Rybak says a new bridge will be named for Mpls Somali leader

As he prepares to leave office tomorrow, Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak, held one last news conference and offered a tribute to a lost friend.

Rybak on Monday proposed a new pedestrian walkway that will connect downtown Minneapolis with Cedar Riverside, and said it will be named for Hussein Samatar, the first Somali-American in Minnesota elected to public office, who died of complications from leukemia last August at age 45.

"Hussein Samatar was a friend of mine and a hero of mine and a person who helped many people in the city of Minneapolis," Rybak said. "And the fact that we are reconnecting the West Bank in the name of Hussein Samatar is something that I think means a tremendous amount to this community."

Amid construction of the new Vikings stadium MnDOT is planning to build a new exit from westbound Interstate 94 to 7th Street. The ramp will replace the existing 5th Street exit, and the bridge that carries that exit over Interstate 35W will become a foot bridge.

Rybak said the re-purposed ramp will connect downtown to the University of Minnesota and the Somali immigrant neighborhood of Cedar Riverside, an area that was cut off from downtown when I-35W was built.

"The West Bank, which is our Ellis Island became an island separated from the rest of the city," Rybak said. "What we will do now is reconnect that island with a grand pedestrian walkway."

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Hussein Samatar came to Minneapolis as a refugee from war-torn Somalia in the 1990s. After teaching himself English, he earned an MBA and started the African Development Center, which helped launch dozens of immigrant businesses. Samatar was elected to the Minneapolis school board in 2010.

Samatar's widow Ubah Jama said it's an honor to have the bridge named for her late husband.

"He did everything he could to build community, to close the gap between immigrants and non-immigrants," Jama said. "He was a star."

Rybak said the conversion of the 5th Street ramp will cost about $500,000. Work on it will begin after the 7th Street freeway exit is finished.

Minneapolis Public Works Director Steve Kotke said construction on the new 7th Street ramp is scheduled to start in 2015. He said its total cost is $10 million; a MnDOT grant is paying for $7 million of that, and the city will foot the rest of the bill.