Construction of a 42-unit development for at-risk youth and young adults was scheduled to be underway by the end of November at 3700 Nicollet Ave. S.
Nonprofit housing developer Plymouth Church Neighborhood Foundation (PCNF) partnered with homeless-youth service provider YouthLink on the long-anticipated and initially controversial project, called Nicollet Square. First proposed in the fall of 2007, the Kingfield Neighborhood Association (KFNA) approved plans for the development in April of 2008 after months of in-depth community discussions. The Minneapolis Planning Commission followed with its approval in September of that year.
The project was delayed while PCNF worked to secure $9.2 million in private and public financing, accomplished in part through federal stimulus dollars. Nicollet Square was one of seven projects statewide to receive stimulus money from the Tax Credit Exchange Program. Additional funding came from the state, county, city and Metropolitan Council as well as several foundations and congregations.
“It was the kind of project that could have fallen apart given how tight the economy got and how tight government money got and charitable money,” said PCNF Executive Director Lee Blons. “But everyone was so committed and felt that it was a great project and everyone stepped up and really worked hard to pull this money together.”
The goal of Nicollet Square is to help youth and young adults make the transition from homelessness or foster care to independent, self-sustaining lives. Each of the units in the development will be a studio apartment, available for modest rent. YouthLink will offer onsite support services and Northeast-based nonprofit bakery and job-service provider Cookie Cart is working with PCNF to provide a coffee shop and bakery for entry-level employment.
The development will also incorporate two office spaces that will be available for lease to neighborhood businesses.
When initially proposed, community members raised concerns about traffic, the building’s size and design and the potential for an increase in crime. Though opposition to the project hasn’t disappeared completely, the controversy seemed to subside significantly after PCNF engaged the community, answered questions, gathered input and made some changes to better reflect what area residents wanted to see.
Kingfield resident and KFNA board member JobyLynn Sassily-James said the neighborhood ultimately embraced Nicollet Square and what it was trying to accomplish.
James, who was once homeless, said the facility would make it much easier for at-risk young people to take their first steps toward sustainable independence. Such an opportunity didn’t exist when she was couch hopping and staying in shelters, she said. And she thinks Kingfield is an ideal place for the project.
“The sense of community these kids will experience while living at Nicollet Square is, I believe, the most important component and with the strong community of Kingfield supporting them as well, I believe they stand a great chance of going far in life,” James said.
More than 150 community members and project supporters turned out for Nicollet Square’s groundbreaking Nov. 12. The development is scheduled to be open in about a year.