Two worthy projects on the job-hungry North Side of Minneapolis broke ground last week.

Small business owner Gloria Freeman started the $1.2 million purchase-and-renovation of a long-shuttered charter school into Olu's Center, a day care for infants-to-school age children as well as seniors that will employ 25 people at $11 to $25 per hour plus benefits.

"The contractors are at work," said Freeman, a former insurance underwriter who also operates nine Olu's Home group homes. "This has been five to six years in the making for me. I'm ready.

"The building will be much better with lots of color and more windows. Seniors tend to be happier when they are around young kids and the kids are not afraid of them. The seniors who want will be reading with the children, gardening and other scheduled, integrated activities."

The 18,000-square-foot building at 1315 12th Av. N., is being financed by the Minneapolis-based Community Reinvestment Fund (CRF), Century Bank and the Metropolitan Economic Development Association (MEDA). Freeman's project also is the first in the Twin Cities to benefit from an initiative of the Calvert Foundation and CRF in several cities offering loans to small businesses that are not able to secure financing from commercial lenders.

The program, called "Ours To Own," allows individual investors to help finance local businesses. In the past, community development lenders such as CRF depended on banks, corporations and foundations. Now, individuals can invest as little as $20 and earn interest (details at The investments support CRF's small-business lending program in distressed neighborhoods.

Nonprofit developer Building Blocks also has started building a 47-unit affordable apartment complex at Penn Av. N. and Golden Valley Road.

The $10.75 million project, "Commons at Penn," will include retail space and house the nonprofit developer, which also works with young people and other nonprofits on mentoring, educational programs, job training and health care.

Building Blocks is headed by Devean George, a North Side native, Augsburg College graduate and former Los Angeles Lakers player.

"Our team at Building Blocks believes that we can make a real and lasting difference by working to revitalize our community one block at a time," George said last week, surrounded by community partners. "Commons at Penn embodies this philosophy and provides a space that will allow us to go even further in our efforts to partner with young people and their families."

The vacant corner has been a haven for loitering and petty crime for years.

The financial supporters include Sunrise Bank, the city of Minneapolis Affordable Housing Trust Fund and Tax Exempt Housing Revenue Bonds, Hennepin County, Minnesota Housing, the Pohlad Foundation and the Family Housing Fund. The first residents are expected to move in by fall 2015.

Pipeline Regulators take heat from union

A labor union that favors construction of the Sandpiper crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota is turning up the heat on state regulators for delaying the project.

The United Association of Plumbers and Pipe­fitters, whose members would get many of the 1,500-plus construction jobs, took out full-page newspaper ads in the Star Tribune and other papers and launched radio spots urging regulatory action by June.

The print ad includes a picture of a crude oil train in a Twin Cities suburb and says, "pipelines are the safest method of transporting oil." The 610-mile pipeline would carry crude from North Dakota oil fields to a Superior, Wis., terminal tied to other pipelines.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission recently voted to study alternate routes proposed by state agencies and interest groups to avoid northern lakes and rivers. Enbridge Energy, the Calgary-based pipeline company, says the alternatives are longer, more expensive and impractical, and studying them will delay the pipeline's completion for a year, until 2017.

Prize for the best business pitch

Steve Case, the founder of who's campaigning for entrepreneurs outside Silicon Valley as part of his "Rise of the Rest Road Tour, " arrives in Minneapolis on Tuesday with partners UP Global and Google for Entrepreneurs to meet with fledgling business owners.

He'll be visiting Coco, the shared-business space in the Grain Exchange and the Midtown Global Market. He also will host a business "pitch competition," the winner of which gets $100,000 in investment from Case and a trip to the 2015 SXSW Startup Village in Austin, Texas, to compete nationally.

The day will conclude with the competition and a celebration at the Varsity Theater. The Minnesota finalists include: Not On My Nickel: an independent, direct retirement tools platform; Zipnosis, which creates "profoundly simple" health care experiences; RetraceHealth, an online platform for patients to get in-home medical care; Greenbook Network, which matches buyers and qualified suppliers; Grumbl, a business built on reducing food waste, and 75F, a Mankato-based firm that recently won the Minnesota Cup competition for its building temperature-control software.


• Law and lobbying firm Lockridge Grindal Nauen has added Amos Briggs to its state government relations team. Briggs, 31, was director of communications with the Minnesota Senate DFL Caucus. Leslie Rosedahl, director of communications and grass-roots advocacy for Lockridge's government-relations team, used to work for the Senate Republicans. The nine-member group likes to be known as bipartisan lobbyists. Clients include Thomson Reuters, eBay, Fairview Hospitals, Qwik Trip, Microsoft and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Commission.

• Four Minneapolis public relations firms have won national Holmes Report Global SABRE Awards for PR campaigns considered among the top 50 in 2014. The agencies will receive awards later this month. The winners are PadillaCRT for client Allianz Life, Spong for Thermos, Olson Engage for and Exponent for Duluth Trading Co.

Staff writers David Phelps and David Shaffer contributed to this column