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Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak outlines ambitious final ‘to do’ list

Public safety and youth programs are top priorities as he begins work on his 12th — and final — year as mayor. 

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak: "The most important work is to make this a safe place to call home."
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak has an ambitious 2013 “to do” list.

His fills a white board in a work room adjacent to his office and is the focal point of staff meetings. The board is almost filled, but they still can make room for more projects for his 12th — and final — year as mayor.

“This is a white board,” he told reporters Tuesday as they settled in around a table usually reserved for staff. “This is not the 10 Commandments. It will change. We’ve got 350 days left and we have a lot to get done.”

“The most important work is to make this a safe place to call home,” Rybak said. To that end he will work with new Police Chief Janee Harteau on community partnerships. “She has hit the ground running.”

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Youth violence will be “job one” for the mayor, who last week hosted a “gun summit” with other regional mayors to look at illegal guns and “who is arming our kids.”

He will also focus on youth programs, such as the Step Up summer internship initiative, and will work to keep the Career and College Centers open. Those centers operate in all of the city’s high schools to help students transition to higher education.

“The issue of youth is really going to be No. 1,” Rybak said, “More than anything, this is where I’m going to be spending my time.”

Rybak is headed for Washington this week as part of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns effort. He will be lobbying on Capitol Hill and talking to officials in the Obama Administration. This, of course, prompted the question about the prospect of a presidential job offer.

“I expect them to offer me Transportation or HUD,” joked Rybak. “I can’t decide which.”

Then it was back to the business of Minneapolis.

Under the heading of “Growing the City” are three projects:  the Target Center remodeling, the Vikings stadium construction and design of the site’s surrounding district.

“This is the only part of the mayor’s job I was actually qualified to do when I took over as mayor,” he said “And it’s the part I’ve gotten to work on the least.” 

The mayor acknowledged that progress has been slow on the Target Center remodeling. In terms of the stadium, he noted that he’ll have a say in how the new stadium looks but that the actual job of building it will go forward without major input from him. His focus will be the development district around the new stadium.

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“We don’t want this to be another Metrodome with a stadium surrounded by a sea of parking lots,” said Rybak, who sees himself as the chief salesperson for the city. “This area is about to have a billion-dollar investment [the stadium] with a billion-dollar transportation link [light rail].   This is a great development opportunity.”

Despite his enthusiasm for the area’s coming development, Rybak made no commitment in terms of city-provided financial incentives, such as tax increment financing, to attract developers.

The same was true when talking about the idea of re-opening Nicollet Avenue at Lake Street that has long been blocked by a K-Mart Store. Rybak said the old way to get that job done would have involved federal grants and city financial help, but those are no longer options.

He’s looking to the marketplace to get Nicollet Avenue re-opened and said it could become more attractive to developers with the opening of a rapid-transit bus terminal and planned access to 35W at Lake Street.

“It’s not going to be the city writing checks,” said Rybak. “My job over the next year will be to get ourselves ready and, if the window of opportunity opens, to grab it.”

Minneapolis has again requested bonding from the state to rebuild Nicollet Mall. Gov. Mark Dayton had requested $25 million last session for the project but it was not included in the final bonding bill.

“The street is literally falling apart,” said Rybak, who called the mall “the Main Street of Minneapolis.” It needs to be redesigned, he said, to tie downtown Minneapolis to the lakes and the Mississippi River.

The “to do” list also includes preparation for the Silver Tsunami, the aging of police and firefighters that will see a large number become eligible for retirement during the next five years.

Another priority will be One Minneapolis, a program designed to eliminate disparities in education, justice, employment and health for women and minorities.

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“This city has one of the largest gaps between the haves and the have nots,” said Rybak, who noted that the stadium legislation requires 30 percent of the workforce to be people of color. He acknowledged that reaching that target will be difficult but added, ”We will do that.”

“This may look like a lot of work, but the mayor does a lot,” he said, stepping back from the whiteboard. “The good news is I don’t have to do it alone.”

Ending the news conference, Rybak added: “This lame duck ain’t quacking yet.”