Developers hope new project spurs business in north Minneapolisby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Today a non-profit developer broke ground in north Minneapolis on a project designed to turn a building once used as a funeral home into a sign of life along one of the city's most neglected corridors.
West Broadway Avenue, a once thriving destination for commerce, has since fallen on hard times. Over the last several years, the street has been making a comeback - albeit in fits and starts.
Minneapolis — To residents of north Minneapolis, the announcement of a new commercial development along West Broadway Avenue may draw sighs rather than cheers.
They've seen it before.
Three blocks down the street from this latest venture is the Hawthorn Crossings strip mall, built in the late 90s along with promises to boost business and help reduce crime. But after a few bright spots, the malaise continued. Northsiders also got their hopes up when Target opened a store on West Broadway, but it closed a few years later due to poor sales.
What makes this latest project different?
"It isn't different, that's the point," said Mike Christensen, the head of the city's Community Planning and Economic Development department.
"In this city you've seen remarkable commercial corridor turnarounds on Lake Street, Nicollet, Hennepin, Franklin and now you're seeing it on Broadway," Christensen said.
Christensen adds that what is different is the involvement of developer Stu Ackerberg, founder of Catalyst. In 2007 Catalyst renovated a building a block from here. It contains a coffee shop, credit union and a non-profit community development group.
The newest project involves 11,000 square feet of space. About one-third of it will be used for commercial kitchen spaces and an event center. The kitchens will be available for rent to small cooks and caterers. Several non-profit and for-profit businesses will lease office space here which could attract as many as 40 full-time jobs. The renovation is expected to cost around $2 million.
Stu Ackerberg said the businesses attract daytime workers, who drive demand for nearby goods and services. Ackerberg said the goal is to use the non-profits to seed the growth of retail businesses throughout the northside.
"From 94 to Penn it's like a big pond and we're going to drop pebbles in the pond to create ripples," Ackerberg said. "Ripples will be the hope, but it will also be jobs and transformation of buildings and opportunities and so forth."
The project has already created a few noticeable ripples. One of the businesses which will lease space here is an African American-owned construction company with a contract to do the sheetrock and framing in the building. Co-owner Calvin Littlejohn said his company, Tri Construction, embodies the mission of developers like Catalyst.
"We are that northside-based company, contracting company, that is rooted here, cares about this community, cares about the jobs, that the overall project needs to reflect - the demographics of the people who live here," Littlejohn said. "That's what we're passionate about. That's why we said we're not moving anywhere. We're staying right here within this community, to make an impact and a difference."
The timetable for the completion of the renovation is a relatively short one. Officials with Catalyst say it should be done this fall and tenants will start moving in shortly thereafter. As for the turnaround of West Broadway Avenue - that's clearly going take a little bit more time.
- All Things Considered, 04/30/2009, 4:55 p.m.