Three Years After the 2020 Uprising, Neighborhoods and Businesses Continue to Rebuild

Part 1 of 2: It is nearly three years to the day that Minneapolis and St. Paul experienced uprisings following the murder of George Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Three communities — Lake Street and surrounding streets in Minneapolis, Midway and the surrounding community in St. Paul and West Broadway and surrounding corridors in Minneapolis — were directly impacted. Each of these communities continues to rebuild. These communities are home to large BIPOC and immigrant populations, and each has faced decades of disinvestment. All are seeking further support as the impacted communities consider what revitalization might mean.

Poems from Pangea World Theater poets line the fence around the lot where the Gandhi Mahal restaurant once sat, as well as other businesses along Lake Street.

Pinky Patel and her husband, Samir, own one of the businesses near the Lake Street corridor that was impacted by the uprisings that followed the murder of George Floyd three years ago. Their business, Elite Cleaners, had been around for five years when it burned. When you walk into the back room of the dry cleaning business just south of Lake Street and kitty-corner to Moon Palace Books on Minnehaha Avenue, you might not immediately know that professional arsonists lit the building on fire.

Pinky Patel said she and her husband had no idea at first that the building had been burned — not until they received a text the following morning.

“When we got inside, everything was destroyed. The whole inside was burnt,” said Pinky Patel. According to Patel, the fire would have been much worse if her husband had not thought to turn off the building’s electricity because, after looting the business and before they had started the fire, arsonists plugged in the dry cleaner’s large industrial fans.

“We had these big industrial fans because in the summer the dry cleaning plant would become very hot. We would turn the fans on and open the windows to get rid of the heat,” said Patel. 

The Patels are still rebuilding their business. They were not the original property owners, and Patel says their lease was nearly up when the fire happened. However, the building’s original owner did not have insurance and asked them to take responsibility for rebuilding. The owner eventually sold the building to Redesign Inc. (formerly Seward Redesign), a community redevelopment organization that agreed to rebuild the property and sell it to the Patels. The sale was finalized in April 2023.

The professional arsonist responsible for the damage to the Patels’ business has not been caught. The only evidence of their identity is a cell phone video from the business across the street. 

“The owner of the business across the street was on the roof and they have video of somebody coming into the building. They texted us to tell us the building was burning, that something was going on,” said Patel. “For something like this to happen in [the United States] is unimaginable. We never thought anything like this would happen, seeing the National Guard everywhere.” 

The business across the street is now Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore and Uncle Edgar’s Mystery Bookstore. At the time it was a stained glass shop connected to a Napa Auto Parts store, which burned and the fire damaged the stained glass shop, too. According to Patel, the stained glass shop owner tried to save the business by hosing down all the bricks. Uncle Hugo and Uncle Edgar’s moved to their new location in Longfellow in August 2022, but the building sat vacant for the prior two years. The bookstores’ original location, off of Lake Street and Chicago Avenue, was also burned down in the uprising. That arsonist has not been apprehended either.

When the fire happened at their shop, the Patels initially considered packing up and closing down the shop for good. “Then, we called on Guruji, our saint. He said, ‘No, it’s for the community,” Patel said. “You have to stay there and you have to open as fast as you can to bring back normalcy to you and the community.’ When we opened you would be amazed. The front room was full of flowers from people we didn’t even know.” 

According to Patel, the Lake Street Council made it possible for the business to reopen, and the support of Redesign Inc., which serves organizations in the five Greater Longfellow neighborhoods, helped make the business habitable again. The dry cleaner owned by the Patels was one of hundreds damaged that week.

According to Russ Adams, manager of Corridor Recovery Initiatives for the Lake Street Council,  “a unique network of nonprofit community support organizations and an infrastructure of community development organizations as well as public motivation to do good in the aftermath of everything that happened” led to millions of dollars being donated in the days and weeks after the uprising to neighborhood associations and local organizations in the impacted neighborhoods. That allowed those organizations to work with community members and groups to figure out what the next steps needed to be. 

