Housing and small businesses could revive legacy of thriving African American neighborhood
Major economic development projects have eluded the low-income section of Selby Avenue between Dale and Lexington in Saint Paul. This might change if an innovative partnership led by the Rondo Community Land Trust bears fruit. It could expand the concept of a land trust to commercial real estate development — the Selby-Milton-Victoria Housing and Commercial Land Trust.
Here is how the challenge has been framed by Greg Finzell and Mychael Wright, who are with the Rondo Land Trust.
- We have a low income area that needs economic revitalization. Previous efforts to revitalize the area have not worked out.
- The preferred mode for development is to build on assets of the African American presence in this historical Rondo neighborhood.
- Small development projects have a hard time coming off the ground with adequate capital; so, to be successful, there has to be a housing-themed public-private partnership with some gap financing and space for minority businesses.
- The lack of economic development in the area suggests that commercial lease rates have to be below-market to support minority-business development and growth.
- There is a need for affordable senior rental housing in the neighborhood, particularly the need for senior housing rooted in the local culture and community.
The core partners in the project are the Rondo Land Trust and the Community Housing Development Corporation. The service partners are Neighborhood Network for Seniors and Neighborhood Development Center.
Two mixed-use development projects will have 34 housing units combined with an affordable 9,200 square feet of leasing space for minority businesses. Three of the units will be work-living apartments where an entrepreneur can work and live in the same space.
A creative financing package for the $10 million dollar project will involve tax credits and funding from public sources. Grants from foundations and other resources will help to keep the commercial lease spaces affordable.
Is this project worth it?
Let’s take the example of Golden Thyme on Selby Avenue and pose the question: What if it did not exist at the corner of Milton and Selby? For many years, it has served as a social and economic anchor for the African American community. It is a local culturally-themed business that is a community space for neighbors as well as people seeking a unique African American experience. As an economic anchor it has served to support and grow the economic base in the area.
Golden Thyme has also engaged in another activity that helps illustrate the economic potential of a culturally themed business. Every year the Selby Jazz Fest brings more than 10,000 people to that commercial node. People come for the unique cultural experience.
The experience of Golden Thyme illustrates that there is economic need and potential in the area for a culturally themed development concept. Connected to other projects in the Rondo Neighborhood it could well spur much needed economic revitalization in the area.
Bruce Corrie, PhD, blogs at chai.news and is a professor of economics at Concordia University - Saint Paul.