Partner Profile: A conversation with past MCW Chair Nate Garvis

Last week, the Midtown Community Works Partnership held a celebration honoring Nate Garvis, who recently ended his three-year tenure as the MCW Chair.  Garvis, who serves as Target’s Vice-President of Governmental Affairs, will continue to represent Target in the Partnership.

We recently sat down with him to talk about his work with the Midtown Community Works Partnership and his views on the Partnership as both a governance model and a catalyst for community engagement and development.

 How did you first become involved with the MCW Partnership?

“I became involved years ago through my former boss, Jim Hale, [in 1998].  In short order, I took Jim Hale’s place on the board and ended up chairing the Art and Design committee. 

“From the first, I was really passionate about the Partnership’s mission, which was important to me, amongst other things, because I’m a personal benefactor. I live in Minneapolis, and my family bikes on the Greenway.  But I was also really enthralled with the leadership model.  Not only is it an important thing to do, but the way that we’re doing it is really fantastic.  It’s a governance model that’s really receptive to the needs of a 21st-century-community.

What drives Target’s involvement with and support for the Partnership?

“The immediate parochial reason is that we have a store on the Greenway, and this is an important amenity for our hometown.  But I also think that this is a really fabulous exercise in 21st-century-governance, and I’m learning things here that I’m able to apply elsewhere in my job.

Can you describe some of the lessons that you’ve learned?

“One important thing is that there is precious little that we can do for our communities that come out of just one sector.  The best solutions come out of a combined energy of a lot of institutional forces being brought together. The Greenway is a great example because you have every level of government, big and small businesses, grassroots and neighborhood groups, all aligned on a common vision. 

“I think that too often we define ourselves by the institution rather than the humanity of the situation, and I’ve been really enthralled with the MCW partners’ ability to keep their eye on the right ball. There are plenty of opportunities to disagree on this and that, but the real challenge is, how do we keep the overall environment of agreement going forward?

“The word “sustainability” has been somewhat hijacked, but in my view, sustainability informs all of your relationships--not just your relationship to the planet, but your relationship to each other, too.  I’m interested in doing some good work with people in my community around the Greenway, but I’m more interested in doing it in such a way that it sets us up to do more and more projects together. 

“As MCW Chair, I always found that that was perhaps my best value add.  In some ways, I felt that I gave up my seat on behalf of Target, and my job was to represent the family of the whole--and I don’t use the word “family” lightly.  My job was to keep us thinking like family.  We can disagree, but at the end of the day there are no bad folks around that table; there are lots of really good people who have similar vision as to what we want together. 

What do you view as the Partnership’s most significant work so far? 

“I can’t think of a better example than the Allina Commons / Midtown Exchange project.  That is a huge chunk of activity that exhibits all of our aspirations.  It honors Lake Street like never before.  Lake Street has always been the welcome mat for the immigrant population in our community—it used to be Swedes and Norwegians, now it’s Somalis and Latinos. The Exchange also has great housing opportunities, it has a brand-new bike center, and someday it will have transit.  It’s a great node and a great gathering place for the community; it has an important corporate headquarters and employment center.  The project took an urban space and made it live in a neighborhood that really needed it, and many sectors were responsible for making it happen.

As you look forward, what direction do you see the Partnership taking, and what role do you anticipate playing? 

“One of my goals is to support David Orbuch in his chairmanship. As a group, I think one of our biggest challenges going forward is the transit issue, and figuring out what that looks like, where it goes, and how we’re going to pay for it.  A key role that the Partnership can play in that is to be a safe harbor for bold thinking.  While we are informed by the fact that we come from various sectors, or that there are political pressures behind some people at the table, at the end of the day this is a place for us to think together.  Transit issues are very complex web, and there are plenty of other venues out there where we can have the conversation about how we can’t do it this way or we can’t do it that way, but this is a place to dream aloud.

Any final reflections on the Greenway itself and its significant to our community? 

“The Greenway is not just a place, it’s also a state of mind, if you will.  It’s a statement of what this community can accomplish when it thinks of itself as a community.  It gives me great hope and optimism as we tackle more and more challenges, because often one of the first steps in facing a challenge is to identify yourself as community.  And the Greenway is a great example of that.

“I think it’s a beautiful thing when the Greenway Coalition and some of the largest businesses in the Twin Cities not only find common goals, but also create common energy. I applaud and congratulate people like Tim Springer and his tremendous efforts on behalf of the Coalition.  My hope is that there are a lot of other folks within a group like that who hold similar views about what these business partners really mean to the community. Just like the grassroots groups, these businesses are assets to our community.

“As for me, I need to participate in the Partnership as Nate Garvis who not only works for Target, but who is also a city resident, and who is a dad, and a neighbor, and a constituent.  I really believe that the Partnership works best when we work the whole person to the table and we interact with each other as friends and neighbors, as much as anything else.  I have a lot of pride about this project and I talk about it a lot as I travel the country and the world, and I beam when I talk about my hometown, and not just what we do, but how we do it.