State leaders visit Lake Street, discuss redevelopment efforts

Friday, Gov. Tim Walz met with small business owners, organizations and community members along Lake Street.

The area was hit hard during the riots following George Floyd’s murder nearly two years ago.

RELATED: As buildings destroyed in Lake Street riots cleared away, business owners look to future

Allison Sharkey, Executive Director of the Lake Street Council, was among those who participated in private meetings with the governor Friday morning.

Her nonprofit has invested more than $8 million to help small businesses in the area rebuild.

“We still have a long way to go. We have a lot to recover from but we think that this is a really great start,” Sharkey said. “It’s time for our government partners to really form a strong partnership with the community as well.”

The Governor suggested a proposed bonding bill could help get other projects started on Lake Street and create jobs. He insisted that rebuilding the corridor should not be a partisan issue.

“I heard legislators say, ‘we don’t care what happens there. That’s not our concern. We didn’t do it’ type of thing. Minnesota’s never taken that approach. When it floods in Grand Forks, we’re all there,” Walz said. “When we saw this civil unrest and damage to businesses that had nothing to do with any of this, we’re there to help.”

RELATED: As one Lake Street business closes, others ready to ride out ‘rebuilding phase’

It is a welcome message to small business owners such as Dr. Elias Usso. He says he was able to reopen his Seward Pharmacy last summer with help from the community, but there is more work to be done.

“Businesses are coming back. There are some businesses not open yet. They’re still struggling to open their doors,” Usso said. “If it wasn’t for our neighbors we wouldn’t have opened back up again so we’re not going to let them down. We’re going to be here to stay.”

Lamberto Vergara, owner of LV’s Barber Shop, says he also received community help to keep his business going.

He also expanded his work to include teaching at the nearby Minnesota School of Barbering, but he also said Lake Street is still fighting perception that it is unsafe.

“Business… has been tough. We’re still trying to pick up. It hasn’t picked up as much as before,” Vergara said. “We had more walk-in traffic before. I think people are still kind of scared to come down to Lake Street.”

Gov. Walz says leaders must help the public and those invested in Lake Street understand what’s being done to address a variety of issues, from the economy, to the pandemic, to public safety.

“I think those business owners deserve to have those questions answered. They deserve to be part of this broader discussion,” Walz said. “And while there aren’t simple answers. There are answers.”