Midway Fund to support riot-rocked businesses still flush with more than $800,000

Seven months after racially-charged riots, looting and arson gutted large sections of St. Paul’s Midway business corridor, a fund created to boost the neighborhood around Allianz Field is still flush with more than $800,000 in unspent donations, or 75 percent of the money raised in 2020.
Four grants totaling $91,000 have been issued to date to businesses physically damaged by the May riots. Organizers say, however, that additional grants are in the pipeline, and seven grants of $9,000 to $50,000 have been awarded through a nonprofit community partner.
The Midway Fund — a neighborhood initiative organized in late 2019 hand-in-hand with fans of the Minnesota United professional soccer team — raised more than $1.07 million last year, according to the Union Park District Council. Most of it arrived after the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis touched off widespread property destruction.
The Midway Fund has disbursed $268,000 in emergency grants to businesses to date. Most of that has been in sets of $2,500 grants for COVID-related relief, an effort underway before the May riots inspired widespread giving.
To help businesses hurt by the riots, neighborhood organizers behind the Midway Fund advertised a grant application program in late September, with the goal of disbursing $840,000 in donations.
SLOWER THAN HOPED
At least four riot-related relief grants have been issued to date:

Community members work to clean up damage on University Ave. in St. Paul on May 29, 2020. What appeared to start as demonstrations for George Floyd, turned into a day of scattered arson, looting and significant destruction of retail shops in St. Paul’s Midway. More than 170 businesses were damaged or looted, and dozens of fires were set, according to police. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)
The owners of Double V Spirits received $50,000.
Great Health Nutrition received $15,000.
7 Nails received $15,000.
Zany’s Boutique received $10,700.

“It’s slower than all of us had hoped, but we have a good process established for getting the money out to those businesses that need it,” said Henry Parker, chair of the Union Park District Council, one of several groups involved in fundraising, grant approval or disbursement.
“The plan is to get it all disbursed as soon as possible,” Parker added. A fifth grant recommendation for $50,000 is being reviewed by the neighborhood council.
THE PROCESS EXPLAINED
Applications for the “Small Business Economic Justice” grants for rebuilding, relocation or damage relief are initially reviewed by the Neighbors United FC community advisory board, which is now composed of four members following heavy infighting and turnover in June.
The advisory board then makes a recommendation to the Union Park District Council, which then determines whether to approve each recommendation. The funds were raised by the Hamline-Midway Coalition and are being held by the St. Paul and Minnesota Foundation.
“We want to see that get back out into the community and put to work,” said Luther Ranheim, a gift planner with the foundation. “We have urged them to get these dollars out and into the community.”
A SECOND PROCESS FOR HELP
Isabel Chanslor, who is not listed as an official voting member of the advisory board but continues to play an organizing role, provided somewhat different grant totals than the Union Park District Council.
Isabel Chanslor
Chanslor, who could not be reached by phone, said in a text message that 11 grants had been issued to date, and 13 additional applications were in the pipeline.
Chanslor said seven grants have been backed by separate funds than the riot-related donations raised by the Hamline-Midway Coalition. Those funds, which total more than $600,000 and are maintained by Nexus Community Partners and not the St. Paul Foundation, would not have to be approved by the Union Park District Council.
“We have two funds and two places where the funds are held,” said Chanslor, who is attempting to turn the community advisory board into its own nonprofit. “The district council takes over one month to release payments. The other fund is held by our fiscal agent (Nexus) and those funds go out within a week of closing the grant paperwork.”
In all, the advisory task board has received 44 grant applications, and 12 have been determined to be ineligible, she said. The names of business recipients — which include the Sports Dome apparel shop, Bole Ethiopian Cuisine and Lloyd’s Pharmacy — are posted online at midwayunited.org/impact.
“It’s a lot of work to give away money. It really is,” said Terri Thao, a program director with Nexus. “You have to get the word out, you have to wait for people to apply, and make sure they qualify and they’re a legit entity.”
OUTREACH TEAM GUIDES BUSINESSES
On behalf of the advisory board, a contracted team of outreach workers has been spreading the word about grant availability and helping business owners complete the applications, which ask questions about insurance and other financial matters.
Adrian Perryman, a member of the advisory board, said at least one grant applicant had provided a suspicious address that was not attached to an actual business.
“The gift and the curse is we got the money, we’re trying to get people to apply for it,” Perryman said this week. “The team is working to get people who have applied through the process. Last night, there were four or five (grant applications) we reviewed, and I think that’s the most we’ve reviewed in any night.”
After a rocky start, said Parker, the Neighbors United  FC “advisory committee has established a well-defined process and criteria for making their grant recommendations and the Union Park District Council has been able to quickly act on them.”
“We hope to accelerate the pace of the disbursements in the New Year,” Parker said.
Omar Syed, an advisory board member who runs a coffee shop off McKnight Road, was of a like mind Tuesday. “We’ve been working hard to give out the money,” he said.

TO KNOW MORE
More information about the Midway grants is online at MidwayUnited.org.
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