Demanding community benefit from development

Harrison neighborhood pursuing agreement with Bassett Creek developer

BRYN MAWR — The Harrison neighborhood is aggressively pursuing guaranties that jobs and affordable housing will flow from the redevelopment of Bassett Creek Valley, a 230-acre parcel of land it shares with Bryn Mawr.

More than 100 neighborhood residents packed the Harrison Community Center Sept. 6 during a meeting with officials from Ryan Companies, the likely choice to redevelop the first 56 acres of the largely industrial valley into housing and office space. A handful of Bryn Mawr residents were scattered throughout the crowd.

Neighborhood leaders and residents urged Ryan Companies to enter into a community benefits agreement, a type of legally enforceable contract between a community and a developer. In return for building in Bassett Creek, Harrison residents asked Ryan Companies to ensure job opportunities both during and after development, the construction of affordable housing and improvements to the area"s environment and quality of life.

Community benefits agreements have been employed in a few "test cases" across the country, but Harrison neighborhood is pioneering the approach in Minneapolis, said Beth Grosen, senior project coordinator for the city.

"There has not been a community benefits agreement on any other project in the city of Minneapolis," Grosen said.

Rick Collins, vice president of development for Ryan Companies, said the agreement would be "a very atypical process" for his company, but added: "I would say it remains a possibility."

Still, Collins noted the process is especially unusual because this initial phase of development will take place entirely in Bryn Mawr’s portion of Bassett Creek Valley.

Collins said it would be more "appropriate" to draft a development agreement directly with the city. Housing and employment conditions likely would be made in exchange for the public financing Ryan Companies will need to begin construction, he said.

Ryan Companies is proposing to redevelop two parcels of city-owned land, including the 26-acre city impound lot off of Colfax Avenue North and Linden Yards, a 30-acre strip of property along Highway 394 used for storage and concrete crushing.

The proposal includes about 1.7–2.5 million square feet of office space and up to 1,000 housing units in the Linden Yards area. Up to 450 housing units and 25 acres of parkland would replace the impound lot.

Grosen said Ryan Companies was the only developer to submit a "complete" proposal for the property in July, and could be offered the opportunity to purchase the property as soon as November.

At the community meeting Sept. 9, Collins pointed to the Midtown Exchange project in the Phillips neighborhood as an example of how Ryan Companies has worked to benefit local communities.

On that project, completed in the spring of 2006, Ryan Companies employed 45 people who lived within the five surrounding zip codes. The company also exceeded goals — negotiated with the city — for contracting with businesses owned by women and minorities, he said.

Kathryn Kaatz, one of the few Bryn Mawr residents in the audience, said she attended to "be a bridge" between the two neighborhoods. Kaatz said she supported a community benefits agreement as a way to promote prosperity in the Harrison neighborhood.

Figures from the 2000 census put Harrison’s median household income at $23,831, far below the Minneapolis average of $37,974. Median household income in Bryn Mawr, by comparison, was estimated at $69,609.

Harrison also has a far more diverse population than Bryn Mawr, which was 92 percent white at the time of the last census.

Despite their socioeconomic differences, Kaatz said, the two neighborhoods’ interests are often intertwined. Although another Bryn Mawr resident at the meeting disagreed that a community benefits agreement would effectively aid their neighbors to the north, Kaatz said the "time had come" for such a plan.

"I think what people need to realize is Harrison’s and the Near North Side’s interests are our interests," she said.

Reach Dylan Thomas at dthomas@mnpubs.com or 436-4391.