Neighborhood program gears up for second phase
The NRP's list of successes is long, but two legislative bills may threaten its next round of funding

Linda Mack, Star Tribune

February 25, 2001

After lunch at the Minneapolis NRP Neighborhoods Conference Saturday, Jennifer Young, Jan Blegen, Marie Martino and Christine Bravo of the Bottineau neighborhood were divvying up workshops.

The Neighborhood Revitalization Program, which has funneled city money directly to neighborhoods, brought the four women together. And it has brought friendships, housing improvements and planning for the Mississippi riverfront to their northeast Minneapolis area.

"Firstly, we got organized," Young said. "Lastly, we started collaborating."

The Bottineau, Sheridan and St. Anthony West neighborhoods combined forces to lobby successfully for a new library in Northeast. The Bottineau Library will move into part of the old Grain Belt Brewery complex

More than 350 residents met at the Minneapolis Convention Center Saturday to assess NRP's first 10 years and look to its future. Most like what they see around them: better-looking houses, rising property values and improved parks, libraries and schools.

Since its start in February 1991, the program has brought $176.2 million generated by downtown development to city neighborhoods. With guidance from city rules, each neighborhood determines how to spend its allocation.

Has NRP changed the city's priorities? Yes, said Steve Cramer, executive director of the Minneapolis Community Development Agency (MCDA).

"Neighborhoods had control of resources. That changes things," he said.

In the first l0-year phase of NRP, neighborhoods helped fund streetscape improvements on Nicollet Avenue; the Franklin Theater's revitalization as an art gallery; Mercado Central on E. Lake Street; a joint Park Board, school and community center in the Harrison neighborhood; home improvement grants or loans for 6,400 properties, and $10 million of physical improvements to the city's parks.

Now, as the second decade begins, the city is encouraging neighborhoods to collaborate and to focus more on the initial goal of improving housing. The Legislature required that 52.5 percent of NRP's funds go to housing over the life of its program. So far, 48.5 percent has gone to housing.

To assure that NRP money helps meet city priorities, $16 million of the $l50 million second phase funds will go to a fund reserved for affordable housing and $4 million to a fund for commercial corridors.

However, two bills introduced in the Legislature could threaten that funding. Both aim to correct abuses in the use of tax-increment financing, which captures the increase in taxes generated by a development.

Bob Miller, NRP's executive director, said the bills have the potential to kill NRP funding. Its funding to date has come entirely from tax-increment financing in downtown developments.

Chuck Ballentine, director of the City Planning Department, said passage of the bill as it is now written would be devastating.

"Tax-increment financing is one of the few arrows in the city's quiver," he said.

The MCDA's Cramer said that it's too early to tell the outcome but that the city is tracking the bills. He also said that in the second phase the city will need to supplement NRP's traditional funding with other sources.

Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein, who heads the NRP Policy Board, said the programs' biggest plus is getting neighbors together.,

"What we've seen is the decisionmaking brought down to the citizen as to how they want their environment to look, and that gives them buy-in."

Side bar---- NRP Neighborhood Conference award winners Best housing program: Logan Park Problem Properties, which worked with owners to improve problem properties; Jordan Home Improvement Program, and HOMS initiative in Powderhorn Park neighborhood. Best economic-development project: Nicollet Avenue Streetscape:Eat Street Best Human Services program: Glenwood/Lyndale Community Clinic, 503 Bryant Av.; Lyndale Youth Farm, in Lyndale neighborhood Best single-site renovation: DB. Lyon House, 419 Oak Grove St Most innovative hosuing project (large scale): Elliot Park East Village Mixed-Use Rental/Commercial Development, on 11th Avenue S. near Elliot Park. Most innovative housing project (small-scale): Artists on Chicago, a 10-unit, scattered-site housing project for artists. Best environmental project Lake Nokomis and Hiawatha Improvement Project, which has upgraded water quality and park plantings; Green Institute, 2801 21st Av. S. Best transportation plan: Neighbors for Safe Driving Campaign, Fulton and Lynnhurst neighborhoods Best schools project: Cityview Community School, McKinley Community; Pratt School Renovation, Prospect Park. Best library project: Hosmer Library renovation, 347 E 36th St Best parks project: Loring Park renovation, Stewart Park renovation in Phillips neighborhood Best community building project: Lyndale Initiatives-Block Clubs Deluxe, Deluxe, Mujeres Latinas en Accion, Youth Leadership Initiative, all in the Lyndale neighborhood. Best multi-jurisdictional project Windom Community Center, 5821 Wentworth Av. S.; Whittier Community School for the Arts, 2620 Grand Av. S.

Linda Mack can be contacted at lmack@startribune.com.


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