How the Seward Commons project is shaping our neighborhood

By: Brigid Higgins

What is Seward Commons?

It’s a development project by Seward Redesign, a nonprofit community development corporation. Redesign engages the energy and creativity of residents and businesses to implement development that’s based on the priorities of the community, and creates living-wage jobs, diverse housing options and a vibrant local economy.

We are a place-based organization, which means we are exclusively dedicated to the Seward and Longfellow neighborhoods of South Minneapolis. This scale is important because it allows our work to be rooted in the community over the long term.

The Seward Commons project is a big undertaking, involving the redevelopment of the area near the Franklin Light Rail Transit station.

What was there before?

The Blue Line Light Rail Transit (LRT) became operational along Seward’s western boundary in 2004. The region had high hopes for the LRT to catalyze high density development. But the station on Franklin Avenue was surrounded by challenging sites that stymied the big dreams for the station area. When the recession hit in 2008, nothing from those plans had been realized. Bystrom Brothers had recently ceased operating a machine shop on a 3.5 acre site just south of the station area. Redesign acquired the site in 2009 and began an area-wide planning process to make the space work better for the surrounding community.

What parts of the Seward Commons have already been built?

Touchstone Mental Health – Rising Cedars (I) and The Cooperage (II), currently providing 100 units of affordable housing in the neighborhood.The Verna (IV),formerly known as The Gateway Building,is located at 2200 Minnehaha Avenue and connects Seward Commons to the greater Seward neighborhood. This building was recently inaugurated under its new name, honoring late Seward neighborhood activist and organizer: Verna Strick. Learn more about Verna’s contribution to the neighborhood, and check out the building’s 5 small business and nonprofit tenants:  Solcana Crossfit, 826 MSP, Soomaal House of Art, Beez Kneez, and Cheeriup.

What is coming next?

Focus Arts (V) is a redevelopment project scheduled for construction this winter. Last Spring, Redesign assisted the previous tenant, Fun City Dogs, in the purchase of her own property nearby, leaving the 20,000 square foot industrial building vacant. Redesign will reinvest in the building to make it into a space that’s functional, ADA accessible, affordable, and stable. In response to a lack of accessible space for artists in the Twin Cities, the redevelopment project will divide the existing space into several smaller commercial units marketed to artists and creative businesses.

The Bessemer (IIIA) will be a 5-story building of 128 apartments, in the place of the vacant industrial buildings on Snelling Avenue and E 22nd Street. Construction will begin this winter and last 14 months. This project will be the first market-rate development in Seward in almost 40 years, and is a part of the community’s vision for a mixed-income, transit-oriented neighborhood with access to the Franklin Lightrail Station and Hiawatha bike trail.

Fun fact: the bessemer process is an industrial process for mass producing steel, used by the Bystrom Brothers in the machine shop originally on this site!

Wadaag Commons (IIIB) is the final planned development of Seward Commons. The city lacks affordable, family-sized rental apartments. Redesign is working in partnership with Noor Companies to develop a project that addresses this need and incorporates design features with East African families in mind.

Why is this unique to Seward?

Seward Commons is a piece of a vision for our neighborhoods: that they are healthy, diverse, and sustainable communities where all people have the opportunity to thrive. Nonprofit, place-based CDCs have the ability to provide technical expertise to implement community vision, rather than letting the private market dictate the future of the built environment. Redesign is one of the last remaining organizations of its kind in the Twin Cities.

Redesign provides comprehensive community development services that fall into four categories of work:

  1. Housing development
  2. Commercial real estate development
  3. Infrastructure advocacy
  4. Business development and technical assistance

We believe that a comprehensive approach that includes each of these areas is essential to creating and maintaining  healthy and sustainable communities.

Want to be more involved? Join the Seward Neighborhood Group Development Committee! Meetings are the third Thursday of each month, 7:30-9AM, at our office (2619 East Franklin Avenue). For questions, contact brigid@redesigninc.org

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