Three Years and Counting

The 2020 uprisings led to the second most expensive riots in United State history. Lake Street in Minneapolis, West Broadway in Minneapolis and the Midway neighborhood in St. Paul were all impacted, with BIPOC businesses in each of the cultural corridors taking the hardest hits. The 2020 uprisings cost approximately $500 million in damages. In comparison, the Los Angeles riots after the acquittal of the police officers responsible for the 1991 assault of Rodney King cost approximately $1 billion. 

Small businesses, and particularly small businesses of color, were impacted by the pandemic and also the pandemic of racism, economic disenfranchisement, as well as the civil unrest,” said Nneka Constantino, a Hamline Midway Coalition board member and acting chair of the Neighbors United Funding Collaborative (NUFC). 

Groups like NUFC, the Lake Street Council, the Northside Economic Opportunity Network (NEON), the West Broadway Coalition and even the City of Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Foundation have taken on the heavy lift in helping to support rebuilding efforts through granting and re-granting processes or through providing technical assistance to businesses engaged in the rebuilding process. 

Warren McLean, NEON

“It was an extraordinary effort. I applaud the funders who stepped up for their flexibility and for their response,” said Warren McLean, president of NEON. 

The 2020 uprisings began after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd on May 25. The ensuing uprising began less than 24 hours after the murder, and escalated through May 29, damaging 1,500 businesses across Minneapolis and St. Paul. Events of that week included the largest deployment of the Minnesota National Guard since World War II and over 500 arrests, including of several outside instigators.

Lake Street and the surrounding areas have long been home to immigrant communities, and prior to that, it was home to local Indigenous communities. In recent years the area has become home to a growing Latinx business community, though specific demographic numbers don’t seem to exist for Lake Street itself. The Midway community is approximately 24% BIPOC, with Black and Latinx communities making up the majority of the BIPOC groups. Similar to Lake Street, West Broadway’s demographic numbers are difficult to find, but the corridor is at the heart of North Minneapolis, which is home to a predominantly BIPOC community. According to data from Minnesota Compass, the Near North neighborhood in North Minneapolis is nearly 80% communities of color, and 50% of Near North’s residents are Black. The Camden neighborhood in the northern reaches of North Minneapolis is over 60% communities of color, with Black communities making up 50% of that number. 

According to Erik Hansen, director of economic policy and development for the City of Minneapolis’s Community Planning and Economic Development department, Lake Street and West Broadway both are only about 50% rebuilt post-uprising. 

“Thousands of buildings were affected, but really it was a couple hundred that were either heavily damaged or destroyed,” said Hansen. The 50% figure is more art than science, he adds, as some buildings and projects are not coming back in the same form that they were prior to the uprising. Many have been or are being redeveloped, like the former Midway Shopping Center, which is now home to Allianz Field, the professional soccer stadium. 

Photos taken one week after Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, and the subsequent uprising. Credit to Cirien Saadeh and The UpTake

Lake Street and Surrounding Areas

The Coliseum on Lake Street is one of those buildings being re-imagined. According to Adams, the Coliseum that sits at the southeast intersection of Lake Street and 27th Avenue is one of several buildings purchased by Redesign Inc. The original owner did not know what to do with the building at first, and the costs of repairing the building grew higher each time they re-assessed. Eventually, Redesign stepped in to purchase the Coliseum, as well. 

According to Andy Hestness, executive director of Redesign Inc., the decision was made to purchase the building with a goal of centering Black experience and a focus on shared ownership, wealth-building and localized control of real estate within the community.

“For a number of reasons — symbolic, emotional and what that building meant to the community over the years — it was important to try and save and preserve the structure,” said Hestness. “In the midst of protest for racial justice, [we wanted to take advantage of the opportunity] to use the tools of real estate to re-frame how community participates, makes decisions about, and controls and benefits from real estate.”

