Seward Redesign Names Christopher Romano as New Executive Director
Seward Redesign kicked off 2020 by hiring Christopher Romano as the organization’s new Executive Director. Recently celebrating their 50th anniversary as a nonprofit, Seward Redesign is one of the last remaining neighborhood-based community development organizations in the Twin Cities. Redesign is also unique in their comprehensive approach, working across disciplines including: real estate development, creative placemaking, small business development, and infrastructure planning. Redesign works closely with the residents and businesses of Seward and other neighborhoods of the Greater Longfellow Community of Minneapolis.
Christopher Romano comes to Seward Redesign with extensive experience in economic development and community building. Most recently he was the Chief Operating Officer for the Center for Economic Inclusion (CEI), a multidisciplinary organization driving programs and policy focused on increasing racial equity in the Twin Cities. Prior to his time at CEI, Christopher worked as the Director of Strategy and Operations for a start-up division of Thrivent Financial, a Fortune 300 financial services organization. Christopher spent five years as the Executive Director of the Riverview Economic Development Association (REDA), a neighborhood based Community Development Corporation on Saint Paul’s West Side. Additionally, he served for two years with the Peace Corps as a small business consultant in Nicaragua. Christopher received his MBA from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School, and is a Bush Foundation Leadership Fellow. He currently serves as the Board Chairman for the Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC). He lives in the Standish-Ericsson neighborhood of South Minneapolis with his wife Kerry and their three children (Elena 12, Danny 10, Joey 10).
“I am thrilled to be joining the Redesign team.” said Romano. “I have followed Redesign’s work for many years and cannot think of a more exciting professional opportunity for me. I am looking forward to working with the many individuals, organizations and businesses that make South Minneapolis a special place to live and work.”
Romano’s role as Redesign’s new Executive Director will include managing the organization’s real estate portfolio. Redesign owns over 100,000 square feet of commercial space in six properties, home to 44 small business and nonprofits, 77% of which are BIPOC or women-owned and run. In the last ten years Redesign has also developed and preserved 776 units of affordable housing. Most recently, the organization secured tax increment financing for two new developments: Wadaag Commons, an affordable housing development for large families; and Bessemer Apartments, which will be the first apartment building without income limits built in Seward in 40 years.
Romano replaces Brian Miller, who has resigned to pursue new endeavors (not retiring!) after almost 18 years as Redesign’s Executive Director. Romano begins work at Redesign on January 21.
MEDIA RELEASE: In recognition of 50 years of comprehensive, geographically-based community development, Seward Redesign invites organizations, government, neighbors, businesses and others to gather for Redesign50 Community Wealth Building Summit and Celebration. The goals of the day-long event are to elevate examples of successful place-based, comprehensive community wealth-building strategies; inspire action that promotes community ownership of the built environment; and share Redesign’s work – historical, present, and future.
Redesign is a community development corporation operating in the Seward and Greater Longfellow neighborhoods of Minneapolis. The group that would become Seward Redesign was founded in the summer of 1969 by a group of neighbors resisting urban renewal demolition of working class housing along Milwaukee Avenue. The nonprofit undertakes housing and commercial real estate development, infrastructure advocacy, business development and program administration. Since 1969, Redesign has developed or preserved 776 units of affordable housing, with 160 additional units under development; and owns and manages 105,000 square feet of commercial and industrial space, serving 45 diverse tenants supporting over 300 jobs. Redesign sustains its work through philanthropic support, government contracts, and earned fees in real estate development; it is governed by a constituent board of directors of residents and business owners.
The event will lift up the successful partnerships that have made Redesign’s work possible. For example, “Seward Neighborhood Group and Seward Redesign have benefited greatly from a long and interdependent relationship. From our partnership to preserve Seward Towers as permanent affordable housing to our work to make the streets safer for walking and biking, our organizations have made Seward a truly welcoming neighborhood where people have real opportunities to thrive,” said Kerry Cashman, Executive Director of the Seward Neighborhood Group.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey shared: “By creating affordable spaces for small business, nonprofits, and artists, Seward Redesign is an organization that walks the talk on community-led change. They have been excellent partners, working with the city to oversee transformative facade improvement grants on commercial corridors and to address housing needs for a variety of neighbors. We look forward to celebrating and reflecting together.”
Keynote Speaker- Pete Saunders, Writer and Urban Planner
The Summit will feature an afternoon keynote address by Chicago-based Pete Saunders, with standalone tickets available. Pete’s research and writing explores a wide range of topics, from defining and celebrating black urbanism to the durable legacy of segregation in Chicago. Pete is also the community and economic development director for Richton Park, IL, a suburb south of Chicago. He has more than twenty years’ experience in planning, economic development, and community development. See Pete’s full bio below.
