MINNEAPOLIS (AP) –From a distance, Riverside Plaza is a gloomy-looking monolith, a clump of stern concrete towers with fading multi-colored panels that suggest it’s one of society’s failed public housing experiments.

Up close, Riverside is something different: A lively and mostly cheerful haven for the thousands of immigrants who have come to Minnesota in recent years. Kids fresh off school buses giggle and chase toy cars, their backpacks emblazoned with their favorite cartoon characters. Mothers, graceful in long, colorful scarves, struggle to scoop up their rowdy young. Old men in suits lean on wooden canes as they stroll the premises.

That vitality is why the federal government and others are plowing $65 million into Riverside to address leaky pipes, moldy ceilings, outdated utilities and the general battering of nearly four decades of operation. At a time when many big public housing complexes are being pulled down around the country, Riverside — which is privately owned — is getting a breath of new life.

“People are happy here; it’s a dream come true,” said Halima Yusuf, 46, who came to the U.S. 14 years ago from Somalia and still sends photos of the complex to family members in her homeland.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development views Riverside as a poster child for what they’d like to see more of, and is loaning nearly $50 million for the renovation. Large, multi-family complexes like Riverside are increasingly undergoing massive rehabs nationwide, driven in part by a lack of new public housing and deterioration in the old ones.

“Given its size, it’s at the forefront of the kind of things we’d want to see happen,” said Carol Galante, HUD’s deputy assistant secretary for multi-family housing programs. She said the complex is ideal in that it provides its residents with resources like a community school and a grocery store.

Since around 1996, the federal government has paid to knock down many big public housing complexes. Often, the sites have been redeveloped with mixed-rate housing that usually includes fewer subsidized properties than before. Ultimately, the demolitions resulted in fewer public housing options nationwide, Galante said.

Riverside’s renovation is part of a $132 million refinancing package assembled by the federal government, the city of Minneapolis and more than 14 other public and private sources. Sherman Associates, the company that owns the 11-building campus, is contributing $3 million to the project. Besides the upgrades to infrastructure, the multi-colored panels that once gave Riverside a modern gloss will be repainted, and some replacement panels that weren’t part of the original scheme will be put right.

It’s coming at a good time. Residents often have to wait a half-hour for water to heat up before showers. The wait for buildings’ heat or air conditioning to kick in can take a week. Leaky ceilings and mold are common.

“There were horrible problems,” said Fredda Scobey, executive director of the Riverside Plaza Tenants Association. “Management was told, ‘Listen, this place is about to fall apart.”‘

Some money will also go to build a safety facility where security staff and resources will be headquartered and new security cameras.

The 2008 shooting of a 20-year-old Augsburg College student across the street from Riverside contributed to its image as a high-crime location. But tenants and police downplay any safety concerns. Data on police calls to the complex weren’t available. Neighborhood crime statistics show the area just above the citywide average, even though the neighborhood is the city’s fourth most-populous.

Over the past few years, Minneapolis police officer Jeanine Brudenell said she’s seen crime drop in the neighborhood following the addition of two night patrol officers. The crimes are now mostly thefts, whereas there used to be more violent crimes, she said.

Built in 1973 as Cedar Square West, the complex was backed by the federal government with a utopian vision to house rich, poor, young and old. Developers had originally hoped for a massive collection of buildings to house 30,000 people, but widespread community opposition limited it to about one-fifth that size.

The complex was a hit when it opened, and it drew a number of young people and University of Minnesota students. Its architecture, inspired by the French-Swiss urban architect Le Corbusier, was considered cutting edge at the time, as was placing the parking garage below the residences, said Charlene Roise, who led an effort to win historical status for Riverside.

“To me, it really epitomizes the optimism and just the good spirit of the 1960s,” said Roise, president of Hess Roise Historical Consultants. “It was a real social experiment.”

Mixing the market-rate and subsidized units together never panned out, as the federal funding required the units to be separated, and over time Riverside became something very different. Today, about half of Riverside’s 1,303 units are government-subsidized and half are market-rate. The more than 4,500 tenants also make the complex unique: about 70 percent are Somalis, 14 percent are Ethiopians and nearly 10 percent are Vietnamese.

Ed Goetz, a professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Minnesota, has studied Riverside and public housing in general. Goetz said research shows that some people who rely on public housing don’t attempt to better their situations. In Riverside, though, the average length of stay is between three and four years — likely illustrating “upward and outward mobility” of tenants new to the country.

“It shows that the housing is probably serving its purpose pretty well,” Goetz said. “Folks are using that time to get on their feet.”

Even though its original vision didn’t materialize, Riverside has become a success in its own right, Scobey said.

“It works really, really well as villages within a city,” she said. “If you live here, you can be with your own folks, speaking your own language. … And I think that’s the magic of the place.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (29)
  1. tom says:

    please please put money into this and keepthem there, we do not need them moving into the suburbs and ruining them

    1. Anti-hate says:

      nobody is moving into your suburban and no one is ruining anything, you just want an excuse to hate. what you mean keep them there, are they animals, they are humans no one can control them, they will settle where they want.

