Minneapolis "Indian Town" due $3 million facelift


MINNEAPOLIS - Ugly, dangerous, run down, occupied by police - many words have been used to describe Minneapolis' Franklin Avenue over the years.

Avenue business leaders would like to add to the list a few adjectives about the embattled thoroughfare. A complete overhaul of the streetscape (between Chicago and 16th Avenue) will begin in late May. The $3.1 million renovation will turn the four lanes into two lanes with a center turn lane, widen sidewalks, improve lighting at both the street and pedestrian level, plant $100 thousand worth of trees, flowers and shrubs and install decorative fencing, flags and sidewalk tiles embossed with images that reflect the neighborhood's rich ethnic composition.

Beautiful, safe, green and attractive are what the east end of Franklin will become, said Theresa Carr, executive director of the American Indian Business Development Corp.

"This project is about beautification and safety, as well as making the area friendly to pedestrians and businesses. If you look at it now, Franklin is a cement wasteland. We're going to make it green, narrow the lanes to calm traffic, and make it a livelier place for people to be."

Carr expects construction to last 12 weeks when Franklin will become a dirt road for local traffic only. Motorists and bus riders will be forced to use detours and alternate routes.

Phillips Neighborhood residents will experience inconvenience and increased noise pollution into the fall, but Deanna Foster says the benefits of streetscaping will make the annoyances worth while.

"The first step in promoting this area as a desirable place to live and visit is to slow the traffic down," says Foster, chairwoman of the Franklin Area Business Association. "As it is now, people just lock their doors and get through the neighborhood as fast as they can. We want them to feel safe, to stop and spend some time eating in restaurants, shopping, and enjoying the amazing vitality of this place."

People generally have two reasons for an aversion to east Franklin - fear of crime and fear of cops. The League of Women Voters classified Phillips as the "largest Urban Indian Reservation in the United States."

Crime is a regular feature of the neighborhood. Drug dealers and prostitutes ply their trade more openly on Franklin than in any other part of the city. In the past couple of years the neighborhood has become known as a police state to many residents.

A police program called CODEFOR targeted Phillips. Off-duty officers work overtime on Franklin stopping drivers and pedestrians for minor infractions of the law.Police say CODEFOR is designed to net people with outstanding warrants for more serious offenses. Many Phillips residents say the police are an occupation force denying them their constitution rights. They wonder why drug dealing and prostitution are tolerated but driving to work is not.

Foster says the negative perceptions will decrease after streetscaping. "Crime results when people don't have legitimate opportunities to make a good living. What this will do is attract businesses to the neighborhood, create jobs and give people places right here to spend their money. Very little money stays in Phillips. We want to make this an attractive place to do business so that people can work, so that there will be no need to commit crimes."

Increased lighting and greenery will make Franklin a place where people will want to shop, for for recreation and to socialize. "The more people you have on the streets the more eyes you have on the street," decreasing the pretext for the heavy police presence, she says.

With the changes property values will rise and some low-income people will be forced from their homes. "Gentrification is a concern. At the same time it is better if we have development than if we don't," Foster says. The most similar project to date is conversion of a portion of Nicollet Avenue into visitor-friendly "Eat Street."

"We have seen a dramatic improvement on Nicollet Avenue," says Jim Niland, Ward 6 councilman who represents Phillips. He says success of the Eat Street concept convinced the council and the mayor to support the Franklin Avenue overhaul.

Steve Schoessow, manager of the Bruegger's Bagels commissary in the Franklin Circles Shopping Center, say streetscaping will be great for business. "It will help our employees feel good about where they work and safe about coming to work, as well as attract quality employees from within and outside the neighborhood. It's the type of project that shows immediate result."

"We want to create ways to tie the community together," says Debbie Van Meter of the Franklin Avenue Business Association. "We have so many people who live and work hard in the Phillips neighborhood, but they have to leave to spend their money."

Several businesses are taking advantage of what they're calling the "great potential" of the neighborhood. The Brand New Ancient Traders Market is open on 11th and Franklin. It features a caf? and Native American-oriented shops on street level and office space on the second floor. The old Franklin Theatre is under renovation and two low-rise, mixed-use buildings, with commercial space on street level and housing above, are in the works. The Market building is a prototype planners would like to see replicated - attractive spaces with vaguely ethnic sensibilities that will draw visitors into a Minneapolis version of Chinatown. They see Phillips as an area close to downtown where tourists will want to come and spend money.