George Floyd Square: Businesses, residents want improvements while reimagining plan is underway

Since George Floyd was murdered in May of 2020 near 38th and Chicago, things have drastically changed. Now, there are some big plans in the works for George Floyd Square to reimagine the area. 

However, the plans won’t be finalized until next year some time with work on the streets, sidewalks, the old Speedway and the memorial itself to begin some time after. But in the meantime, businesses and residents are wondering why things can’t be cleaned up, picked up and spruced up.  

Mike Stebnitz owns a building at GFS that houses four Black owned businesses.  He says, "Every time Inequity, social justice, policing comes up in the news. George Floyd's name comes up. This is forever impacted, this community. But it doesn't need to mean the death of this neighborhood economically." 

Stebnitz and other business owners have big concerns about the state of things. He points to the compost pile that was dumped in the street outside his building two years ago. It’s now filled with weeds. 

"You can see these are these are plants. These aren't this is well-tended. These aren't plants. They're not feeding people, which was, I think, the original idea. These are weeds and this is garbage," Stebnitz says. The garden blocks parking spaces outside his building, one of them a coffee shop.

Billy Jones owns that coffee shop and says, "I mean, I wouldn't mind for it to have better parking, but I know for me, when I'm looking for a parking spot, if I don't see an opening right there, I'm more than likely going to go to the next coffee shop." 

Several people say the garden also draws rats. Between the dirt pile, the garbage, and the plant debris stored at the old Speedway, along with the greenhouse outside Cup Foods; many people say the rats are running rampant.  

"I can't think of anywhere else in the United States where someone could just dump, you know, a 100 foot long pile of unattended dirt in front of your building. Take up all of the street parking for these businesses. It's rat infested," Stebnitz said.

City Staff tells Fox 9 there was an effort to identify the source of a rat issue in the fall of 2021 and at that time "The gardening areas were not identified as areas with rat nesting sites." The city went on to say the "Property owners were contacted about ways to mitigate the problem."  

Stebnitz said he followed through with suggestions but just a few weeks ago, but lost his trash service due to "aggressive" rats.  

In a voicemail left for Stebnitz the trash company said, "My route supervisor stopped by my desk and says that there’s a very serious rat infestation problem at that site. It’s to the point now where they’re jumping out of the container at the drivers."  

Also several people told Fox 9 they believe the current state of things might be contributing to the crime problem as well.  Our cameras caught people on camera cowering behind an abandoned car at the Speedway as multiple shots are heard. 

The city of Minneapolis is in working on buying the Speedway, but it’s not clear what will be done immediately to change the current state of things, if the sale goes through. 

Right now, it serves as a place where some people gather outside to reflect and hold space; but others reportedly gather inside to use illegal drugs.  

The city tells Fox 9 that public works continues to check on the conditions at 38th and Chicago "Picking up litter, straightening signs,and ensuring things are operating smoothly." And that the city will work on "An engagement and an interim management plan for the speedway site in the coming months." 

Alexander Bourne who runs the non-profit "Minnesota Rapid Response Coalition" and was there within hours after the death of George Floyd says bringing life back to the area is crucial for it to survive and thrive. He suggests getting the community involved.  

"I promise you, if you pay people, you know, as little as $20 an hour to maintain that that space in that corridor for, let's say, six months. Right. Take some time, set some money aside. You can now be employment opportunities for individuals, but also use this time as an opportunity to better engage with community, to have greater insight into that purchase," Bourne says.   

An employee who has been at Cup Foods since well before George Floyd was murdered says business is a fraction of what it used to be.  

A restaurant that was planning to open sits empty for now after taking a few shots and Stebnitz worries his new tenants will pull out again. 

"People talk about this perhaps becoming a Black Wall Street. Well, this isn't going to help that goal. There's no way is this going to contribute to that future," Stebnitz said.

He and others are anxiously awaiting the results of a re-imagined George Floyd Square and memorial; but believe businesses, residents and visitors deserve more while they wait.