Andy Hestness, with Redesign, notes that the organization had to work with engineers to assess whether the building was salvageable and could be redeveloped. Photo by Cirien Saadeh

The Coliseum building, originally built in 1917, was heavily damaged by small fires and water damage during the uprising. Up until the sale was finalized, the Coliseum was without insurance to deal with much of the building’s damage — a problem shared by many of the buildings damaged. 

The insurance issue is one of the many challenges facing the community. According to data from the World Economic Forum, the George Floyd protests cost over $1 billion in losses to the insurance industry. But to many, the losses to local businesses is even more harsh, particularly because many of them reported either lapsed insurance due to the pandemic and the costs of maintaining insurance, or inadequate insurance that did not cover the damage done to their businesses. 

A June 2020 article from the Star Tribune reports that “many owners will probably be stuck paying for repairs out of their own pocket. Surveys indicate fewer than half of all small businesses in the U.S. have property insurance, and even those with coverage say they probably won’t get enough money to cover their rebuilding costs and operating losses.” 

The Coliseum was one such building. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in March 2022. In previous incarnations, it was a department store. In recent decades, it housed a health clinic, nightclub, restaurants and more. 

According to the Star Tribune, the Coliseum will have shared ownership among Redesign and three Black female business owners. The new space will focus on Black entrepreneurs as well as other commercial spaces. 

Entrance to the Peace Park
Entrance to the Peace Park, former site of the Gandhi Mahal restaurant, which burned down during the uprising (photo by Cirien Saadeh).

Redesign, in partnership with 4rmula Architects, purchased the former US Bank lot just east of the Coliseum at 2800 E. Lake St. — a 2.4-acre site. The site was donated to Redesign after a deliberative process, via Request for Proposal, open to private and nonprofit developers. Redesign now owns the property until after an engagement process when ownership will be distributed amongst other partners. The new site will be a multi-floor complex with commercial property on the bottom floor and housing on the top floors.

The Wells Fargo site, to the southwest on Lake Street at 3030 Nicollet Ave., will have a similar structure — a mixture of commercial space and housing, in a vertical development, aimed at making the redevelopment process more affordable. Wells Fargo is rebuilding its branch that burned to the ground, and it’s coordinating with Project for Pride in Living, another nonprofit developer, around an affordable housing development on the same lot. 

Not every business has begun rebuilding yet, however. Where the old Gandhi Mahal sat is a fenced-in grass area, known as the Peace Park. Ruhel Islam plans to reopen the restaurant, though the total project cost to build a site and reopen is $12 million and the request for public subsidy is $6 million. Gandhi Mahal, led by the Center for Peace and Justice, is planning on building a multi-story, mixed-use building with a restaurant, community space and workforce affordable housing. 

West Broadway

Fifty-one West Broadway businesses on Minneapolis’s Northside were also impacted by the uprising. Five businesses destroyed entirely: the Olympic Cafe, O’Reilly Auto Parts, Boost Mobile, the Neighbors One-Stop gas station and Metro by T-Mobile West. 

According to McLean with NEON, rebuilding is not even 50% complete in the Northside — a more conservative estimate than the one provided by Hansen, with the City of Minneapolis. McLean also notes that the uprising was only one in a string of difficult experiences hitting Northside businesses. The COVID pandemic and the stay-at-home orders also played a big role in hurting these businesses. 

“A lot of work still needs to be done,” said McLean, who notes that two Northside businesses that burned down have yet to be rebuilt. “In addition to that, a lot of businesses were either shut down or obviously their sales were diminished.”

According to Kristel Porter, executive director of the West Broadway Business and Area Coalition (WBC), businesses that managed to survive the pandemic and the stay-at-home order had to find ways to survive the uprising and the events that have occurred since. 

“The one thing that really changed is the feeling of safety. We had our issues like any inner city community across the country. We still have our issues of such crime and safety, but nowhere near the level that we are experiencing right now,” said Porter. 

