Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak devoted his entire State of the City speech Wednesday to the problems facing the north side of the city.
It was Mayor Rybak's 11th State of the City address and his second from the Capri Theater on Broadway Avenue. The mayor noted he also gave the speech there in 2006, focusing on the crime and economic problems facing the north side.
"And back then, I said attacking these challenges was absolutely the right thing to, that in this city of compassion, we have to spend more time and more energy where there is more need," Rybak said Wednesday.
The theater has been renovated since then, but the last six years have been hard on north Minneapolis. During the Great Recession, it experienced the highest foreclosure and unemployment rates in the city. Between 2008 and 2010, North Minneapolis lost 11 percent of its jobs, compared to only 5 percent for the city as a whole. And then, last year, the tornado hit.
"It really felt to me, and I know to a lot of us, like we'd been taking this huge boulder and pushing it, and pushing it, and pushing it up this huge hill," said Rybak. "And just as we'd almost got to the top, our feet slipped and we rolled back down and we were right back where we started from."
Crime remains a top concern for people on the north side. On Monday night, a 22-year-old man named Jody Patzner was gunned down there during an apparent robbery.
But the mayor pointed out that overall, violent crime in north Minneapolis has actually fallen 45 percent since 2006 -- even further than it fell citywide.
Rybak said one of the underlying problems facing the north side is its declining population. The 2010 Census showed north Minneapolis lost about 8,000 residents -- 11 percent of its population -- over the previous decade.
The mayor didn't propose a major shift in policy to bring people back to the north side. Instead, he described a multi-pronged approach.
"It's about safety. It's about housing. It's about jobs. It's about connections. It's about young people," Rybak said. "And it's about doing things in north Minneapolis in a way that has demonstrated that this part of town has a spirit that can accomplish truly great things."
Rybak announced a plan to build 100 homes on city-owned lots in north Minneapolis over the next five years. The state's affordable housing finance agency has pledged $500,000 toward the project, and Rybak said the city is looking for additional funding sources to subsidize development. He said minority contractors would help build the houses.
Rybak also announced the city has received a $50,000 anonymous donation to plant trees on properties damaged by last year's tornado.
In the longer term, he said the city will steer transportation and transit projects to the north side, bringing additional economic development.
"It goes to demonstrate that the state of the north side is the state of the city," said City Council Member Don Sameuls, who represents part of north Minneapolis.
But not everyone in the audience was impressed.
"You can make speeches all you want," said local activist Mel Reeves. "You can talk about putting a little Band-Aid here. But in Minneapolis, we need some emergency treatment. We don't just have a cut. We're bleeding!"
"We need real help, right away, right now, not any promise of a few jobs here or some dollars there. We need the city to mobilize and make sure that this part of the town has what other parts of the city have."
One subject that was noticeably absent from the speech was the proposed Vikings football stadium for downtown Minneapolis -- which has been one of Mayor Rybak's top priorities this year.
But Rybak was scheduled to talk about the project later Wednesday, at a community meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the Logan Park Community Center.