Coalition hopes city rebuilds ‘stronger’ from damage

grand reopening of her beauty boutique Tweak the Glam
Tiwanna Jackson speaks at the grand reopening of her beauty boutique Tweak the Glam in LynLake. Her business received aid from the Lake Street Council after being damaged in the civil unrest. Photo by Andrew Hazzard

On Aug. 20, Tiwanna Jackson cut a red ribbon and officially reopened her beauty parlor Tweak the Glam at Lake & Lyndale, celebrating a long road of recovery.

Getting back in business wasn’t easy. Jackson’s studio, like many other businesses on and around the Lake Street corridor, was damaged and looted during civil unrest after the Memorial Day police killing of George Floyd. She had to replace shattered windows and stolen equipment to make her eyebrow and microblading boutique ready to serve customers and mentor young entrepreneurs again.

Jackson’s reopening was about more than Tweak the Glam. She invited other Lake Street businesses like 1 Life CBD and had a mini street fair of sorts in the heart of LynLake with a resounding message: Lake Street is open for business and it needs help to recover.

“Lake Street is not going to die; it’s going to come back stronger than ever,” Jackson said. The effort to rebuild Lake Street and other corridors hard hit by civil unrest will need to be as massive as the destruction visited upon the city in late May — a damage toll that some estimate as high as $1 billion — and will require new ways of thinking about ownership and investment.

In early June, various organizations stepped up to begin the process of rebuilding what was lost. The Community Now Coalition sought to bring those groups together and join forces around creating a new Minneapolis.

The group has worked to set goals around business retention and prioritizing merchants who are Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC).

The Lake Street Council has doled out $5.5 million in grant funding so far to help 300 businesses, including Tweak the Glam, to clean up, reopen and rebuild. The organization wants that rebuilding to focus on BIPOC businesses.

“I think it’s an opportunity for Lake Street to address: How do we do a better job of creating opportunities for Black entrepreneurs to have space?” said Allison Sharkey, executive director of the Lake Street Council and co-chair of the newly formed Minneapolis Forward Coalition.

Hennepin County Commissioner Angela Conley (District 4) spoke at Tweak the Glam’s reopening about the importance of young Black women like Jackson having their own businesses and enabling others to do the same as the city rebuilds.

“It really is about embracing the generations behind us with the tools that they need,” she said.

The Community Now Coalition also aims to help merchants who rent buy their buildings. The group has formed a list of buildings damaged in the unrest and identified the property owners. If a building goes up for sale, the group plans to approach the owner and propose a sale to a land-bank or cooperative ownership model.

“What do we want these corridors to be? I think we want more community ownership,” said Jonathan Weinhagen, CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber and co-chair of the Community Now Coalition.

Six months ago, he said, it would have been hard to imagine philanthropic donors supporting community ownership, but now many deep-pocketed organizations are open to helping fund that vision.

The scope of long-term needs is overwhelming, but what many businesses hit by compounding blows of COVID-19 and civil unrest need now is customers, the Community Now Coalition believes.

Lake Street customers are confused about what’s open and what isn’t, Sharkey said. Trying to get the word out that shops are open is an important step to getting cash back in the hands of hurting businesses.

Fear of future damage

While many are focused on rebuilding, the Minneapolis Police Department’s failure to earn the community’s trust means renewed civil unrest is likely. This was made clear on Aug. 26 when a man suspected in a Downtown homicide took his life when police located him on Nicollet Mall. Misinformation spread quickly that police had shot the man, and the area was hit hard by a group of looters who smashed windows and set fires to shops in Downtown and sporadically across the city.

With pending legal cases for the former Minneapolis police officers involved in

George Floyd’s death, a pandemic that’s taken a huge social and financial toll — more than half of the state’s Black residents have lost work — and the possibility of violent conflict in the aftermath of a contested election, those involved in rebuilding know there could be more destruction to come.

This summer has also seen a substantial rise in burglaries in Minneapolis, many targeting businesses already hit by COVID-19 and civil unrest. In July, burglaries in Southwest’s 5th Precinct were up 65% over a five-year average, according to MPD data.

“A lot of our businesses and property owners are afraid they might be hit again,” Sharkey said.

The city and state learned lessons from late May, she said, pointing to the faster response from the National Guard and law enforcement to deploy in late August. Businesses hope the government is better prepared and can stave off massive losses if angry crowds take to the streets again.

Cost of rebuilding

The total cost of damage in the city remains uncertain, but the number is large, likely hovering near $1 billion, Weinhagen said, and help will be needed from many levels. The Community Now Coalition has set a goal of raising $50 million via the Minneapolis Foundation. In June, the Minnesota House approved a $300 million relief package for areas hit during civil unrest, but the bill did not make it through the Republican-controlled Senate. The coalition believes that as November nears, conservative lawmakers will be under greater pressure not to offer aid to a liberal city whose leaders have pledged to defund the police.

“The closer we get to the election, the harder it’s going to be for the city of Minneapolis to move a package through the Legislature,” Weinhagen said.

For many merchants, the gap between what insurance is paying out and the total estimated rebuilding costs is tremendous, Sharkey said. There are policies that might max out at $25,000 for demolishing a ruined building, but that won’t cover a full demolition cost, which can sometimes be more than 10 times higher. Those are areas the coalition hopes its funding can help.

The scope of the need is great, but many are optimistic the process can lead to a stronger, more resilient and more inclusive Minneapolis.

“We’re going to be able to reshape and reform the city that we love,” Weinhagen said.