Of his address, Pete said, “I’ve learned quite a bit about Seward Redesign over the last few months. I’ve come to find that Seward Redesign is at the forefront of place-based community development in the Twin Cities, setting the tone for the equitable revitalization of Minneapolis’ Seward and Longfellow neighborhoods. I’m really looking forward to discussing similar efforts in the Chicago area and what the next iteration of place-based community development in U.S. cities will be.”
Morning Panels and Tours
A series of panels, workshops and tours will use Redesign’s projects as jumping off points for discussion of central themes in today’s wealth-building landscape. Panelists include a range of actors from organizations across the Twin Cities; affordable housing residents; city of Minneapolis staff; Sunrise Banks; business owners and more. Sessions include:
Community Control of Affordable Housing at Seward Towers
The Creative Economy – Making Space for Art at Seward Commons
Growing the Generative Economy with New Markets Tax Credits at Five Square
“Save Milwaukee Avenue”: Redesign’s Origin Story, Affordability Preservation and Income Integration
Community Engagement and Public Infrastructure: The Reconnecting Neighborhoods Initiative
Economic Development & Envisioning Commercial Corridors: 3300 East Lake Street
Following lunch, neighborhood-led Mastermind Sessions will give several community-based groups a forum to workshop specific community issue or opportunity, with consulting input from a curated mix of development professionals, city staff, architects, contractors and artists. These sessions give participants a chance to apply knowledge gained from the morning’s breakouts.
Redesign50 Community Celebration
The day will conclude with local food and drinks, live performances, more tours and interactive public art. The celebration will be open to the neighborhood and public; no registration is required.
Attend and Participate
Individuals working on place-based community building are encourage to attend. Sign up at www.redesigninc.org/redesign50.
To learn about participating in neighborhood-led mastermind sessions, contact Redesign by July 15.
This is event is supported in part by the McKnight Foundation. Sponsorship opportunities, including for individual panels and tables, are available. Contact Brigid Higgins at firstname.lastname@example.org or (612) 877-8171.
Keynote Speaker Biography: Pete Saunders
Pete Saunders is a Chicago-based writer whose work centers on urbanism trends and developments in America’s vast middle, particularly as it impacts its Rust Belt cities. Pete is the editor/publisher of the Corner Side Yard, an urbanist blog that focuses on a variety of issues facing cities today. Pete is also an urban affairs contributor to Forbes Magazine’s online platform, and an Urban Notebook columnist forGoverning Magazine. Pete’s writings have been published in traditional media outlets such as the Detroit Free Press, Crain’s Chicago Business and the (London) Guardian, and online at Huffington Post, New Geography, Planetizen, Rust Wire and the Urbanophile. His coverage of the widely-publicized Detroit municipal bankruptcy was featured in Encyclopaedia Britannica’s 2014 Book of the Year.
Pete is also the community and economic development director for Richton Park, IL, a suburb south of Chicago. He has more than twenty years’ experience in planning, economic development, and community development, with stops in the public, private and non-profit sectors. Pete served in various senior planning positions with the City of Chicago, the City of Joliet, and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, and has also served as a planning and economic development consultant.
Pete was born in and spent his high school years in Detroit, attended Indiana University in Bloomington where he earned a bachelor’s degree in urban and regional planning, and moved to Chicago upon graduation. He obtained his Master’s in Urban Planning and Policy from the University of Illinois-Chicago and remains in the Chicago area.
40 units of affordable housing for people with persistent mental illness
Featuring offices for Touchstone Mental Health, a fitness center, and gardens.
Built in 2012
Phase II: The Cooperage Senior Apartments
60 units of affordable housing for low-income seniors
Completed in 2013
32 units of affordable housing
A partnership with Noor Development
Half of the units will be 3- and 4-bedrooms
Bessemer at Seward Commons
128 dwelling units without income restrictions
The first market-rate rental units built in Seward in more than 35 years
Phase III meets city affordability
The City’s Unified Housing Policy states that “assistance will only be considered to support buildings or phases that include affordable housing for at least 20 percent of the units.” Phase III is a two-building, 160-unit project that includes 20% (32 units) affordable to occupants making 30-60% of the area median income (AMI).
Seward Redesign and the City of Minneapolis signed a redevelopment contract in 2009, which committed to reviewing affordability requirements across the whole redevelopment site. If Phase III is approved and constructed, more than half of the units from all three phases will be affordable (132 units of affordable housing, and 128 units of market-rate housing).
Seward’s housing shortage is squeezing renters
Only 0.5% of Seward’s total housing stock is for sale or for rent. 5% vacancy is considered balanced, and ideally, a higher vacancy rate would increase the power of tenants in the market. The private market is failing to allocate housing to where people need it.
Using Tax Increment Financing to support transit-oriented development where market-rate housing hasn’t been built since 1983 would ease Seward’s housing crunch.