South Minneapolis business owners say rebound may take years
Ruhel Islam sits inside his temporary take-out business "Curry in a Hurry" in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis Monday, Aug. 17 Islam hopes to open the new business by next month, as he expects it will take up to five years to rebuild Gandhi Mahal, his Lake Street restaurant that was destroyed during civil unrest in late May.

On the second night of the civil unrest that followed the police killing of George Floyd, Maya Santamaria lost her Spanish-language radio station, La Raza.

"I just turned on my Facebook and there was one of my correspondents with our burning building behind him,” Santamaria recalled. “Flames were just coming out of my fourth-floor offices.” 

Santamaria’s business was just a block from the Minneapolis 3rd Precinct that rioters also destroyed.

The broadcaster calls Lake Street the heart of the Latino community in the Twin Cities as well as home to a strong East African and Native American presence. “All of these wonderful little restaurants and little markets and everything were really authentic and quaint.”

Santamaria had hoped to be able to keep her studios in Minneapolis, but said she could not afford to stay in the city. She still is negotiating with her insurance company, which she said is covering half the cost of the damage. 

Determined to continue delivering music, entertainment and news to more than 200,000 listeners, La Raza borrowed space at the nonprofit radio station, KFAI, before deciding to renovate office space in Richfield, a suburb just south of Minneapolis.  La Raza also leases a radio tower belonging to MPR’s parent company. 

Minneapolis city leaders estimate it could take as long as 10 years to rebuild popular business corridors damaged in Minneapolis, causing Santamaria to be skeptical that she could ever return to Lake Street.

“I don’t know how we are going to be able to re-create anything like that because it happened through its own inertia,” Santamaria said. 

Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce president Jonathan Weinhagen co-chairs the community coalition Minneapolis Forward, which is leading an effort to rebuild and bring back displaced businesses.

"We are trying to do it as quickly as possible,” Weinhagen said. “The fundraising cycle is a little bit longer than we'd like it to be."

Weinhagen said the city is working with Minneapolis building owners but has not finalized any details to move displaced businesses within city limits. In the meantime, city officials are eyeing Mall of America to temporarily house some businesses. 

The rebuilding efforts will have to tackle nearly $1 billion in losses in addition to underinsured businesses and opportunity gaps among business owners, Weinhagen said. 

Ruhel Islam, the owner of Gandhi Mahal Restaurant, relied on the generosity of his neighbors along Lake Street to move into a temporary space in south Minneapolis. 

Islam said he’s focusing on take-out for the foreseeable future, calling his new business, Curry in a Hurry. Islam is grateful to have the means to reopen.

"This is bread and butter for a lot of people, especially people of color," Islam said. "Immigrant people are suffering."

Islam said it will cost nearly four times what insurance will pay to demolish and rebuild Gandhi Mahal in its original spot. Islam owns his building and estimates a thoughtful rebuild will take five years. Islam hopes property owners and city leaders will focus on rebuilding in a way that avoids gentrification.

"We are doing a lot of collaboration and hoping to come back very strong,” Islam said. 

Weinhagen said city leaders plan to approach Fortune 500 companies as well as state and national philanthropic leaders with a fundraising goal based on modeling rather than exact costs from each of around 1,500 businesses that were damaged. Weinhagen said a funding pool should be at least $100 million. 

Weinhagen added it’s difficult to determine if businesses are closing because of the coronavirus pandemic or inability to recover from the damage. 

Ruhel Islam and Maya Santamaria hope to open in their new locations by the end of the month.

"I just look at it like well, we are going to have to do this, you know?” Santamaria said. “I just look at it that way.”

Facing a dual economic recovery from civil unrest and a pandemic, Santamaria said business owners feel more than ever they’ve had to learn to live with uncertainty.