Wednesday July 11, 2018
By Adam Belz

Mpls. council asked for feasibility study in 2017.


Minneapolis City Council Member Abdi Warsame. ] CARLOS GONZALEZ ï [email protected] – July 23, 2017, Minneapolis, MN, Minneapolis City Council Member Abdi Warsame talks about the Damond shooting, along with members of the East African community.

At a recent East African
Business Forum in a ballroom in south Minneapolis, a man named Jibril
Afyare stood to say the city must do something to protect
Somali-American businesswomen from landlords who treat them unfairly.

“They are abused and taken advantage of,” Afyare said. “We need to step in and rescue these poor, poor, poor women.”

Minneapolis
Council Member Abdi Warsame, who was at the June forum along with Mayor
Jacob Frey, had proposed a solution to those grievances during his 2017
re-election campaign: creating a new mall for East African business
owners that could compete with the two dominant business centers, Karmel
Square and the 24 Mall.

There’s
been little movement on the mall since then. When Warsame took the
microphone at the forum in late June, he didn’t mention it. Instead, he
focused on the general need for Somali businesspeople to own their own
real estate.

“We want
to move away from the lack of ownership,” Warsame said. “You get a
certain comfort and a certain confidence when you own your own space.”

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Warsame’s
call for a new mall dominated his successful re-election campaign last
year and earned him the vigorous opposition of Basim Sabri, owner of
Karmel Square, a warren of stalls and storefronts in an old machine shop
and a second, four-story building full of clothing shops, hair salons,
henna shops, restaurants and even a mosque.

While
Sabri has no trouble renting stalls in his property, Warsame and others
say he charges high rents for substandard space occupied mostly by
Somali-American businesswomen.

At
Warsame’s urging, the city identified a city-owned vacant 1.5 acre lot
at 2600 Minnehaha Av. as a potential spot for a new mall, and in August
the City Council asked city staff to study the feasibility of a mall there.

Since then, nothing has been announced.

The staff
member in charge of the feasibility study, senior project coordinator
Mark Garner, did not respond to requests for comment through a city
spokeswoman.

There has been no public update on the study since the council asked for it more than 10 months ago.

Warsame
said after the East African Business Forum that he didn’t want to
distract from the event by bringing up the mall or Sabri.

“We wanted
to focus on the point of the forum, which was connecting entrepreneurs
to the city,” Warsame said. “We will have an event like that for the
mall once we figure everything out.”

Sabri, who
has long invited the city to build a mall, said he treats his tenants
well and that managing a mall is more difficult than people realize.

“I try as
much as I can to treat people in general with fairness — in particular
my tenants,” Sabri said. “I don’t think anybody has given the Somali
community and the immigrant community the opportunities I have given. If
you find it, you call me.”

He said all of his tenants have leases, the majority of them month to month.

Sabri said
Warsame’s promise to build a mall was a “campaign slogan,” and that
it’s “easy to talk the talk, but it’s not easy to walk the walk.”

“It’s easy
to open a mall tomorrow, but can you keep it running?” Sabri said. “You
have no idea how many sinks get clogged a day, how many faucets get
broken, how many light fixtures go out.”

Sabri, who is 60, also said he is working with his lawyer on a way to transfer ownership of Karmel Square to the tenants.

The site
the city is eyeing for a “public market” is the last vacant land in the
Seward Place Industrial Business Park. The city’s department of
Community Planning and Economic Development put out a request for
proposals in February 2014 looking for light industrial development, but
so far nothing has worked out.

“We’re
still in the phase where we are looking at options, and everybody’s
committed to doing it,” Warsame said. “The idea is for it to operate
like a condo association, where all the stores are owners.”

He said he hopes the feasibility study will be complete in a couple of months.

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