar amounts to activities.

(The plan does not specify which costs NRP covers and which costs independent fundraising would pay, Kress said.)

The plan includes roughly $131,000 a year to pay for two full-time and two part-time staff positions, Kress said. The full-time staff members are the Executive Director, who will do community development work, and the Safety Coordinator. The part-time staff work on community involvement and arts and greening.

Kress said his salary is currently $45,000 a year. Total staff costs over five years are $655,000, or roughly 25 percent of the plan.

The plan includes $1.6 million for housing and development. The main expenses are: $630,000 for a commercial and residential rehabilitation revolving loan program; $500,000 for a commercial loan program, $200,000 to work with surrounding neighborhoods on such projects as Avenue of the Arts (Third Avenue) and upgrading Nicollet Avenue.

Other budget items are:

$630,000 for outreach, including money to employ an events coordinator, continue “Movies and Music in the Park,” provide translation and interpretive services for non-English speaking residents, and to improve communications with residents and promote public art exhibits.

$260,000 for safety, including the Safety Coordinator, block patrols, park safety programs and possible upgrades to the police substation.

$129,000 for environment, including support for community gardens, neighborhood beautification projects and spring and fall cleanups.

The plan also has a number of low- or no-cost goals, such as reducing supportive housing facilities in the neighborhood through attrition.

Lurelia Freeman was the only person attending the community meeting who did not vote to support the plan. She abstained, after the 45-minute question and answer period.

“This is a really important document,” said Freeman, an SSCO board member. “It is asking for a whole lot of money. For us to sit down for 30 or 40 minutes and … rubber stamp this document, it’s too much.”

Freeman said she was particularly concerned about whether the plan addressed long-term housing affordability in the neighborhood, and whether current residents would get priced out.

Blackledge said it wasn’t the community meeting’s role to rewrite the plan.

“We went through a long process to get to this point,” he said after the meeting. “It would be wrong at this point to make substantial changes. It would be disrespectful of the work done by people beforehand.”