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Historical Commentary Livability Issues Related to Village Market & Proposed Expansion

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More than 140 Ventura Village and Midtown Phillips residents and stakeholders met to discuss the 24th Street Village Market expansion plans. Most of the concerns expressed addressed parking and traffic problems surrounding the mall that need to be addressed by the City of Minneapolis and the mall owners. The City of Minneapolis’ Planning Committee recommendation was to not support the expansion plans without those issues being addressed.

by Jim Graham, Ventura Village resident

And the farce goes on…

Well, I might as well put in what are my opinions of the present proposal for the Village Market; and what my opinions are of the history of the Village Market. 

Just to bare my soul and for disclosure purposes I have to admit that initially I actually worked to get a “Farmers Market” for 30 Somali businesses at the present Village Market site–even watched over the building and kept it from burning a couple of times in the early days when the developers seemed genuinely interested in the welfare of the small business people and the community. So I must freely admit that I was, through well meaning gullibility, partly at fault for the victimization of a community and many recent immigrants whose only wish was to have a better life for their community and their families.

When the Village Market was first brought to the Ventura Village Neighborhood organization it was to be a “Farmer’s Market” and have a maximum of 30 businesses. A parking variance was needed for that many businesses at that location. I urged the Neighborhood organization to support it; and they did.

Unfortunately, the people supporting the “Market” were hoodwinked. Instead of 30 businesses it quickly became evident that the developer’s intent was to have almost a hundred businesses operating at the facility without ever applying for additional variances. It may well have been the initial intent but the avarice that came when they saw the overwhelming desire of the Somali community people for businesses may have been too tempting to resist. With over a hundred business where just 30 needed a variance and conditional use permit the parking and traffic around the Market became a nightmare.

Somali people especially Somali women were so eager to have their own business, and not knowing the laws, became in my opinion, easy victims of the Market owners. The owners of what had now become an illegal shopping mall began to subject the people to such bad treatment that a large group of those business women who were renting shops at the Market came to me and asked for help. I arranged a meeting for about thirty of them to ask for relief from then Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar. They were seeking her assistance.

Klobuchar advised them to sue for relief in the civil courts and that her office would look into the discrimination against the women shop owners. Of course then Klobuchar moved on to become our United States Senator and that investigation feel by the wayside. Due to threats to many of the shop owners, and the use of a sitting Minneapolis City Council Member as a club over their heads to emphasis the support of Minneapolis politicians for the illegal activities of the property owners, most of the threatened people backed away.

Then the sitting Council Member came to the Neighborhood organization and asked for support of a plan to add additional parking adjacent to the “Market.”

Since ANY additional parking would be a relief, the people attending the meeting voted to support that plan. Of course what happened was that the then Council Member slid through a retroactive approval to make legal the 100 or so small businesses that had been rented illegally to unknowing victims for the last two years. And supposedly with “Neighborhood support.” Thus depriving the victim tenants of the legal foundation when suing to have the courts redress that illegal activity.

So now we had even greater parking problems. In a space that needed a “Parking Variance” to have 30 businesses you had an illegal shopping mall instead of a “Farmer’s Market” with over a hundred businesses plus a “church” or Mosque masquerading as a prayer room. And the farce goes on…

And now we have this new request. And the Market owners now admit that it is a “Shopping Mall” that needs expansion without addressing ANY of the parking requirements that are legally required for such a “Mall” with the existing number of businesses as well as a “church.”

Since the Village Market owners have “Opened the Door” and admitted that Village Market is now, and has been operated all along, as a “Shopping Mall” I think the Council and Minneapolis Inspections Department should take the opportunity to require that the Village Market operate legally as one within the legal requirements of being such a “Mall”. And especially with parking requirements enforced per business and per square foot as are required by any other “Shopping Mall.” To not do so simply adds to the discrimination against both the small business people working hard to make a living and the neighborhood residents around the Market who are working hard to have a quality life for their families.

Clearly, if this was not an “Impacted Neighborhood” and the shop owners were not a recent immigrant population, the City would never have allowed them to be victimized to the extent that has already existed. It is blatant discrimination at its worst.

For the City of Minneapolis to even consider these further Variances and “Conditional Uses” without addressing the past history of the Village Market is to have the City of Minneapolis further aid and abet the victimization of the homeowners and renters forced to live there as well as the present shop owners who are not being provided the same business protection that would be required if it were any other population and in any other community.

We had the Council Member who engineered this “Market” go to Federal Prison for corruption around this same situation and neighborhood. Do we really need the present sitting politicians to continue the injustice of it? Would they ever think of allowing such discrimination and ignoring of City ordinances and codes to go on next door to their houses? I think not. My community has been victimized by the lies, deceit, and discrimination of the owners of the Market for over ten years; will the present politicians allow this to continue? Or will they require the same consideration for our people that they would for their own?

Sorry for the long post, but I assure you it is a brief synopsis of the history of this injustice. Several other people here can attest to the facts I have offered as opinions.

I am sure Senator Klobuchar remembers meeting. I hope the present Minneapolis Council Members will finally address the past wrongs done to this community by the developers of the Ventura Market.

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