    2. Mike says:

      Tom is only speaking for himself. I live in the suburbs and wish that we had more diversity. I miss living in St. Paul and having neighbors who were not so afraid of their own shadow that they actually would allow their children to leave the driveways and didn’t treat everyone like a pox infected cadaver.

  2. albert says:

    Oh, come on! Prime Somali bashing opportunity here! Where are the Neanderthals today? NASCAR doing something with beer and boobs on Spike?

    1. WAKE UP says:

      Actually the topless bar was having 2 for 1’s. All of us realists where there spending our HARD EARNED money.

  3. married to the truth says:

    Well if they would pee in the toilets and not in the hallways there might not be mold! How sad that this private operation is going to get 50 million. I could think of a lot better places to spend 50 million than this ghetto piss plaza. Implode it with everyone in it!

  4. Baobab says:

    If you live here, you can be with your own folks, speaking your own language.
    Who needs English? We are not going to England

  5. Demolition Man says:

    This story is hilarious in how it tries so hard to convince readers that the cash strapped government is somehow making a wise $132MM investment here. As the old saying goes – you can’t shine a turd. Regardless of what special interest community lives here, or how much it makes liberal whites feel better about themselves by keeping it around (even though they’d never step foot in the place), this eye sore should be should be demolished.

    1. Mike says:

      This is a great story, and good use of Federal money!. It’s a wonderful opportunity for the thousands of families that live in these developments to take some pride in their surroundings and have a chance to experience something good happen in their lives.

      1. Little Mogadishu says:

        Mike, explain how you think this is a good use of Federal tax dollars? Seriously, this space is deplorable and needs to be removed. Do you like to take your family down there and walk along the sidewalks? Do you feel safe when leaving the 400 Bar late at night?

      2. dumb redneck says:

        why does my money have to be spent so they can take pride in their dump? Maybe they could use some of their own money, oh wait, thats my money too. Oh well, nothing is going to change so. . . . Carry on Liberals.

    2. Little Mogadishu says:

      You raise a good point, Demo Man. The best thing Chicago ever did was demo Cabrini Green and redo the space into green space and modern public housing.

  6. WAKE UP says:

    the only way I would agree with spending money on the place is if the whole thing is torn down and not rebuilt. I’m not sure why you liberals feel the need to nurture these people. When my ancestors came to this country they didnt get subsidized anything. My kid’s school doesnt have money for supplies, the roads are terrible and we keep pumping money into “black holes”. The people who live in these complexes have you liberals wrapped right around their fingers,

    1. Little Mogadishu says:

      Oh, and gas is $4.00 a gallon. Must be those awesome economic policies. They seem to be working well, so lets spend more money on wasteful items.

      1. god bless you says:

        Such as this fabulous ghetto in the sky?

      2. Mike G says:

        hi, this is to help people, this also will create more construction jobs for people who need the work!!!!

    2. Mike G says:

      Hi , we must provide adequate, decent hosing for all, this is a commandment from our Creator God, treat your neighbor as yourself, when the upgrades are complete and jobs it created to help \everyone wins?!!!

  7. Fugly Building says:

    ” Its architecture, inspired by the French-Swiss urban architect Le Corbusier, was considered cutting edge at the time…”
    Cutting edge? Something that looks like a half demolished building when it was new? Will this grant help mitigate the complex’s blighted look that makes the Minneapolis skyline the joke of the Midwest?

  8. Albert says:

    Since moving from TX several years ago, and realizing that MN has the largest percent increase in black population, I’ve come to realize that you Minnesotans sure love your blacks. Can we all say Mississippi or Louisiana, 20 years from now, with those states’s quality of life too?

  9. cage them in says:

    If we knock them down all that trash will move into our neighborhoods and turn all the other apartment complexes into the Ghetto. Keep it there so they stay put. I live in a place that they are slowly moving into and my hallways stink so bad from them. Keep them in this area and out of the good areas. Pretty soon all of minneapolis will be either slum or north minneapolis.

  10. SHELDON says:


  11. SHELDON says:


  12. Blomp says:


  13. knockemdown says:

    That place is just crawling with bed bugs. Nasty!

  14. peeewww says:

    They do not believe in hygiene. Thats why you can smell it 10 blocks away. and if the wind is right miles away.

    1. knockemdown says:

      That’s for sure. I can only describe the smell as, um…..decomposing racoon with a tinge of ricotta cheese.

  15. jeff says:

    you frickin’ people have no patience. they will be americanized soon enough, just like every other immigrant that has come here. it just takes time. as a piece of architecture, i have always hated this complex….not a big fan of Le Corbusier. it does offer a lot of rental space though and that’s important. it seems a pretty high price tag for a redo though. i imagine that it would cost in the area of 250 million to tear it down and build new…….

  16. Mamud says:

    For $65M you could build a city in Somalia. It is really sad that some irresponsible Americans think that they help. In fact you ruin countires like Somalia by draining good people out of there. So there are no change will happen to a better life.

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