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What's next for George Floyd Square? City cautiously undertakes public engagement process

23 April 2022

Nearly two years since the murder of George Floyd turned 38th Street and Chicago Avenue into a semi-autonomous protest zone, the city of Minneapolis has started to figure out what’s next for the complicated intersection of culture, business and historic trauma.

“I have not fully recovered from that time and I know that we as a community have not fully recovered from that time. I don’t know when we will. I do know that we have to try,” City Council President Andrea Jenkins, whose Eighth Ward abuts George Floyd Square, said Saturday. “It is important for our own mental health. It is important for the economic development of our neighborhood.”

Last year, Mayor Jacob Frey proposed a permanent memorial to Floyd at the intersection where he died in the custody of Minneapolis police officers on May 25, 2020. On Saturday afternoon at Phelps Recreation Center, staff from the Public Works Department joined elected officials for the first of two town hall meetings this month to discuss reconstructing 38th and Chicago.

About 50 members of the public attended, with some open to learning about the process from project managers Alexander Kado and Trey Joiner. But the meeting also showed that raw feelings remain over the shocking event that led to demonstrations and riots across the Twin Cities, and transformed this South Side intersection.

A number of attendees, who declined to provide their names, expressed discomfort at the town hall. They said they felt the project launch was sudden, or that they suspected the city of going through a performative process for a plan it already had in its back pocket.

Activists heckled Frey, reminding him of the February killing by Minneapolis police of 22-year-old Amir Locke while carrying out a no-knock warrant. “Caretakers,” who have occupied George Floyd Square since the day of Floyd’s murder and are still insisting the city meet 24 demands, chanted George Floyd’s name. Anonymous notes left on feedback poster boards told city staff to “shut up” and keep the streets closed.

In the aftermath of Floyd’s death, the intersection became the site of memorials, guerilla gardens, community food drives and concerts. The streets in the area are more than 60 years old, and improvements had been part of the city’s long-range capital improvements plan since before Floyd’s death. Joiner said what happened in 2020 changed the character of the streets far beyond their original design.

“Now it’s two travel lanes, no boulevards, 8-foot sidewalks, no space for sidewalk cafes or anything. It’s really built for vehicular use,” he said. The project is something of a blank canvas with no top-down plan, Joiner said, in need of public input to balance community healing with traditional asset management and public transit upgrades.

Joiner anticipates reconstruction will primarily focus on the streetscape, but Frey said building improvements are not “out-of-bounds” either. The former Speedway gas station, gutted during the unrest, covered in murals and re-dubbed the “People’s Way” by activists who regularly gather by its pumps, was used in a March kidnapping during which a man was set on fire, according to criminal charges.

City staff are in talks with the property owner and lease holder of the shuttered gas station to see if they may help develop a transition plan.

“There are the components that are more economic-development oriented, beyond the public right of way. We are very open to the future as to what this street, sidewalk and ultimately memorial will look like,” Frey said. He added that he’s particularly interested in exploring the potential of creating a national park space or monument at the spot where Floyd died. “I think there’s broad consensus that we want to have an extraordinary memorial that gives recognition to the legacy of George Floyd.”

Relationships at the square are extremely complex, said Denetrick Powers, co-founder of real estate consulting NEOO Partners, which was retained to lead the community engagement portion of the project.

“It’s a lot of different stakeholders with a lot of different experiences, with a lot of different agendas. One of the hardest challenges for the project is going to be coming to consensus,” he said. “No matter how clear you think are, somebody’s always going to interpret it differently, so we have to be willing and patient.”

For Mulualem Gere, who bought a house on nearby Elliott Avenue last year, the reconstruction project represents hope. He said most of his extended family lives in Michigan, and they worry for him constantly.

“The area needs to be become a peace area,” Gere said. “There’s a lot of potential. The city and the community, if they are working together, they can change the atmosphere.”

The town hall follows a series of nonpublic “listening sessions” – interviews with small groups of residents of the immediate area, business owners, civic and faith leaders and the activist caretakers – that took place over the preceding few months. The city declined to identify the individuals selected to participate, but published a summary of feedback gathered from the listening sessions on its project website.

An online town hall is scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. April 26.

A rough timeline has “community visioning” scheduled through the summer, with preliminary concepts to follow in the fall and a final concept aimed for spring 2023. There is a survey on the city’s website seeking feedback on the project’s goals and community engagement, at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/38Chicago_Phase2.

Square fixture Jay Webb, a volunteer gardener responsible for many of the plantings there, shook the mayor’s hand and urged the city to transform 38th and Chicago into a world heritage site. He likened the site’s potential to his own work installing plant beds in places damaged by the unrest.

“We have the whole world’s attention,” Webb said. “Now is our chance to show the world what Minneapolis is really about.”

This post was originally published on this site

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