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9 Months After Unrest, Local Leaders And Businesses Push For State Aid For Rebuilding

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - Local business owners who sustained damage during last summer's civil unrest and lawmakers who represent those communities are renewing their plea to the legislature to approve state aid for rebuilding.

The damage to Minneapolis and St. Paul exceeds $500 million. Private property damage and losses just in the city of Minneapolis carries an estimated price tag of $350 million or more, according to a city economic official.

Nine months after the civil unrest tore apart neighborhoods in the Twin Cities, hundreds of millions of dollars looms, hampering the road to recovery, which is why DFL lawmakers from Minneapolis and St. Paul are pushing for state assistance.

"We made a promise and a commitment that we will never, ever walk away from supporting the small businesses impacted by the civil unrest," said Rep. Mohamud Noor, DFL-Minneapolis, said Thursday a news conference in the Lake Street Corridor, an area hit hard by the unrest. "Today, we reaffirm that commitment."

One proposal, dubbed the "Promise Act," would allocate $267 million for a grant program to provide relief to businesses. It's a revised version of a bill passed by the House during special session last June.

Another would earmark $300 million in bonds for rebuilding infrastructure destroyed. Both bills have another public hearing during a committee Friday.

Gov. Tim Walz has proposed his own $150 million bonding plan for building repairs.

RELATED: Gov. Walz Announces $518M Local Jobs And Projects Plan, Focused On 'Taking Care Of What We Have'

Abe Demaag, an Ethiopian immigrant, urgently petitioned lawmakers for action on aid as he stood against the backdrop of what once was his 30-year-old furniture business, Chicago Furniture Warehouse.

"We completely lost everything what we have dreamed of, what we worked for," he said. "For you guys to stand even to talk about it after nine months, I think is a shame for Minnesota—shame for everyone."

The unrest disproportionately impacted BIPOC—Black, Indigenous, people of color—businesses like Demaag's furniture store on Lake Street. Of the 1,500 businesses damaged in Minneapolis, many were underinsured and received payments that cover only a fraction of the costs, local leaders said. Demaag pleaded that Republicans and Democrats work together and provide relief.

"You guys need to come to one table, he said. "Whether you're Democrat or Republican, we work—all of us—as one Minnesota."

But there are political divides on the issue. Republicans have rebuffed what they perceive as "bailouts" for Minneapolis. The GOP-controlled Senate didn't move on the House DFL's "Promise Act" last year.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, told WCCO in an interview Thursday that he wants to help those businesses that are struggling due to no fault of their own, but he does not want any aid funneled through the city of Minneapolis to then be distributed.

He suggested low interest loans available through the Department of Employment and Economic Development.

"That's the way we think they can get back on track is helping them with low interest loans, which still means that they have some responsibility there but they're going to be able to get resources that they otherwise would not be able to," Gazelka said. "That's a way that we think we can find some agreement and we have had some conversations with the House."

Jonathan Weinhagen, president of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber, said if the state does not act there would be a gap of "hundreds of millions of dollars." He pointed to the chamber's recent report finding Minneapolis pays significantly more to the state in taxes than it receives in support.

MORE: Report: Minneapolis Pays Significantly More In Taxes Than It Receives In State Aid

"I've been frustrated with the narrative of a bailout," he said. "What we're talking about here is not a bailout, it is about asset preservation. They're not only part of the fabric of our community—they're critical economic drivers to our state."

Rep. Fue Lee (DFL-Minneapolis), one of the lead authors on the $300 million bond bill noted that even that proposal falls short of need. That bill flags $200 million for Minneapolis and $100 million for St. Paul, but an estimate he cited from the Lake Street Council approximates there is $250 million left in damage on Lake Street alone.

"Even the proposal I have forward, we know there are still some costs," he said.

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