Originally sold as a farmer’s market over a decade ago, the Village Market (24 Mall) has grown like Topsy. The building, which is located in a residential area, now has scores of individual business and thousands of visitors a day. The building has limited on-site parking, ADA accessibility issues, lacks proper bathrooms, and has nonfunctioning elevators and outdated heating and cooling systems, among other problems. A 2004 agreement with the City of Minneapolis allowed the building to expand, but the management has never lived up to the terms of that agreement. Only now, after the city has decided to require compliance, is the owner slowly and grudgingly making improvements.
The owners of the Village Market, located at 24th and Eliot, are the Sabri family. Members of the family have a long and sordid history in the city: One family member went to federal prison for bribing a former City Council member; they have failed numerous times to comply with the Minneapolis building code and agreements with the city; and they have intimidated and manipulated the East African and Latino business owners and residents.
It is time for the city to take action. Minneapolis can and must do better for the residents of Phillips and the East African small business communities. That is why I committed to working with the community and my colleagues on the City Council to create a cooperatively owned mall as a venue to address economic disparities, strengthen communities and promote self-reliance.
Our East African community has brought incredible vitality to the City of Minneapolis. Unfortunately, the current entrepreneurs are being charged as much as $1,000 a month for a very small stall space, which equates to over $100 a square foot in rent. It is outrageous and exploitative rent for a facility in this location and condition. Even at the most affluent malls like the Galleria in Edina’s top commercial spaces rent for around $40 a square foot. In my role as a council member, I have been privileged to be at the upper levels of the Wells Fargo building in offices with Italian marble floors, exquisite fixtures and rest rooms with bronze faucets where the rent is in the range of $35 a square foot.
The East African business community has been exploited, poor people have been taken advantage of, and nearby residents have had to endure a mall in the middle of a residential community from morning until midnight experiencing traffic, noise, trash and higher incidents of crime. The market has become a high-density commercial destination in a residential area. This makes no sense.
The city needs to create a mall with significant investment by East African entrepreneurs in a commercial area that is designed for heavy traffic at all times of the day and has reasonable rent and proper facilities.
Government should be extremely limited in its intervention into the private market. However, given these unique circumstances, I believe the city can play a positive role in helping the East African small business community and their customers and residents of the Phillips Community to create a better neighborhood.
Abdi Warsame represents the Sixth Ward on the Minneapolis City Council.
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