Friedman’s Department Store is one Northside business that’s reopened only recently. The shoe store has served the Northside community from its current location for the past century. The business began as a department store over 100 years ago and it’s become known for its athletic shoes. 

“The arsonists stole everything, they broke all my windows, they put a gun to my husband’s head, and the police were of almost no help,” said co-owner Sue Friedman, wife of David Friedman, whose grandfather started the family-owned business. “We were closed for almost two years. I did not want to reopen at all, but my husband wanted to, so I agreed to open part-time.” 

Friedman says reopening took time. The store needed to be cleaned up and everything had to be inventoried, working alongside their insurance company. 

“The insurance company didn’t cover us for everything. It was a nightmare, it was a total mess,” said Friedman who says they received no help from the federal, state or local government though they did receive some help from an unnamed organization after opening back up. “The City, they didn’t do nothing.” 

Porter, McLean and others want to see systemic support for Northside businesses, and a resurgence of new and existing businesses in the Northside. 

“We have got to support the people who are trying their hardest to run a business and operate a business in North Minneapolis but don’t have a place to be,” said Porter who wants to see more new and existing businesses expand into vacant spaces across West Broadway, as well as get gap funding for those businesses that cannot afford to rebuild their businesses from scratch. 

Midway in St. Paul

Unlike in Minneapolis, which saw multiple communities — including George Floyd Square, at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue — at the heart of the uprising, much of the destruction in St. Paul was centered in the Hamline-Midway community, and near the busy University and Snelling Avenue intersection.

“I am connected to St. Paul because my family and their friends had Korean businesses down Snelling Avenue,” said City Councilmember Mitra Jalali, who represents Ward 4. “As a kid, I would know that I was going to our family-friends’ place because we would see the art at Hamline University, coming up Snelling. It’s all part of the story of the neighborhood. It’s Little Africa, it’s Elsa’s House of Sleep, it’s longtime Black-owned businesses in Minnesota. It’s the Korean restaurants and the Korean grocery store. All that is part of our community fabric.” 

As with Lake Street and West Broadway, Jalali says Midway business owners, neighborhood groups and the Midway Chamber of Commerce were having conversations about the need for public investment in the neighborhood prior to the pandemic and the civil unrest. 

Chad Kulas, Midway Chamber of Commerce

According to Chad Kulas, executive director of the Midway Chamber of Commerce, businesses old and new were destroyed in the fire. 

“The [Midway] corridor depends on the hard work of entrepreneurs. On May 22, 2020 [three days before George Floyd was murdered], I became the first person to try Bole Express, a fast-casual concept of Bole Ethiopian Cuisine as the owner prepared to open his new concept May 30. But on May 29 [Bole’s owners] watched the building that housed both of [their] locations burn to the ground. That space along with many others along University Avenue still remain without a new building,” said Kulas. 

Kulas says that in the days, weeks and months after the uprising, a support collaborative aimed at reviving and restoring the impacted communities sprung up. That collaboration — made up of the Midway Chamber of Commerce, the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and the St. Paul Downtown Alliance — supported 80 small businesses with over $1.3 million in relief funds donated by the business community, as well as current and former residents of the Hamline-Midway community. According to the Star Tribune, 950 donors gave to the “We Love Midway/We Love St. Paul” campaign.  

NUFC, the Neighbors United Funding Collaborative, also played a big role. NUFC granted nearly $700,000 split among 19 different Midway businesses, working with Hamline-Midway Coalition and Union Park District Council. An additional 38 grants of $2,500 each were given out in late 2020. 

“We want to really support the businesses that are thriving in the Midway. We want to see cleanup in the Midway,” said Nneka Constantino, NUFC’s interim board chair, adding that NUFC is focusing on small businesses, locally owned businesses and micro entrepreneurs that are operating within the Midway neighborhood and surrounding communities. 

Constantino also noted that the NUFC grant application process is rolling and remains open to businesses seeking to apply. 

“We want to really support the businesses that are thriving in the Midway and see cleanup in the Midway.”

