A Minneapolis church has bought a crime-ridden north Minneapolis gas station with intentions of eventually expanding its operations on the property, adding more room for worship and a youth center in hopes of turning the neighborhood around.
Real Believers Faith Center is located next door to a Marathon gas station at N. Fremont Avenue and W. Broadway. The church purchased the gas station, which is attached to a Krispy Krunchy Chicken restaurant, on Oct. 17 and hopes to buy out the lease at the chicken place, too.
"We're not intimidated by it, we're excited about it," said the Rev. Larry Cook, a pastor at Real Believers along with his wife, Sharon. "The community needs help."
The property has seen 33 police calls so far this year, including two for shootings and one reporting the sound of shots fired, according to Minneapolis Police Department data.
Drug dealers hang out in the alley adjacent to Marathon, selling to customers, he said, and dozens of gunshots rang out at the Rev. Sharon Cook's dance studio two doors down in late September, sending her students running for cover.
"It's just gotten worse on that corner," Sharon Cook said. "For me [the gunfire incident] was like a turning point — we have to do whatever we can to make [the gas station purchase] happen."
The church and the Cooks — who funded the down payment on the gas station — plan to run the Marathon as a business for a while, opening a soul food restaurant at the current chicken restaurant. Once they've recouped their investment, they want to expand the current church building onto the Marathon property, adding a larger worship space, a youth center with after school programs, a theater, a gym and other amenities.
"If we want to change the way some of the things are happening on the North Side, we've got to reach the next generation," Larry Cook said. "Parents can't do it alone ... so there need to be places parents can get an assist."
Not only are the church and its leaders more invested in the community than many gas station owners, Larry Cook said he believes the station will be the only one on the North Side with Black owners.
Sharon Cook said she didn't expect the "outpouring of love" from the community they have received about the gas station becoming a Black-owned business.
"We need to change things for our children or our children are always going to be working for other people," Larry Cook said.
Real Believers Faith Center, which has a congregation of 500 to 600 people, moved to its current location in 1998. Since then, Larry Cook said he's been interested in owning the gas station. It was sold two other times since then, before he had the chance to buy it.
Real Believers also runs a boys shelter and is opening a halfway house.
"The gas station will help us get a little money so we can keep [helping people]," he said.
The Marathon station is about three blocks from Merwin Liquors and a Winner gas station, two businesses that Attorney General Keith Ellison put on notice earlier this month due to "illegal public nuisances" occurring regularly there.
The church plans to have security at the gas station and has already hired six employees to work there, with plans to hire six more. Now, the gas station only has one employee working at a time, the Cooks said.
Melissa Said, who works at the Hook Fish and Chicken across the street said "security is going to be very important" if the church plans to run the gas station. She said two guards might be necessary to protect the business and its customers.
Said said her cousin owns both Hook Fish and Chicken and the Krispy Krunchy Chicken adjacent to the gas station.
"I hope that they're going to clean up the area," she said, noting there's "a lot of very bad activities" going on there.
Mike Hudson, who walked up to the door of the Marathon station Thursday afternoon, said he lives in the area and thinks the church buying the gas station is a "good thing."
"They might be able to put some peace back in the 'hood," he said.