An amazing thing happened Wednesday. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak talked for almost an hour and did not once mention the Vikings stadium.
His focus, instead, was on North Minneapolis.
The occasion was his annual State of the City address delivered in the historic Capri Theater on Broadway in the heart of the North Side.
“In this city of compassion, we have to spend more time and more money where there is more need,” said Rybak. “This city needs to grow, and it can only grow if we get North Minneapolis right.”
During the last 10 years, some Minneapolis neighborhoods have grown. The population numbers for downtown Minneapolis, for example, increased by 23 percent, with more growth in Uptown.
But despite those increases, the city’s overall population numbers remained stagnant.
North Minneapolis, meanwhile, “hemorrhaged residents” during those 10 years, losing 11 percent of its population, the mayor said.
“What we need in North Minneapolis is to bring in new residents to join these neighborhoods,” said Rybak. “This part of town has a spirit than can accomplish truly great things.”
Since 2006, Minneapolis has seen 14,000 mortgage foreclosures. Nearly half of those, 6,000, have occurred on the North Side. And last spring, a tornado damaged another 3,700 properties there.
Rybak announced plans to build 100 new “green” homes in the neighborhood during the next five years as part of a plan to attract new residents.
The mayor thanked the administration of Gov. Mark Dayton for a $500,000 Minnesota Housing grant to launch the project. He also thanked President Obama several times during his speech for grants to city projects.
This was a DFLer talking to a theater full of DFLers and saying, “Thank you,” to other Democrats in high places. This is an election year.
He also thanked an anonymous donor for $50,000 that will be used to purchase flowering trees to replace area trees lost to the tornado.
“We are beginning to see some good signs of recovery,” said Rybak, switching to jobs and the economy. “We are recovering, but we are not recovering equally.”
Comparing the city’s 20 percent unemployment rate for African-Americans and its overall 5.3 percent jobless rate, Rybak called the gap “something we cannot tolerate.”
He called for more job training programs, summer internships for college students at City Hall and increased participation of minority workers in city programs and construction projects.
“This is still the tale of two cities, and there has to be one Minneapolis,” said Rybak.
Rybak called for the return of streetcars on West Broadway, once a bustling commercial district, pointing out that the vehicles move quickly and can stop frequently to accommodate people as they travel to work, shop and return home.
The mayor also said that he has changed his mind about proposed light rail for the area because he doesn’t see how it could come through without “ripping the heart out of North Minneapolis.”
“The light rail would have only two or three stops in North Minneapolis,” he said. “North Minneapolis needs more than a fast train to somewhere else.”
Rybak also talked about connecting the area with Northeast Minneapolis and the Chain of Lakes. And not just for adults.
“A kid in North Minneapolis should be able, on a Saturday morning, to hop on a bike and say, ‘Should I go to Wirth Park or to the River?’ ” he said. Rybak was referring to planned construction this summer of the Van White Bridge that will connect Heritage Park with the Dunwoody area leading to the lakes.
“Doesn’t a kid in North Minneapolis deserve the same opportunity I had as a kid to ride my bike to the lakes?” he asked.
City Council members generally gave the mayor’s speech decent reviews for his focus on the North Side.
“He’s right. It’s been two cities,” said Council Member Meg Tuthill, who represents Uptown and the neighborhood east of the lakes. “We’re all in this together.”
Council Member Cam Gordon, who represents the area near the University of Minnesota, was glad that Rybak did not talk about the stadium, something Gordon opposes, and focused his message on the North Side.
“We’re strongly aware on the South Side of the inconsistencies on the North Side,” added Council Member Robert Lilligren, who represents the area south of the University. “We’re all core city communities and we all face the same challenges.”
Council Member Betsy Hodges, who represents the southwest corner of the city, liked the opportunity to reflect on where the city stands, which she says she sometimes doesn’t see because she is “down in the weeds working.”
“The stadium has overshadowed everything all year,” said Council Member Gary Schiff, who represents another core city ward on the near South Side and opposes the city’s involvement in the sports facility. “How much more progress could we make on our goals if we weren’t chasing stadium dreams?”
Two Cities blog, which covers Minneapolis and St. Paul City Halls, is made possible in part by grants from The Saint Paul Foundation and the Carolyn Foundation.