On a bitterly cold early January morning, Mayor Jacob Frey watched as construction workers shaped the inner skeleton of Thor Construction's new headquarters in north Minneapolis.
Later this year, the Minnesota-based, black-owned company's flagship building will stand four stories above the intersection of Plymouth and Penn Avenues, in what used to be a thriving economic corridor. However, many businesses left following the upheaval of civil unrest along Plymouth Ave. in the late 1960s.
Now the empty space is large enough to accommodate Thor's 90,000 square foot, $35 million building.
Frey says encouraging entrepreneurship and bringing companies to build and hire north side residents is one way to address historic discrimination.
"We've got some extraordinarily talented individuals and entrepreneurs who can do some amazing things here. And we need to make sure that every single bit of that talent is utilized. So the potential of north Minneapolis is ultimately realized," Frey said.
Frey has said it's time for city leaders to stop talking about creating more jobs for people of color and to take action. However, some say just by using his bully pulpit Mayor Frey can get results.
"It's highlighting what works, reinforcing what works," said Marika Pfefferkorn, with the Twin Cities Innovation Alliance, a nonprofit which helps secure financial support for entrepreneurs of color. "Then also going back to the other folks and holding them accountable, saying 'this is our expectation of you and with the roles and responsibility and authority that I have as a mayor, this is how we will hold you accountable."
But others say Frey's promises may hurt him if he's unable to deliver. University of Minnesota professor of public policy Larry Jacobs says Frey has set high expectations. He said Frey and his counterpart in St. Paul, Mayor Melvin Carter, have to negotiate layers of government in order to secure funding and support for their agendas.
"You've got county governments which are very important and have quite a bit of control over federal money that comes into these regions. You've also got state government, including a legislature which is currently controlled by Republicans and have shown themselves not to be entirely sympathetic to the metro area," Jacobs said.
Frey will need support from a majority of the 13-member city council to help him pass the kind of ordinances he wants to enact. That includes the affordable housing ideas Frey campaigned on, such as focusing on preserving housing units instead of building new ones.
The council has the power to amend the budget he will present later this year.
For now, it appears Frey and the city council are in their honeymoon phase. He praised council members during his inaugural speech and council members later returned the compliments, saying they're more than ready to work with the new mayor.
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