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East Phillips Park Cultural and Community Center Ground-Breaking 4 ½ Years after Linda’s Dream, Neighbors-described on ‘Butcher Paper’**

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Ground Breaking for the East Phillips Park Cultural & Community Center

By Brad Pass and Carol Pass
On November 19th, 2009 a momentous event for the Phillips Neighborhood occurred. It was the ground breaking of the long awaited East Phillips Park Cultural and Community Center. After years of relentless struggle primarily by the residents and organizations of East Phillips, with help from our adjoining neighborhood to the west, Midtown Phillips, and many others, the end is in sight. Within months we will be able to enjoy this beautiful new building. The East Phillips Park Cultural and Community Center will include a big gym with bleachers, a community kitchen, a beautiful entry rotunda, an elder and family gathering space and rooms to provide programs and educational help for our multitude of residents. It will provide space to help them reach their potential, to improve their lives, celebrate their many cultures and just chill out and enjoy one another. Ball fields and landscaping will also be added.

Such a Center was a long held dream going back years, but always stalled out for a thousand reasons. However, when the neighborhood organization, the East Phillips Improvement Coalition, EPIC, began to plan programs for our neglected and desperately needy youth, the board members were stymied and brought to a halt by lack of space. They realized they could not write the grants to bring help to anyone, because there was no place to put the programs that were needed. All the churches were full. All the other possible spaces were occupied. The needs of this very diverse population were overwhelming, and we were helpless to respond.

Then on July 14th, 2005, at the monthly EPIC neighborhood meeting, faced with a sense of sorrow at the inability to move ahead, East Phillips resident Linda Leonard spoke of a dream. She asked, “if we could have a Community Center in East Phillips Park, what problems would it solve and what could it do and be for the community?” She got out a large piece of butcher paper and started copying the neighbors’ responses to the dream. Some of those hopes were that we could offer supervised and safe athletic programs for our youth, home work help to enhance academic success, employment readiness, career counseling, second language classes, classes in healthy living for diabetics and others. The thought of the Center caused ideas to pour out. Then those at the meeting made a commitment to work together and not stop until we had built such a Center. We have a copy of that paper, signed by all the participants of that long ago meeting. It will be displayed in the Center. How many people at that meeting could imagine the community would be gathered in East Phillips Park 4 ½ years later for a Ground Breaking of that impossible dream? Here are the pictures – it seems like a miracle.

East Phillips Park is one of only two large Minneapolis parks, both in the poorest parts of town, which have had no Community Center or gym and so no programs. An indoor facility to serve the 7,000 youth, 40% of whom live in poverty, in this economically challenged and ethnically diverse community has been badly needed since the park was formed. The EPIC leadership decided to go before the Park Board and challenge the commissioners to respond to the neighborhood’s needs. Remarkably, Bill Ziegler, the Director of Little Earth, had come to similar conclusions at the same time and we all ended up before the Park Commissioners on the same night with a totally similar message.

We moved from the dreaming phase to the real struggle when Rep. Karen Clark heard of our joint commitment and created the bill we rallied around for a grant of 3.5 million in State bonding money to build the Center. Rep. Clark stayed at the helm of our effort from start to finish and the relentless lobbying began. Neighbors gathered under the tutelage of veteran lobbyist Maryanne Campo to learn how to effectively put our case as citizen lobbyists. She knew how effective citizen lobbyists can be. Council Member Gary Schiff accompanied us to the Capitol as did Clyde Bellecourt, Bill Ziegler, Shirley Heyer, Rosie and Alfonso Cruz, Linda and Mary Juanita Leonard, Carol Pass, who probably spent as much time at the Capitol as some legislators, as well as many neighbors, their children and heads of organizations. Rep. Alice Hausman of St. Paul also brilliantly pressed our case. Sen. Linda Berglin made a final strong pitch to Sen. Langseth, of the tiny town of Glyndon MN – population 1,049 — who had eleventh hour dealings with the Governor’s office. The governor wanted a specific project and the Senator, Chair of the powerful Capital Investment Committee, countered that he would agree provided that the East Phillips Community Center would be funded. It took a rural Minnesotan Senator, a diary farmer, to respond to the intense urban needs of Rep. Clark’s constituency. The Governor’s office accepted the deal and in May, 2006, the bill for 3.5 million dollars for the Center was signed.

With a major part of the funding in place, the East Phillips Park Community Design Team was formed to continue fundraising, interact with the community to determine building functionality and act as a liaison between the Community and the Park Board. The Design Team consists of representatives of  The East Phillips Improvement Coalition, EPIC; Little Earth of United Tribes; Liga Hispana De Beisbol; Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors; Midtown Phillips Neighborhood Assoc. Inc.; Community Business Representatives; Park Board Representatives; and Elected Officials.

EPIC hired Arthur Himmelman as Design Team consultant. Arthur was invaluable in smoothing the waters and finding a way to bring all parties together. He also helped create the framework for a partnership, which will help program and fund the Center into the future.
The Design Team continued work with the Park Commissioners toward creating the building design and implementing the project. Scott Vreeland, our new District Commissioner, along with Commissioners Annie Young, Mary Merrill Anderson, Tracy Nordstrom and Board President Tom Nordyke helped move the project forward. The commissioners authorized Park Staff General Manager, Mike Schmidt; Director of Planning, Judd Rietkerk; Park Architect and Project Manager John Monnens and District Planner, Lonnie Nichols to help transfer the project from a dream to reality.

When the building had to be downsized due to funding limitations, the Design Team hired Dean Dovolis and Paula Merrigan of DJR Architecture, Inc. to redesign the Center. In a very short time, they created the beautiful and functional design that is being built today.
Rick Carter and Mark Kalar of LHB Engineers and Architects did all the engineering, determining the size and location of the footings, the heating and ventilation system, the electrical and plumbing and etc, and they did all the detailed construction drawings.

Rochon Corporation is the successful bidder on the project and they and their subcontractors started excavating the foundations as soon as the contract was signed. Rochon’s Scott Anderson is our Project Superintendant.

As construction proceeds, staunch supporter, Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin is advising us on how to find funding for the playing field renovations.

Even with all the expert help above, this could never have happened without all the people of the Phillips Community who came together and stayed together as a cohesive and diverse force ready to rally at a moment’s notice to keep the project moving forward, to raise money and to drive this project. Without the support and action of the people of the Phillips Community the dream you see unfolding in East Phillips Park today could never have happened.

Thank you to everyone who played a part.
Brad Pass. Chair
East Phillips Park Community Design Team
Carol Ann Pass, President
East Phillips Improvement Coalition
** [For a shorter, yet historic, name perhaps it could be called the “Butcher Block,” which is certainly better than it’s former nickname “Cockroach Park.” Ed]

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