Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hawkman Exclusive! Wafana's Goes Back On The Market And The Neighborhood Is Watching!

Guest post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman, on a mission.

Moments ago, I received a facebook message from a good NoMi resident who was wondering about buying a building to start up a new restaurant. These kinds of emails are always exciting, but this one was especially so, because...

The property in question was none other than the infamous Wafana's. This (in)convenience store was the source of 1,376 police responses to this address, 129 police reports filed, and 160 arrests for criminal activity (including citations). Of those calls, 99.7 percent occurred during the business hours of 8 am to 10 pm. Fifty-four percent were 911 calls, which means the other 46 percent were proactive stops; 84 percent were narcotics calls; two calls reported a shooting, three calls reported robbery, two calls reported a stabbing, and 15 calls reported fighting and assault.

Did I mention that all these calls happened between January 1, 2005, and February 19, 2006? Police had to respond to very serious criminal activity at this site an average of three times PER DAY. This place was a NIGHTMARE, and it made the lives of our good neighbors a living hell. We are so grateful to everyone in the city who worked with us to shut it down.

Two years ago, it was purchased by some businessmen who wanted to open a meat market, "but no deli or convenience store." We told them to come before various committees in Hawthorne, and warned them that the neighbors would be extraordinarily skeptical. At each subsequent meeting, their proposed plan got worse - from a stand-alone meat market to a meat market/deli, but no convenience store, then a deli/convenience store but no tobacco products would be sold, and finally a run-of-the-mill convenience store, and the owners claimed they would not be able to afford a security guard.

Needless to say, their proposal was, well, shot down by the neighborhood, and here's why: If the buyer of our dreams miraculously shows up one day and promises to utterly transform the property, we COULD grant the variance. But then if the business fails--or if he simply decides to sell because it makes sense--then we could very easily see history repeat itself. There would be nothing in the zoning that would keep another problem property from opening up.

So here is a stern warning to any prospective buyer: This property is zoned R2-B. The only thing you can do with it is to use it as a residential one- or two-unit property. Its commercial zoning variance has expired and the neighborhood has no intention of granting an exception.

There is good news, however. I called the number listed above and talked to someone at MFIA properties. He is fully aware of the zoning variance issue, and made it clear that they are disclosing that up front to any prospective buyer. I told him a bit about the history of Wafana's and that the neighborhood likely will not approve of a zoning variance here.

I asked some very pointed questions, and they were all answered to my satisfaction. It appears that we have listing agents who really know their stuff, and that's a relief. The way he was talking, if any prospective buyer comes forward saying, "Woe is me! I didn't KNOW about the zoning variance!" the neighborhood should not believe it for a second. We were in agreement that it would be best if the city or a neighborhood development partner could acquire this site.

Hopefully, that is exactly what will happen, and in this particular case, I don't think any residents would shed a tear at its demolition. But in case another buyer comes along, remember: YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.


Anonymous said...

This is crazy. I had hoped that this place would have been demolished.

John said...

YIKES!! I knew this place had a shady past... sounds like it just kept getting worse and worse. When I read that 1400 police calls were logged, it actually comforted me that there were enough good people in that area to make a legitimate business venture worthwhile. I can definitely understand the desire to 'keep out the crap' down here on 14th & Emerson, not even a 'hop' from the Mickey's Liquor scene.

While I fully support credible efforts by the city and development partners to help us reclaim North Mpls, I am disenchanted with the lack of incorporating smaller-scale entrepreneurs into the 'ownership' of this redevelopment. Granted, there are too many cases of 'mom-and-pop' stores operating under guise and causing headache/heartache for the community. I just think it's a shame that more small-business owners (even the start-up ones who've been planning their dreams for years), such as Leslie Bock who OWNS the real estate of her new Donny Dirk's, don't seem to have the encouragement and support that community-minded large-scale developers do. Back in the day, it was owner-operators who built many of these buildings to house their businesses. What brick-and-mortar establishment wants their business to be at the mercy of the landlord/lease if an option to own is possible?

I'm just trying to make a point at this point... hopefully I have. Either way, does anyone appreciate that I took the WIC/EBT sign out of the window?

Fellow Northsider (3 years owning, 1 renting),
John Fena
1407 Emerson

Ranty said...

Well put John.

John said...

Thank you, Ranty. :)

Anonymous said...

The problem is that businesses often downplay the trauma that a bad business puts a neighborhood through, and are dismissive of residents' concerns that zoning changes that a business owner may institute will have long-lasting effects on the neighborhood long after the business owner has come and gone. It often isn't a case of "hey just give it a chance, the worst that can happen is that the business will fail." No. The neighborhood is taking the risk, and will have to live with the results of that risk for decades to come.

Unfortunately, John's statement that "it actually comforted me that there were enough good people in that area to make a legitimate business venture worthwhile" reflects a kind of hopeful (perhaps even willful) naivete that doesn't bode well for the neighbors taking a risk on his venture.

Ironically, I think that if there were greater city controls on businesses, and if it were easier to revoke business licenses from bad actors, and if, in general, residents had greater power to get predatory businesses out of their neighborhood in a TIMELY manner, without having to make it their second job for a decade or more, then residents would be more willing to just "take a chance" not only that an entrepreneur has good intentions, but ALSO that they really have the resources, skills, and street savvy to be successful over the long term in a particular location, AND that they have the ethics and foresight to make plan for the disposing of the property ethically in the eventuality that the business does not prosper.

Large developers at least have some ongoing brand recognition to protect, and some financial cushion--they are perhaps less likely, for instance, to have a death in the family, or an illness, and need to sell the property quickly to the first buyer that comes along

I don't think that dismissing these hard-nosed realities shows a lot of understanding or concern for residents' concerns, or, frankly, a lot of understanding of the neighborhood itsself.

Carey Joe Howell said...

to anon at 4:07 pm on 10/01/2009

Thank you!!

That was really really well said.

John said...

Anon: what in my statement shows that I am dismissing residents' concerns and downplaying what has happened here? That this is ONE statement on a very heavy issue, along with the fact that I am a Northside resident, (not to mention that I am responding to a one-sided 'threat-of-attack' from the blog poster, where there was back-conversation) should give you some reason to reconsider your reactions to my comments that you feel go against the grain of the neighborhood. I can empathize that the trauma induced by the history of this establishment is going to make most residents incredibly cautious, if not wholly against, an independent entrepreneur who has 'idealistic' visions of owning/operating his own business in his own neighborhood (technically, one neighborhood north of his). The fact that this property is on the market, available to scumlords and honest parties alike, should also give residents a reason to at the least engage with a fellow resident who, at first glance, appears to have good intentions.

Further, you suggest that what I've said is "Come on, take a chance on me! Stop blubbering and sobbing over what was here before, because I can change it!" All I've proposed in my statement is a reason enough for a chance to be heard-out with an open/honest mind. I never once expected or requested to have the chance given to me on a silver platter, as you seem to have implied.

My question to you is this: what happens if a development company 'dumps' this site back onto the market because they cannot find a business who's willing to rent in this neighborhood? A reasonably-capitalized company might actually be more willing to do this as they have 'less' to lose by doing so, and it would take them less time to build back their held assets. If you really think that 'brand recognition' is important enough for a business to not make poor decisions, please consider the times we are currently living in.

Thank you,
John Fena
1407 Emerson Ave N