Hennepin County Funds 18 Projects for Minority-Focused Business Incubators and Commercial Spaces

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For years, the small staff of the Indigenous Peoples Task Force has provided culturally-based medical, social, welfare and economic services in an antiquated community center in south Minneapolis where patients sometimes have to stay outside because the waiting room is too small.

Several of its youth and theater programs are to be hosted at a nearby church. Even with logistical constraints, the group has started a company that makes baby food with ancestral crops grown by Native Americans and food grown and harvested using sustainable practices. The plants are grown by people learning farming skills on a few acres just south of the Twin Cities.

The task force’s tiny hodgepodge workplace will soon be replaced by the Mikwanedun Audisookon Center for Art and Wellness. The effort consolidates and expands its existing services and adds a theater, a commercial kitchen with a cafe for people to sell their food, and spaces to start other new businesses.

To help build its new facility, the task force has received nearly $1 million from a $10 million fundraising effort that Hennepin County recently approved for 18 primarily organizations and nonprofits. minority-oriented. The goal is to promote affordable commercial space and provide a place for entrepreneurs to develop restaurants, event and training centers, offices and other assets for communities that often face barriers to economic growth.

In total, the county-supported projects will create more than 400,000 square feet of commercial and nonprofit space, support more than 550 local business owners and employ more than 1,000 people. The total cost of the projects is more than $270 million, including city and state funding beyond county grants.

“The county has been focused on ways to help businesses recover during the pandemic and this is just an extension of that focus,” said County Board Chair Marion Greene. “This is a very targeted way to spend pandemic relief money, which has a high impact on communities.”

The one-time program, called the Community Investment Initiative, sought applicants focused on economic recovery strategies for minority entrepreneurs, developers of affordable commercial space and nonprofit organizations. Proposals were solicited in March and attracted 46 applications.

Much of the hundreds of millions of dollars in federal pandemic funding received by Hennepin County has been used for COVID-19 concerns and short-term financial assistance for businesses and housing. Commissioners wanted this initiative to have long-term transformation in cities and specific communities and reduce disparities, said Patricia Fitzgerald, director of community and economic development.

When county staff researched and spoke to stakeholders, they were told the greatest need was for more affordable commercial space and support for nonprofits that have been on the frontlines during the pandemic but are struggling. now struggle financially and struggle with space, she said.

“This is fairly new territory nationally to define affordable commercial space,” said Ryan Kelley, program manager of the Community Investment Initiative.

Other ongoing projects

During the application process, the county learned that cities such as Bloomington, St. Louis Park, Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park were already considering projects for minority businesses, commercial spaces and nonprofits.

Brooklyn Park purchased vacant commercial space with the aim of rehabilitating the site into a business incubator. The $8.5 million project will create 27,000 square feet of retail space for up to 60 retail and non-food businesses. There will be access to business resources and technical assistance as well as areas to hold meetings, host events and attend training, city officials said.

Other projects include the development of 40,000 square feet of commercial and community space with an art library at Juxtaposition Arts in Minneapolis and the renovation of the historic Coliseum building into a Lake Street retail center for 25 small businesses and entrepreneurs of color, Kelley said. A gas station is also being converted into space for four businesses.

Space to grow

The Indigenous Peoples Task Force, which received $750,000 from the county, moved to its location on E. 23rd Street in 2008. The services it provides are split between HIV case reduction and testing and hepatitis C, prevention of opioid use, youth activities and employment. opportunities focused on a theater program. They also run a 14-unit housing facility for people living with HIV and other issues. The three-story location where the task force meets has a basement, ground floor and attic, which staff say doesn’t leave much room for privacy.

The task force planned a new space just a few years after moving into its existing location, said Mike Neumann, coordinator of the new facility. The city sold vacant land nearby to the task force for $1, he said. They will break ground on the $10 million project in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis next spring and expect it to be completed within a year.

In addition to a theater, the new facility will include a commercial kitchen that will serve traditional food, support the growth of the Indigi-Baby Food brand, provide space for new business owners, and add a large clinic and counseling space. , did he declare.

The new spaces will give entrepreneurs a chance to create wealth they can pass on to the next generation, Kelley said.

“And even though businesses come and go, the spaces will still be there,” he said.

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