Nneka Constantino, Neighbors United Funding Collaborative

Midway leaders, like Kulas and NUFC which donated to Bole’s rebuilding and reopening, helped Bole rebuild even though the business ended up reopening a couple miles north of the Midway, near the State Fairgrounds, according to the Star Tribune

“There had already been a community conversation underway about Midway being a place that needed to be proactive about public investment to offset market pressure, displacement and lots of pressure on neighborhood businesses, a commercial anti-displacement focus that was needed to help longtime businesses stay there and help the community get into the driver’s seat of local ownership,” said Jalali. 

In Minneapolis, similar collaborations came up. In the Northside, Destination Northside was formed. 

“If the resources were going to be coming into North Minneapolis, we wanted to know how we would disperse the resources. The Destination Northside Coalition was formed and continues today,” said McLean. “We provided grants to all the businesses that we could in North Minneapolis, up and down West Broadway and beyond West Broadway.” 

Destination Northside Coalition members include NEON, TRI-Construction, LISC Twin Cities and the Black Women’s Wealth Alliance. Also at the table was Mortenson Real Estate and Construction. According to McLean, Mortenson was crucial to early redevelopment efforts. 

“Mortenson repaired storefronts up and down West Broadway,” said McLean. Many of the collaborations across the Twin Cities brought in several developers and real estate agencies: Mortenson, TRI and NEOO Partners Inc. have all played a role in rebuilding and revitalization.  

“As we talk about investing in our communities, invest in our businesses. Our businesses will directly invest back into our communities. And so I’m proud to be a North Minneapolis business owner who lives in North Minneapolis. I have a business in North Minneapolis and I hire from North Minneapolis,” said Calvin Littlejohn in public testimony at a March 2023 Minnesota House Economic Development Finance and Policy committee meeting. Littlejohn is chief executive officer of TRI-Construction

“I’m proud to be a North Minneapolis business owner who lives in and hires from North Minneapolis.”

Calvin Littlejohn, TRI-Construction

“I underestimated the pride that my neighbors would have in me being their neighbor knowing that a couple blocks away we are redeveloping inside our own neighborhood.” 

According to some coalition members, however, the coalition has been less active in recent months. 

On Lake Street, the Lake Street Council is partnered with 27 other organizations focused on rebuilding and revitalizing the impacted corridor. Additionally, Longfellow Rising was formed in the immediate days and months after the Floyd murder. The collective includes nonprofits, residents and business owners like Meena Natarajan, the artistic and executive director of Pangea World Theater, which will be rebuilt at Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue. 

“I’ve lived near East Lake Street for the last 17 years,” said Natarajan. “When the uprising happened, the businesses burned, parts of the initial organizing involved in rebuilding were amongst the businesses. We would meet outside of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, near Minnehaha Avenue and Lake Street, and we talked about how to rebuild so that justice and equity were a part of the conversation.”

In May 2022, Longfellow Rising held community conversations, this one focused on the future of the 3rd precinct site. Photo: Longfellow Rising, Facebook

Lake Street — and the surrounding neighborhood — suffered the most damage of the three communities. Over 100 buildings were destroyed and displaced between the area just east of Downtown Longfellow, all the way to the Mississippi River and west to Uptown. The Lake Street Council, through a We Love Lake Street campaign, raised $12 million, and 500 businesses received grants, loans and direct technical assistance aimed at helping them rebuild. As with University Avenue and West Broadway, the Lake Street Council — and the We Love Lake Street campaign — is aiming at more than rebuilding. 

Each collaboration is also calling for revitalization, recognizing that a history of disinvestment left these communities already vulnerable. Each collaboration, and community leaders across the Twin Cities, are also calling on the State of Minnesota to step up. 

Part 2 of this story will examine how the rebuilding and revitalization efforts are being funded, as well as the State of Minnesota’s presence (or lack thereof) in rebuilding efforts and the support that the three communities still need. 

Photo at top by Cirien Saadeh