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Deal gives anti-displacement developer exclusive rights for city-owned property in north Minneapolis

Justice Built Communities, which seeks to redevelop properties while preventing gentrification and displacement, has a year to come up with a plan for the Victory neighborhood property.

A mural honoring George Floyd
MinnPost photo by Walker Orenstein
The creation of Justice Built Communities by Pillsbury United Communities was a reaction to the death of George Floyd; organizers hoped to use his memory as the catalyst for new models for development.
In a move city officials call “atypical,” the City of Minneapolis has given exclusive development rights for a north Minneapolis property to a new organization specializing in redevelopment efforts aimed at thwarting gentrification and displacement. 

Justice Built Communities, an offshoot of the Minneapolis-based community-building nonprofit Pillsbury United Communities, was granted exclusive development rights for 12 months for a city-owned parcel of land located at the corner of Penn Avenue North and 44th Avenue North, two blocks west of Patrick Henry High School. The Community Planning & Economic Development approved the deal on Nov. 30. 

“In the past … we wouldn’t have taken on an emerging developer because we would want an established track record,” said city Director of Economic Policy and Development Erik Hansen. But the city’s vetting of JBC led officials to recommend a partnership with the organization, and its approach could yield a new model for anti-displacement efforts, said Hansen. “The reward is much greater than the risk,” he said. “We’re not giving exclusive development rights for the next 20 years.” 

The creation of JBC by Pillsbury United Communities was a reaction to the death of George Floyd; organizers hoped to use his memory as the catalyst for new models for development, and it has purchased several privately owned properties in north Minneapolis damaged during the unrest following Floyd’s killing. (Disclosure: Pillsbury United’s CEO, Adair Mosley, sits on MinnPost’s board, which plays no role in editorial decisions.)

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JBC’s senior director of community development, Jimmy Lloyd, said the organization “leverages land, labor, entrepreneurship and capital to help build equitable wealth for Black and brown residents, and prevent gentrification and displacement.” 

Lloyd defines gentrification as the process by which longtime residents of a neighborhood are priced-out or marginalized in their communities due to rising costs associated with new development. During a normal development process, the public is given a chance to weigh in after a builder has come up with a plan. But JBC seeks to “reverse that process,” said Lloyd. “So, it’s first: ‘Hey, community, let’s put something here with your input leading the way.’” 

Though Lloyd understands JBC won’t be able to “guarantee everything,” every neighbor wants, the group’s model aims to “show more cooperation” with the community when building in their backyard. 

To do that, JBC will seek neighborhood input on both housing and commercial elements of the development, so that residents feel connected to whatever is built. The ultimate goal is to build wealth for Black and brown locals by having them share in the economic benefits of the development — seeing their homes and businesses rising in value, for one — without experiencing the displacement that can accompany economic investment in lower-income communities. 

“We get people to work, live and play in the community by giving them the opportunities to do so,” said Lloyd. 

Neighborhood support

JBC first went to the city in 2020 with hopes of identifying land ripe for development in areas that are also vulnerable to gentrification. Though attention and money  flowed to projects along Lake Street and West Broadway Avenue (including JBC projects) after properties in those areas were damaged by vandalism and arson in the aftermath of Floyd’s killing, Lloyd noticed not much attention had been paid to potential development in places like north Minneapolis’ Victory neighborhood. 

One property that seems to fit the bill was at the corner of 44th Avenue North and Penn Avenue, which now includes two buildings that formerly housed a hair salon and a pizza place. Owned by the city since 2018, the property is located on two arterial bus rapid transit lines (the C and B), and Hennepin County chipped in money to have the site redeveloped. 

One of the first things JBC did was reach out to the Victory Neighborhood Association, which eventually wrote a letter to the city in support of giving the group development rights. The neighborhood association also told JBC they’d like the area redeveloped as soon as possible. 

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JBC’s exclusive development rights last a year and come with a checklist of objectives, including completing community engagement efforts, coming up with site-specific plans, lining up other development partners and completing other forms of due diligence. 

At the end of the 12 months, the city’s director of Community Planning & Economic Development can choose to extend the rights for another 12 months. “This is more of an iterative process that gives JBC time to work with community, come up with what the development concept should be at this site, and how it reflects not only what we want to see in the Minneapolis 2040 plan, but what is needed in the neighborhood and also greater Northside,” said Hansen. 

So far, JBC has no plans or projections for what the mixed used development will cost (the organization has raised $6 million from a coalition of private funders for its overall efforts). Starting early next year, Lloyd said JBC will start to engage the community, holding enough meetings so that a plan for the property can emerge by the middle of 2022. Said Lloyd: “What we want to do is have the community see their ideas and some of their concepts come to life.”