Breathing new life into 27th and the lake

By Iric Nathanson

The 27th Avenue block between Lake and 31st Street in Minneapolis was buzzing with community life. The block included a Latino nightclub, a popular Indo-Bangladeshi restaurant, and a community organization serving Native American youth. But that was before the 2020 murder of George Floyd and the civil unrest that destroyed much of downtown Longfellow, including the 27th Avenue block.
Now, two years later, Meena Natarajan hopes to breathe new life into this key Lake Street shopping node. Natarajan plans to move the Pangea World Theatre, which she runs as executive director, from its current home in Lyn Lake to the largely vacant block of 27th Avenue.
Natarajan’s organization seeks “to build bridges between multiple cultures and create sacred and intersectional spaces,” according to the group’s website. “Through art, theater and creative organizing, we strive for a just world where people treat each other with honor and respect. We believe artists are seers giving voice and language to the world we envision.
While the construction of the new Pangea center is still several years away, the foundations of this promising project have already been laid. The arts group has created a unique partnership with Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, located down the street from the proposed theater site.
Prior to the events of 2020, the site served as the headquarters of MIGIZI, a Native American social service agency. “Holy Trinity has had a long history with MIGIZI,” explained Ingrid Rasmussen, the church’s senior pastor. “We have partnered with their organization on a wide range of efforts. When MIGIZI decided to move further west on Lake Street, they told us they wanted to keep ownership of their plot within the BIPOC community.
Rasmussen and his congregation knew there were outside groups interested in the property, so Holy Trinity decided to purchase the site. “Everything had to happen quickly,” Rasmussen said. “We didn’t have time to come up with a pre-development plan. At Holy Trinity we decided we could act as a short term land bank for the site, to keep it in the hands of the community. We have purchased the property and are keeping it for Pangea until the theater is ready to move forward with its development project.
Rasmussen and Natarajan had connected through Longfellow Rising, a new organization working to revitalize 27th and Lake. “Pangea has been involved in the community of 27 and the lake for quite some time. We staged performances at the Hook and Ladder to get to know the community. Natarajan said. “After getting to know Ingrid through Longfellow Rising, we realized that our two organizations fit well together. That our partnership was formed so quickly speaks volumes about the church and its commitment to social justice. It also says a lot about Ingrid, who she is and her leadership abilities.
Natarajan says Pangea’s new facility on 27th Avenue will have multiple uses. “We want it to be a living building, a building that reflects the ideals of environmental justice and social justice. We will have a performance space, but we want to do other things. We want to grow food and make the center a community gathering place with a cafe.
“During our 26-year history, social justice has always been a key principle that guides our programming. We are particularly interested in expanding opportunities for theater directors who are women and people of color. These groups have historically been underrepresented in the ranks of performance managers. Poetry displays in store windows along Lake Street are also part of our plans.
Pangea is currently involved in the pre-development of Longfellow’s new town centre. “We are making the vision that will help us design a building that will meet our multiple needs. At the same time, McKnight Foundation is helping us set up a fundraising campaign. We do not yet have a fundraising goal. This is something that the pre-development process will help us determine. The design of our project should be finished this fall, then we will launch the fundraising campaign. It will probably take us another two to three years before we are ready to start construction. »

Gandhi Mahal will not return
Two other vacant properties on 27th Avenue are still awaiting development. Ruhan Islam continues to own the site where his restaurant Gandhi Mahal once stood before it was destroyed during the civil unrest. Islam is working on plans for the property, but he says Gandhi Mahal will not be returning. “Fine dining is no longer affordable,” he explained, “so we’re developing a new food court concept as an alternative to a standalone restaurant. We want to bring back all those flavors that people enjoy, but to do it in a more affordable way.Islam says his new business, Curry in a Hurry, now located on East Franklin, could be one of the occupants of the new facility.
Islam knows that it will face serious challenges when it comes time to put together a financing plan for its ambitious development. “Construction costs are rising rapidly,” he noted. “Projects that cost $300 per square foot to build just a few years ago now face costs that are double that amount. We will need to work with our community partners to make this happen.

Odd Fellow building for sale
At the corner of 27th and the lake, Ade Alabi has decided to sell his vacant location. Alabi bought the historic Odd Fellow building at this intersection just months before the building burned down following the murder of George Floyd. “To go ahead with a development on this site would cost at least three times what I paid for the property,” Alabi said. “It’s a financial risk that I cannot take. I hope a community developer will come forward to purchase the property. I would like to see this corner maintained as a community asset, if possible. »

Dream there, funding is not
While firm redevelopment costs for the 27th Avenue projects are not yet available, Ingrid Rasmussen knows the price will be substantial once the numbers are known. this bloc has become a reality,” she said. “The dreams are there and the will to make things happen is there, but very little funding has made its way into these projects, at least to date.
“There was strong BIPOC ownership energy on this block before the uprising. As a community, we must do what we can to ensure that vitality returns to the block and continues to grow. Longfellow’s town center at 27th and Lake is one of Lake Street’s important cultural and economic hubs. We need to make sure this hub comes alive and flourishes.

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