When chiropractor Tara Watson lost her leased space in 2008, she took a heartfelt gamble and bought a building at Penn Avenue N. and W. Broadway Avenue, the frayed-edge, east-west commercial artery of north Minneapolis.
John Williams, a longtime West Broadway business champion, encouraged Watson to be part of a commercial revival. Williams, a neighborhood dentist and property owner for 25 years and former Gophers football star, died in 2012, a big loss to the community.
Watson also weathered a flash flood in 2010 that ruined the first floor of her business and the 2011 tornado that destroyed the roof. She renovated and has persevered through a $500,000-plus, multiyear investment in the structure and three businesses.
Six years after she opened on West Broadway, Watson employs 40 people who work for her Watson Chiropractic, Exceptional Home Health care agency and an adjacent Anytime Fitness exercise club that draws from the neighborhood and northern suburbs.
"What better way to help create a more vibrant Broadway than to get out and make it myself," Watson said last week. "And we still need to fill more of the gaps with commercial and residential developments."
Watson, 40, was raised in the Bronx, New York. She graduated from college in nursing from Seton Hall University thanks to academic and athletic scholarships, and moved here to attend chiropractic school. She also helps coach an inner-city youth track team.
"John Williams told me in 2009 that things were going to happen on Broadway," said Watson. "Business is good enough. And I'm not done investing. This community has supported me."
Watson also is president of the West Broadway Business and Area Coalition, a rejuvenated, 200-plus member organization that embraces the W. Broadway commercial span and runs from Interstate 94 on the east side a couple miles to Penn Avenue on the west.
And she is a leader in an effort to develop more retail, food, health and arts-related businesses.
Newscasts and headlines last month covered the fire that gutted apartments and several faded storefronts about a mile east of Watson Chiropractic. It's unclear whether those buildings on W. Broadway, across from the Hawthorn Crossings shopping center, will be refurbished or demolished by the city and building owners. The fire was not good news.
A block away, across Emerson Avenue, DeAnna Cummings, co-founder and executive director of 20-year-old Juxtaposition Arts, doesn't have a lot of time to dwell on anything negative. She oversees award-winning Juxta's renovation and expansion into a fourth building at Emerson and W. Broadway; more than $2 million in acquisition and renovation over the years.
Cummings, a Minneapolis native with a master's degree from Harvard, runs a $1.5 million-revenue social enterprise with art at its heart and economic core. In addition to earned revenue, she's supported by foundations and individual patrons.
Juxta employs 100 full- and part-time workers, and engages 1,800 youth in arts education, workshops and exhibits. Its affiliated artists and trainees make and sell paintings, murals, clothing, pop-up parks and more through Juxta's environmental design, screen printing, graphic design, art studios and retail shop.
"Juxtaposition Arts is reviving [another] long-shuttered store front … at a cost of about $275,000," Cummings said last week. "The new space … will house Community Design Collaborative studios and a 'maker-space,' where local youth will work with artists, architects, landscape architects, planners and organizers on public space-improvement projects for clients and residents."
Next door to Juxtaposition, Urban Homeworks, a North Side housing renovator, has rehabbed several adjacent properties.
"Too many people think of north Minneapolis as a drag," Cummings continued, over coffee at bustling Sammy's Avenue Eatery, an independent restaurant and caterer across Broadway from Juxta. "It will take the people of north Minneapolis and other stakeholders to recognize the value. That's our work at Juxtaposition Arts. Working with youth, artists and others in economic development."
Walgreens has opened a drugstore on the east end of W. Broadway. A few other national and local retailers have opened near the huge Cub grocery that anchors an adjacent shopping center.
Several blocks west at 1210 W. Broadway, Breaking Bread Café, next door to food-enterprise incubator Kindred Kitchens, quietly opened in April to rave reviews. Executive Chef Lachelle Cunningham employs a staff of 12 and plans to expand hours.
The W. Broadway business group operates a farmers market that is supplied by up to 50 vegetable gardeners in the area.
"We're bringing together food and art as a catalyst for growth," said staff member Shaina Brassard. "We see new businesses."
Government, developers and owners have invested roughly $75 million in W. Broadway since 2009. Progress is visible. Yet it still lacks the concentration and pizazz of 30 years of redevelopment along W. Lake Street on the more-affluent South Side.
"We still need more specialty retail and a family-style restaurant [near Penn Avenue]," Watson said.
Other developments, completed or under construction along W. Broadway should bring traffic, commerce and value to the neighborhood, say boosters. They include:
• The $6.5 million Emerge Career and Technology Center, a technology-and-training hub that was created through renovation of the long-shuttered North Branch Library .
• The Capri Theater's planned $6 million expansion, including additional performance and meeting space on property to be purchased from the city.