Pang Yang is a long-time Brooklyn Center resident and MN Zej Zog volunteer. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

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In the next couple of years, Brooklyn Center will start to look extremely different. 

The first signs of change will occur on a 17-acre parcel located between Highway 100 and Shingle Creek Parkway near Bass Lake Road, where a new event center, affordable housing, a market plaza and more will be built. 

That parcel is part of an 80-acre site the city has been trying to redevelop for 20 years to replace aging big-box retail sites, strip malls and vacant lots with a modern downtown area. Now the plan is moving forward, with the feedback from Brooklyn Center’s diverse community guiding the process. 

In the past couple of years, residents and business owners have engaged with the city and developers to ensure the area, known as the opportunity site, will meet the needs of the rapidly changing community. 

The city of Brooklyn Center established the Brooklyn Center Opportunity Site Task Force, which is led by nonprofit The African Career, Education & Resource, Inc. The organization serves African Americans in the northwest suburbs of Minnesota, including Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park. 

The task force is composed of 12 members who live, work or own businesses in Brooklyn Center.

ACER organizer Fadumo Mohamed said the goal of the task force is to create a legally binding Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) that will be signed by the community, developers and the city to ensure the opportunity site will benefit generations to come. She said that agreement should be signed in the next couple of months. 

Many different community organizations centered in Brooklyn Center are partnering with the city and the developers to involve residents and business owners in the planning process. 

MN Zej Zog is a Hmong-led nonprofit dedicated to empowering the Hmong community through education. Linda Yang is a MN Zej Zog volunteer and previous board member who helped in the efforts to engage the community in the project. 

Yang said she has lived most of her life in Brooklyn Center after she got married in 1997 and graduated from Brooklyn Center High School. Now, Yang lives with her family in nearbyBrooklyn Park. 

She added that there are many more Hmong people in Brooklyn Center than when she was a student there. 

During the summer, MN Zej Zog volunteers knocked on doors in Brooklyn Center and spoke with 60 Hmong residents to gather their thoughts about the opportunity site. In October, the organization hosted a community event with performances to spread the word about the project. Despite having lived in Brooklyn Center for years, and being proud homeowners, many didn’t know about plans to redevelop the site.

The majority of Hmong residents who spoke with MN Zej Zog volunteers said they want to see more diversity in restaurants and stores, similar to the Hmong Village located in Saint Paul. MN Zej Zog is publishing a report with the findings from the community to share with the task force. 

Based on feedback from small-business owners and residents, the opportunity site includes an Entrepreneurial Market Plaza that provides affordable retail and office space. According to a strategy plan, the plaza is to “create multigenerational wealth within the communities.” 

“Though Brooklyn Center’s BIPOC population is greater than 60%, minorities only make up an estimated 41% of total businesses,” the plan says. 

One common piece of feedback from residents is their desire for an event center that allows bringing food from outside vendors, so communities can host events like weddings and eat food specific to their cultures. 

“The event center will also be a huge hit,” said Pang Yang, a Brooklyn Center long-time resident and MN Zej Zog volunteer. “People are excited that they can have this space that is open up for any culture to come in and have a kitchen that they can utilize and bring out caters of their liking.” 

The opportunity site will also include a childcare center, and local artists will be invited to incorporate their art into the project.

Meg Beekman is Brooklyn Center’s community development director and opportunity site’s project lead. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

Brooklyn Center’s community development director and opportunity site’s project lead, Meg Beekman, said plans to redevelop the site have been set back over the years by concept plans not aligning with the city’s vision for the site, the 2008 recession, and the pandemic. 

However, in the last year and a half, there has been significant movement, and Beekman said construction should start sometime this summer.

In late 2019, Minneapolis-based Alatus became the main developer of the opportunity site. Chris Osmundson, Alatus director of development, said after the 17-acre pilot site is built, different developers and sponsors will possibly be involved in future development. 

Osmundson added that the pilot site is a test to figure out the best framework for collaborating with the community and the city to yield long-lasting benefits from the rest of the site. 

Project for Pride in Living (PPL), is another developer. That nonprofit provides career services, as well as builds and manages affordable housing properties in Minnesota. 

PPL director of project development Chris Wilson said PPL’s role will be to develop, own, and manage most of the affordable housing in partnership with Resurrecting Faith World Ministries, a nondenominational church in Minneapolis. 

“It’s extremely important to have a range of housing, but some of it being affordable is very important,” Wilson said. “For example, if you have people that work in restaurants, people that work in retail, people that work in hospitals, these are all jobs that pay, but don’t pay really well.” 

Osmundson said Alatus originally planned to rebuild the Brooklyn Center Target in a different location, build more market-rate housing, a theater, and hotels across 35 acres of land. 

But after revisions and feedback from the community, the original plan evolved. Developers changed the structure of affordable housing in the pilot site. Plans for the Target store and hotels are off the table. 

In late 2019, Minneapolis-based Alatus became the main developer of the opportunity site. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

The pilot site will include affordable housing that accommodates different income levels, as well as a variety of unit types appropriate for a variety of family sizes. Osmundson said these units will look similar, so everyone has a similar experience. 

Yang said that Brooklyn Center has few restaurants, stores, event spaces and businesses that reflect the diversity of the community. “So I truly feel like if we actually do what we are set out to do, there is a lot to gain from this project.” 

Katelyn Vue

Katelyn Vue is a third-year student at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, majoring in Journalism and Political Science. She is a reporter covering marginalized communities and underrepresented voices,...