Dear Mayor Frey:
The plan for an African Mall that you and Council Member Abdi Warsame wish to impose on Cedar Riverside will only create problems or worsen them in my neighborhood.
It has been dropped on us without warning, without reasonable process, like a bomb. Officials have made it clear that the basic plan for a building at least ten stories high that would contain the mall and housing is not negotiable.
So far as I know, the only persons in favor of it are you, Warsame, and presumably the likely developer George Sherman who would stand to profit from the project. Sherman controls the approximately 1300-unit Riverside Plaza housing complex adjacent to the site. For many years he has spent most of the income from Riverside Plaza’s largely governmentally subsidized rent revenues elsewhere in his quite vast real estate empire, utilizing the housing complex as a cash cow. Sherman and Brighton Development obtained the property from the federal government in a highly irregular and extremely questionable transaction from HUD who had repossessed it from the original developer.
The fact that this African Mall plan offers publicly owned land and will require public subsidies to achieve its purpose, along with the short time period between the surprise announcement and the City’s publication of request for proposals, the “engineering” of the process to exclude all but one developer appears to be a little crooked, a little corrupt. As such, it will be yet another chapter in a long history of such non-competitive City development processes in our neighborhood, but one remarkable for its utterly extreme lack of neighborhood-based planning and input. With neither calls for such a project from residents nor from current business and property owners, one can only assume that very narrow interests are the motivators.
And the consequences will be serious for the neighborhood. First, we already have a severe problem here relating to the needs of many children. The Riverside Plaza complex was never conceived nor designed for families with children. In several infrastructure repair projects of past years, Sherman failed to take the opportunity to reduce overcrowding by combining units to make more multi-bedroom apartments. The recreational needs of the complex’s many high-rise children are only partially satisfied by the adjacent Coyle Center that needs expansion in order to reasonably meet demand.
The African Mall plan will make the already unusually high housing density here even higher, creating yet more pressure on social service and recreation providers. It will create insurmountable traffic issues on 4th Street where school buses already have problems. Somali mothers immediately expressed opposition when they heard of the plan; they voiced concerns about a mall as a troublesome hangout for teenagers, and they spoke of the pressing needs for more recreational facilities and more green space.
In addition, neighborhood businesses—including Cedar Cultural Center, Mixed Blood Theater, Midwest Mountaineering, Red Sea Bar, Lucky Dragon Restaurant and others—will suffer because of lost or reduced parking for their critical customer needs. Existing immigrant-owned businesses are concerned about competition from new entrepreneurs from outside the neighborhood who will try to establish themselves in a new—probably subsidized--mall.
As a resident of Cedar Riverside for most of the time since 1962, I have not seen such united opposition to anything in our neighborhood since the U.S. Postal Service took away our post office. And the concerns of residents and businesses, the needs of the many children concentrated in a very small urban area, have been completely disregarded.
Mayor Frey, to be a good public servant means attending to the needs of the citizens, not necessarily to whatever you want.
David Markle is a long time resident of the Cedar Riverside neighborhood.
This letter to the editor has been lightly edited for style and clarity.