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A Minneapolis church wanted to do something about illegal activity in a nearby liquor store parking lot. So it’s going to buy the property.

Activity at the liquor store parking lot has contributed to the intersection of Lyndale Avenue and West Broadway Avenue turning into a hotbed for drugs and violence.

If a land sale goes through, the Merwin Liquors parking lot might be redeveloped, ending it as a venue for drug deals and violent confrontation.
If a land sale goes through, the Merwin Liquors parking lot might be redeveloped, ending it as a venue for drug deals and violent confrontation.
MinnPost photo by Tony Nelson

The intersection of Lyndale and West Broadway avenues in North Minneapolis is notorious for illicit activity.

The commercial intersection is lined with businesses that have parking lots along the street. Those lots double as round-the-clock open-air markets for drugs and sex, as well as gathering and meeting grounds that turn violent or deadly, according to neighbors and local organizations.

Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. was no different. The windy and overcast afternoon saw rows of cars in the parking lot of Merwin Liquors, located at 700 West Broadway Ave. At random intervals, a car would enter the lot, its window opening just as a woman waiting by the doors of the liquor store darts over and enters her closed fist into the car through a window, and then the car would leave. A man in a sedan parked in the spot closest to the entrance for the liquor store periodically lowered his window to call out to people walking by.

“Loud. Loud for 25. Loud. Loud,” he casually said, calling out a colloquial term for marijuana and his price, like he’s selling tickets outside of the ballpark. 

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But the scene at Lyndale and West Broadway could look dramatically different if one local organization has its way. Love Minneapolis, a development company that’s an offshoot of Sanctuary Covenant Church, which is on the same block as Merwin Liquors is working on a deal to purchase the trouble property. It’s a deal that has the blessing of the city of Minneapolis, which approved a loan to help the church buy the building.

Love Minneapolis hasn’t yet made clear what it wants to build on the site; the organization won’t comment on the project since the sale with Merwin Liquors is not final. But, after acquiring the liquor store, Love Minneapolis will seek input from community members, according to city documents.

Disturbances for neighbors

“Yea, I heard that around that they’d be closing,” said the man calling out “loud” in the sedan of Merwin Liquors. He did not give his name. “I don’t really be up here, just be up here to hang up here,” he said, adding that he’ll find other places to sell because he’s often moving around. 

Merwin Liquors is not the only trouble spot in the area. Across the street is Winner Gas, a gas station that neighbors say is also a hot spot for illegal activity. Out of the station walked Theodore Erbin, a 28-year-old who has lived four blocks away from the intersection for five years. 

“I’ll be up here ripping and running to the store and I see all types of crap in this area,” said Erbin, adding that he supports redevelopment in the hope that new buildings might scare off drug dealers. But, whether there are new buildings or not, he said that he just wants to see change.

“I see drug dealers hanging out at the (Merwin Liquors) parking lot, at the gas station. Plus there are arguments and fights,” said Erbin. “I try to step in and try to keep the peace if I know I’m not gonna get hurt or nothing and nobody ain’t gonna pull no pistol out. It just makes no sense what I see.”

The troubling scenes at the commercial intersection reverberates to the surrounding residential area. Abdullahi Ahmed and his family have lived on the block behind Merwin Liquors since 2019. The 40-year-old said they would “really welcome” an entire redevelopment of the intersection. 

“Nothing bad has come to my home and my neighbors haven’t had anything happen, but shots from a shooting did fly into that house,” said Ahmed, pointing to a house across the street from his, in reference to a shooting near the intersection in June 2020. He said he’s heard shootings and regularly hears loud noise from the intersection at all times of the day and night. 

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“Most of the people at the liquor store and the gas station, they are not even people from our neighborhood,” said Ahmed. “The problem is that the people gather there and the violence starts.”

Not just nearby residents, but neighboring organizations have also made complaints about how the intersection impacts the liveability of the area. 

Complaints came from just about every tenant of the building at 800 West Broadway Ave., which was redeveloped recently and is now an opportunity center, home to a Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development career center, the Minneapolis Schools Adult Education North Campus, the Project for Pride and Living, as well as a NorthPoint dental clinic. 

“They were saying that their clientele were having challenges coming in because of activity happening on Lyndale, on Broadway, on 21st Avenue, on Aldrich Avenue, just enveloping the whole block,” said Minneapolis Director of Economic Policy and Development Erik Hansen.

The city started a conversation with those organizations plus other community partners like the West Broadway Business and Area Coalition, Appetite for Change, individual community leaders along with people from a number of city departments, Love Minneapolis and Sanctuary Covenant Church, Hansen said. “We had a conversation about what we should do collectively around this issue since we come back to the same table with the same issue every couple of years.”

Because of the extra strain of the pandemic, Hansen did note that the Broadway-Lyndale intersection seems to be at its worst in the past 15 or 20 years. 

The aim is to address root causes this time around. In the meantime, the police department and the Office of Violence Prevention have been involved, and are bringing in public safety resources, Hansen said. 

The group came up with five strategies, so far, said Hansen. The first is addressing immediate public safety issues around drug dealing, public intoxication, drug use, prostitution, weapons firing and assaults. 

“Unfortunately, it’s all there,” said Hansen. 

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Another strategy is bringing in city ambassadors and those who can connect people to resources for work.

“Maybe if you are sitting on Lyndale and Broadway all day, maybe there is other stuff to do,” said Hansen. “And there is the unfortunate irony that if they just went into that building at 800 Broadway, that’s where all the resources are to find a job or get your educational attainment up to a point where you can find a job. There’s an intentional design about the partnership in that building. It’s disappointing. But the reality of systemic change is that it’s so complicated that it just takes a long time. You are just gonna have those ironies sitting in plain view.”

The other three strategies are providing wrap-around services for chemical addiction and mental health, creating family-friendly events to bring in positive traffic and improving property conditions, maintenance and development.

Another ambition, said Hansen, is that the redevelopment does not include placing parking lots along the street. 

“It’s basically a suburbanized intersection,” said Hansen. 

Back in the 1970s and ’80s the trend in urban design was suburban-like strip mall commercial buildings with parking lots in front of the building along the street. Though retail and grocery stores were added to the area, which is “an additive,” said Hansen, “it’s a lot of parking lot out front and the building and building activity is way removed (from the street).

“It created this environment where it’s pretty easy to hang on the corner unchecked,” said Hansen.

A way to curb that would be to move a building up to the street front and “recreate that urban fabric that we once had on West Broadway,” he said. 

One example is the Walgreens at the corner of Lyndale and Broadway, said Hansen, a building that begins at the sidewalk. 

Love Minneapolis went to the city for help buying the liquor store. The city offered a $700,000 Great Streets Gap Financing Loan.

As part of the loan agreement, Minneapolis asked that Love Minneapolis have development plans with buildings along the street because the city is not interested in having the “suburbanized” building stay there. 

After Love Minneapolis buys the liquor store site, it has five years to get development underway, and seven years to have it complete. 

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