EXCLUSIVE: Developer ‘Sherman Associates’ accused of Harassment and Discrimination by Cedar-Riverside Tenants

Workday Minnesota has recently learned that residents of the Riverside Towers have filed a complaint through the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights, according to several people close to the investigation that Workday spoke with. All have requested anonymity for fear of retaliation. Those we spoke with, indicated that the investigation began in April 2019. 

According to Workday’s sources, the complaint charges that representatives of the owner and manager of Riverside Tower, Sherman Associates, have harassed, discriminated and retaliated against residents. Workday sources outlined a system of retaliation wherein those that spoke out against the inaction of Sherman Associates management received a letter indicating that they violated some sort of rule and would be evicted. 

In a response to an emailed request for comment, a representative from Mayor Frey’s office stated that, 

“Right now there is an active investigation into that complaint, and we expect there to be a thorough accounting of the facts. Until that investigation is resolved, our ability to comment is limited for legal reasons.”

Warsame’s office and Sherman Associates did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

On Wednesday, the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority’s board unanimously voted to appoint Warsame as the new CEO and executive director.

Residents have articulated complaints against Sherman Associates since January of 2015. At that time residents outlined complaints in a letter to George Sherman of Sherman Associates including broken elevators, mold, vehicles getting towed despite payment of parking fees, and a lack of cultural competency in how management interacted with the largely Somali residents. 

George Sherman is a major developer in Minneapolis. In December 2018, Finance & Commerce profiled Sherman naming him a “Minnesota Icon” and noting that, 

“Sherman Associates has built a portfolio of $5 billion, including four hotels, more than 8,000 apartment units, and 600,000 square feet of commercial space. The company still manages $2 billion of it, including the iconic Riverside Plaza in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis. Sherman led major renovations to the high-profile housing complex in 2011.”

Sherman and minority partners bought the former Cedar Square West from the Federal Government for $17 million in 1988. In January 2011, Sherman Associates closed on one of the largest tax credit rehabilitation projects in the nation’s history and began a $132 million, two-year refinance and renovation of Riverside Towers. 

Sherman Associates and Lot A

In a tense meeting on a muggy August evening, East African community members gathered in the Brian Coyle Center. The community was on edge and voices were raised over the proposal to develop the nearby Lot A into an “Africa Mall.” The mall would be built on a city owned parking lot near the intersection of S. 4th Street and Cedar Avenue against the Green Line light rail, across from Mixed Blood Theatre. As tensions increased Council Member Abdi Warsame and Mayor Jacob Frey were quickly ushered out. 

Warsame and Frey committed to creating an African mall during the 2017 municipal elections, and the current vision for the market was publicly announced in late June 2019 at an East African Business Forum.  Opposition to the Africa Mall from Cedar-Riverside tenants erupted almost immediately.

On November 1st, despite ongoing opposition and a request for more input from Cedar-Riverside residents and their advocates, the City of Minneapolis released a Request for Development Proposals for Lot A. On January 10th, the city confirmed that “one proposal was returned to the City for the Lot A RFP and it was from Sherman Associates.”

Given the ongoing tension and formal complaint being investigative by the Depart of Civil Rights the sources Workday spoke with expressed deep reservations about Sherman Associates having a larger footprint in Cedar-Riverside. They have noted since the June announcement of plans to develop the mall, the investigation has slowed down considerably.

Filiberto Nolasco Gomez is a former union organizer and former editor of Minneapolis based Workday Minnesota, the first online labor news publication in the state. Filiberto focused on longform and investigative journalism. He has covered topics including prison labor, labor trafficking, and union fights in the Twin Cities.

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