Your tax dollars at work: new buildings for Norway House and Somali Museum

A new and disturbing trend in state government is the use of bonding dollars (borrowed money) to fund new buildings for private, non-profit companies.

Traditionally, state-taxpayer-funded bonding projects have included grants to state agencies and local units of government to fund infrastructure and public facilities.

Last year’s bonding bill (HF 670) included dozens of construction-related projects for private nonprofits. We highlighted this trend in our “Off the Cliff” statewide tour last summer, and drew attention to two projects in Minneapolis:

Norway House is a cultural center located in Minneapolis, founded in 2004. Last year, the nonprofit received a $5 million grant in the bonding bill that will go

to acquire land and predesign, design, construct, furnish, and equip a conference and event center at 913 East Franklin Avenue and adjacent property in Minneapolis to celebrate the culture of Norway and American Norwegians.

The original bill funding the Norway House project (HF 1365) was carried by local state Rep. Hodan Hassan (DFL-Minneapolis). We wrote yesterday about Rep. Hassan’s support for another nonprofit building project here.

The Somali Museum of Minnesota was founded by Osman Ali in 2011 as the Somali Artifact and Cultural Museum.

In 2023, Ali donated $250 to the campaign for the re-election of Tim Walz for a third term as Minnesota Governor,

In past years, Ali has donated money to a Democrat candidate active in Washington State.

Ali was not alone. It turns out that many now-prominent Minnesotans donated to this same, little-known Washingtonian.

The Museum is currently located in the basement of this building on Lake Street in south Minneapolis:

The above photo (from 2022) shows a sign for the museum in the building’s marquee. The Museum has the misfortune to be located in a building (JigJiga Center) owned by two defendants (Nos. 36 and 38) in the Feeding Our Future scandal. One, Liban Alishire, has pled guilty in the case.

So, the Musuem’s desire for new digs for its growing collection is understandable. The bonding bill provides $3.9 million for a new Somali Musuem facility. The money will be used

to predesign and design a facility in the city of Minneapolis to be used for a museum of Somali relics and artifacts, Somali cultural history, and education.

So, $4 million and we don’t even get a building out of it. The previous year, Rep. Hassan introduced a bill that would have used taxpayer money to pay for the entire project. HF 3882 would have given the Museum $10 million,

to acquire land and predesign, design, construct, furnish, and equip a facility to be used for a museum…

In 2022, $10 million would have covered the entire project. Now we’re spending $4 million on just two of the project’s six phases. As pre-construction activity is usually just a fraction of the total project cost, we could be looking at a final number ranging from the original $10 million proposed (plus inflation) up to $100 million. All at state taxpayer expense.

That’s not all the money showered on the Somali Musuem last year by state Democrats.

The Museum also received $400,000 from the state tourism board (SF 3035) last year. The Museum received 1/3 from a total $1.2 million that the legislature earmarked “for Somali community and cultural festivals and events.”

The Museum got another $250,000 out of the state’s Legacy Fund (HF 1999) last year,

for heritage arts and cultural vitality programs to provide classes, exhibits, presentations, and outreach about the Somali community and heritage in Minnesota.

Of the three direct appropriations only the one for $400,000 was the subject of a separate bill at the legislature (HF 1072). The other two grants appeared, ex nihilo, in the final bills passed into law.

The Museum’s three direct appropriations from last year totaled $4,550,000. In the Museum’s entire previous history, the highest annual revenue totaled a mere $373,220 (2022), according to IRS tax returns filed by the nonprofit.

These won’t be the first state grants received by the Museum. The state’s Arts Board records making grants to the Somali Museum totaling $166,000 over the previous five years.

Deena Winter of the MN Reformer recently wrote about the increasing frequency of direct appropriations to nonprofits. In fact, her article singles out the Somali Museum as an example of the practice.

Accompanying Winter’s article is a 16-page addendum, listing dozens of other nonprofit grant recipients. It turns out that the Somali Museum is just one of 22 museum grantees last year. It didn’t even get the largest museum grant, its $3.9 million ranks a distant third.

Norway and Somalia have much international company on the list of ethnic grantees. The sixteen pages of grants also list recipients representing African, American Indian, Asian, Black, Chicano, Hispanic, Hmong, Indian, Indigenous, Latino, Native American, and Ukranian interests.

If you feel left out, stay patient. An $8 million proposal (HF 4299) to fund Swedes is still under consideration for 2024.