A pot of gold at the end of the Rainbow?

rainbow1BY ED FELIEN

The Rainbow store at Lake and 27th Avenue is closing.
It was part of the sale of Rainbow stores by Roundy to Super Valu. It was purchased by Jerry’s Enterprise that also operates the Cub store across the street. It seems very likely Jerry will want to sell the building to something other than a supermarket, what with Target next door also selling groceries. I’m sure Jerry thinks the market for supermarkets is getting way too crowded.
It makes sense for Jerry to keep the store open until he finds a buyer.  It’s worth a lot more alive than completely dead.
The prospect of an empty storefront the size of Rainbow on that corner is frightening to residents.  They’ve been actively putting out new proposals for its future use.  The Longfellow Issues List has been crackling with creativity.
Leslie MacKenzie said, “My husband had a great idea. How about a community commercial kitchen (since it’s already there)? And one of those businesses where you can go in and create a week’s worth of frozen meals (like Let’s Dish). It could have a twist that most of the ingredients are locally grown. (It could tie in with Community Table, a local organization that helps minority farmers find a way to sell or use excess produce.)
HildaViktoria Mork said, “I’m with Leslie and her husband.  Drop in/evening daycare is a great need. Nearest full service office supply store is in Nicollet. One closer to home would be appreciated.  I would love to see a business in this community that supports crafters and home sewers, knitters, quilters—and offers classes, work-social groups, and maybe an exchange for surplus materials.  A retailer that sells and repairs good (foot-healthy) shoes and has knowledgeable staff would be much appreciated.  I think a drop-in commercial kitchen where one can obtain and prep nutritious meals would benefit many people—both working families prepping ahead as well as those who live without kitchen facilities. If there can be a tie-in with the Farmers’ Market, great—although I’m still hoping that the school site will work out for that.”
I put my two cents in: “My idea for the Sears tower, when Mayor Belton and Council Member Brian Herron were trying to tear it down and do a strip mall, was a very under-capitalized common market.  Rent out stalls to local businesses—like an indoor farmers’ market.  The city should purchase the building and create an indoor municipal marketplace for small growers and local businesses.”
Jennifer Schultz wants “an indoor public market similar to the Westside Market in Cleveland.”
Sheldon Mains thought that was a “nice creative idea—could be relatively cheap to buy and refurbish into an indoor market—pull out the shelving and display coolers, tear down some interior partitions and the rents could be pretty low! (rent out the walk-in refrigerator and freezer spaces, if it still has the meat prep area and the bakery, rent those as daily use commercial kitchens (those may have been torn out sometime in the last 15 years).”
These pipedreams suddenly became more possible when the city discovered that it was going to have a new pot of money dropping into its lap because the tax increment districts that had been funding neighborhood revitalization are now paying off better and faster than anyone thought they would.  There could be at least $15 million more for the city over the next six years. That money was originally earmarked for neighborhood organizations, but Mayor Rybak and then-chair of the Ways and Means Committee, Betsy Hodges, decided to let the money go straight into the city treasury. That process of bankrupting the neighborhood organizations ended with the total elimination of the Neighborhood Revitalization Program.
I have written about this for years.  In October of 2012, writing about the Rybak-Hodges’ plan, I said, “Target Center is another drain on the taxpayer. The section of the mayor’s recommended budget that deals with the funding for the Target Center is the most convoluted and confusing description of how one fund dips into another fund that merges into a new fund, etc. But there are two statements about the Center that leap off the page: ‘Under the special legislation, tax increment from the new district could only be used to pay principal and interest on Target Center bonds or for “neighborhood revitalization purposes.”  The Consolidated TIF District will generate approximately $5 million in annual net tax increment revenue in 2012 and 2013, all of which will be used for Target Center debt service.’
“The total of $10 million could have been used for ‘neighborhood revitalization purposes’ but instead is being used to renovate the home of Glen Taylor’s Timberwolves. According to the latest Forbes ranking, Glen Taylor is Number 242 on the list of the richest persons in America, with a net worth of $1.8 billion, and the Neighborhood Revitalization Program has been starved out of existence. Is that the best deal we could get with Glen Taylor? Is this the best investment in Minneapolis’ future?”
Council Member Cam Gordon, whose ward includes the Rainbow site, has said he will discuss the appropriate use of the new funds in his Health, Environment  and Community Engagement Committee.
He and Council Member Andrew Johnson told the Longfellow Community Council at their annual meeting that they should get involved in proposing neighborhood revitalization projects that could benefit the community.
Shirley Nielson hasn’t stopped dreaming: “Here’s my fantasy for the Rainbow property : A year round Southside Farmers’/Arts/-Crafts Market with as big a solar farm on top as it could hold, and perhaps even a part with community greenhouses/hothouses for year round growing of herbs and veggies, community space for meetings or intimate performance art or for pop up art shows or classes of various kinds, even that tool lending library that has been batted around forever and/or office/studio spaces for community orgs who could perhaps communally own and help pay for the their spaces instead of renting all separate buildings. Vendors Stalls, Community/-social service orgs … Kind of a real estate “sharing economy” kind of thing.
“Community based organizations, such as LCC, other 501c3 orgs that rent space in Longfellow, like CAPI, the Family Resource Center, the Literacy project (housed on second floor of the building by Rainbow, the Permaculture Research Institute etc,  and other community stakeholders or even shareholders would buy/own the property. For a farmers’ market there would be the stall/space rental fees. The Community, the orgs housed there and other community stakeholders/shareholders (shares could be sold like the Seward Co-op does) would all be co-owners, and contribute to the mortgage payments and any development that would need to be done.
“The solar ‘farm’ would save significantly on  utilities, if not turn a profit, and the community would be spending  its finances on things that will help with our transition into the rest of this century, leaving a smaller footprint without squandering it on tax funded entertainment stadiums/complexes, etc., or private development.  In what way is this less plausible than giving financing/incentives/tax write-offs and other of our tax dollars to a sports stadium or other         developers?
“Our taxes/resources should be used to fund something actually useful to, and owned by, our community rather than giving money and control  to billionaires and mega-corporations/developers who promise to benefit the community with jobs, but will leave if they can make more millions elsewhere where  labor and resources can be bought cheaper.  Redevelopment or re-purposing  of this space should, and would be most efficiently and economically  accomplished,   DIY—or DIC  (where C =community).”
Hopefully other community organizations in South Minneapolis will support a city-owned year-round farmer’s market and open air small business incubator at the Rainbow site.
But whatever dreams neighborhood organizations have they should talk about them and come up with some plans fast.  Cam Gordon’s Health, Environment and Community Engagement Committee has discussed this issue at the Nov. 3 meeting, and they will discuss it again at the Nov. 17 meeting.  People should talk to their neighborhood organizations and then to their council members and then to Cam Gordon.

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