Commentary

In this time of need, Minnesotans have stepped up; it’s government’s turn | Opinion

During the summer of 2020, KB Balla stands near what remains of Scores Sports Bar at 2713 E. Lake St. in Minneapolis. Photo by Hannah Black/Minnesota Reformer.

The civil unrest that unfolded in the wake of George Floyd’s murder has had a deep and lasting impact on the Twin Cities. Buildings burned, family-run shops were robbed, and local health care clinics and nonprofits were broken into and damaged. The places where people lived, worked and relied on for essential services were destroyed and entire communities were left reeling.

In this moment of pain, Minnesotans did what they do best: They lent a hand and got to work. Volunteers swept the streets and sidewalks. People organized pop-up food shelves. Donations — of $5, $20 $50 — came in from across our state and the country to help small businesses.

This generosity has accomplished a lot. Thanks to these donations, local nonprofits like the Lake Street Council, the West Broadway Business and Area Coalition, and the Midway Chamber of Commerce have been able to provide more than $10 million in grants to more than 400 small businesses. We have seen firsthand how these grants have helped repair building damage and replace lost inventory and equipment. These donations have supported local business owners’ abilities to reopen their doors and hire back employees.

But rebuilding our cities cannot be done through philanthropy alone. Together, Minneapolis and St. Paul sustained more than $500 million in damages. As the Star Tribune previously noted, this makes the Twin Cities riots the second most costly civil disturbance in our country’s history, behind the Los Angeles riots in 1992.

Entire buildings were destroyed. Many affected local business owners don’t have the income or equity needed to develop new property. Even as buildings are rebuilt, the cost of new construction does not allow for affordable rent rates without government support. We have heard loud and clear that people want to see Twin Cities neighborhoods continue to be a home for small businesses — but the need for greater resources to maintain this vision is simply too great for local nonprofits and Minnesotans to bear it alone.

The stakes are also too high. Small business owners invest in and sustain many of the Twin Cities’ thriving commercial corridors like Lake Street, West Broadway and University Avenue. They provide jobs, create economic growth and encourage innovation. The Twin Cities metro area is also the largest contributor to our state tax base — the success of its cities and business community benefits the entire state.

Small business owners are committed to staying and rebuilding once more. These family-run establishments need support in property acquisition, building preservation and new development. Without this support we risk losing these small businesses, which means losing local ownership, entrepreneurship and control.

We also risk widening the already pervasive wealth gap here in our cities and state. Many of the businesses impacted are owned by immigrants, low-income entrepreneurs and Black, Indigenous, people of color families. As we seek to address income inequality, investing in the rebuilding along Lake Street, West Broadway and Midway can make a substantial difference.

We understand there is a lot of demand for funding right now. But we urgently need government support to recognize the huge impact this civil unrest has had on our communities, protect small business owners, and preserve these vibrant economic and cultural corridors. State, county and city governments currently have a huge influx of federal relief funds to distribute; paired with Minnesota’s present budget surplus, small business recovery should be a top priority to lawmakers.

Real people who have worked tirelessly over the past year to support themselves, their families, and their employees amid the pandemic and civil unrest are being affected. They provide incredible benefits to our metro area and the entire state — and they deserve our unflinching support.

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Allison Sharkey
Allison Sharkey

Allison Sharkey is the executive director of the Lake Street Council.

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Felicia Perry
Felicia Perry

Felicia Perry is the executive director of the West Broadway Business and Area Coalition.

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Chad Kulas
Chad Kulas

Chad Kulas is the executive director of the Midway Chamber of Commerce.

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