Online platform lets neighbors ‘tell the story’ of vacant spaces

A new crowdfunded economic development project recently started on the East Side.

The project is called “In Like A Lion” and provides community members an online platform to share their ideas for uses of vacant spaces in the neighborhood.

In Like A Lion is a partnership between the Center Cities Competitiveness Initiative from Greater MSP, a metro-area economic development agency, and the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The Center Cities Competitiveness Initiative was created to provide more opportunities for economic development specifically in North Minneapolis and on the East Side. 

In Like a Lion is a six-week campaign focusing on vacant spaces in those neighborhoods and bringing in neighbor-created ideas for possible uses of those spaces. 

Stephanie Harr, aide to St. Paul City Council member for Ward 7 Jane Prince, described the campaign as a marketing and research tool — neighbors can share what they want to see come into their neighborhood and possible investors can see some of the available properties available for new businesses.

Harr said the goal is to create more successful businesses in vacant space. She said with neighbors being able to share what they want, the hope is that the business will ultimately be more successful because it will be fulfilling needs identified by the community itself.

In Like A Lion, which launched Jan. 8, will run through Feb. 5, so Harr encouraged neighbors to share their input sooner than later. 

The project can be found at Participants make an account and then can either vote for ideas already posted or can share their own ideas. 


Vacant spaces on the East Side

East Side properties that have been listed include 705 East Seventh St., the empty lot between Swede Hollow Cafe and The Goat Coffeehouse in Dayton’s Bluff; the building that used to house the Strip Club Meat and Fish restaurant at 463 Maria Ave., next to Metropolitan State University; the empty lot at 520 Payne Ave. that is near the intersection of East Seventh Street and Payne Avenue and next to Swede Hollow Park; Suburban Avenue Town Square at 1811 Suburban Ave that used to house Pawn America in the retail shopping area south of Interstate 94; and the Hamm’s Brewery building 3 at 680 Minnehaha Ave., which is next to Flat Earth Brewery and Urban Organics aquaponics indoor farm.


An easier way to share

Hoodstarter, which is hosting In Like A Lion, is a platform created by metro area residents David Berglund, Jason Goux and Justin Ley. 

Ley said the idea for Hoodstarter came from frustrations they all shared with seeing vacant spaces in their neighborhoods and having an idea for the place, but not having a platform for neighbors to share their ideas in the helpful way. In 2014 they created Hoodstarter as an answer to that problem. 

Ley said it took a few iterations before they came to the platform they have today, something he says may have happened because none of them had any kind of experience with economic development.

When it came to the In Like a Lion project, Ley said Hoodstarter reached out to Greater MSP because he said it’s an organization that has all the “stakeholders at the table” — community members, brokers and staff from cities — to bring the needed users to the platform. The organization was already working on its Center Cities Competitiveness Initiative and the Hoodstarter platform fit in with its goals.

Ley said that while Facebook and other social media sites can do similar things, he said Hoodstarter is focused on providing a voice to communities to help them lead development in their neighborhoods. 

“We help the community tell the story about a space,” he said.


– Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto.

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