On a glorious late October day, dozens gathered atop a rooftop patio on W. Broadway, to celebrate the $7.2 million resurrection and expansion of a long-abandoned building complex along the North Side artery.
The project's developer-contractor, Black-owned Tri-Construction, the Phillips Family Foundation and Urban Homeworks will be among the enterprises located in the spacious retail-office complex at 927 W. Broadway.
"This building has been renewed," Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman of Temple Israel said during the ceremony. "What is new is the opportunity and the organizations working tirelessly on enterprise and justice."
Bishop Richard Howell of nearby Shiloh Temple International Ministries also offered an invocation.
This project serves business, city and neighborhood aspirations of facilitating more ownership for people of color along corridors damaged in the 2020 riots following the police killing of George Floyd.
"The 927 Building is more than a redevelopment project," said Calvin Littlejohn, chief executive and co-founder of Tri, who started as a laborer at Mortenson Construction. "It's a model of the kind of transformative investment that empowers local business and local communities."
Littlejohn pointed to several nearby developments, including a remodeled Cub store in a bustling shopping center, a housing development by Tim Baylor and partners, the expanding Juxtaposition Arts and Capri Theater. There is $150 million in construction completed, underway or planned in the Broadway corridor.
It's evolving from a "drive-thru to a destination neighborhood," Littlejohn said.
"North Side is no different than Uptown or any other neighborhood. Communities are only as strong as the business sector," he said. "We're not getting pushed out by gentrification. We are part of the North Side leadership. I live here. I worship here. And I'm growing a business here."
The 927 project was more than a decade in the making.
The city, to settle a lawsuit with a former absentee owner of the 130-year-old structure, paid $400,000 to acquire it in 2010. Several renovation plans fell through before partners Tri and the Jay & Rose Phillips Family Foundation approached the city with a long-term solution.
Because construction costs are no less in lower-income neighborhoods that also command lower market values and rents, traditional lenders and investors are wary. Yet local entrepreneurs often lack the equity to drive deals.
The Phillips Foundation ended up making a $3.5 million equity investment. Tri is making a $500,000-plus investment, including its developer fee for the project. There are several loans, including $2 million from Sunrise Banks and $800,000 from the Minneapolis Community Property Development Fund, established for such tough projects. U.S. Bank, the Minneapolis Foundation, a business-led corridor-rebuild fund and the Metropolitan Council added more than $1 million in loans and grants, according to a financial statement.
Tri-Construction, which was founded in 2001 and employs 54 people, is now minority shareholder of the complex. Tri's owners plan to acquire the Phillips Foundation's equity within 10 years from rents and the company's construction profits.
Littlejohn said it was challenging to integrate a dilapidated building with a new addition to create a 19,000-square-foot functional beauty.
"It would have been cheaper just to tear down the old building," Littlejohn said. "The roof leaked, the floors were bad. It was uninhabitable — but beautiful. The structure was good. We decided to enhance what we had. We repaired the interior, including floor joists and floors.''
The foundation sparked the redevelopment plan when it decided to relocate its offices to north Minneapolis. Since 2016, the Phillips Foundation has focused on assisting North Side Minneapolis Public Schools students and investing in "a thriving local economic ecosystem that creates wealth for Black, Indigenous and communities of color in north Minneapolis," according to the foundation.
"We are excited to be part of the revitalization of one of the most vibrant communities in Minnesota,'' said Joel Luedtke, program director at Phillips Foundation.
Luedtke noted the increased level of W. Broadway investment and overcoming the perception and reality of years of disinvestment and crime.
"We're going to lean more into community safety with our neighbors," Luedtke said. "We're aware of the challenges.
"There are many good neighbors and change agents, and we want to make it a more-appealing neighborhood for North Siders and visitors. It's also important that North Siders own as much of the commercial-residential assets as possible."
The Phillips Foundation, which donates about $3 million annually, has an endowment of $55 million. It contracts with the larger Minneapolis Foundation for administrative services.
The foundation's board is chaired by U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, grandson of Jay and Rose Phillips, whose parents were Russian-Jewish immigrants and North Side entrepreneurs.