Cultural, economic hub ‘Little Africa Plaza’ breaks ground in St. Paul

Cultural, economic hub ‘Little Africa Plaza’ breaks ground in St. Paul

Cultural, economic hub ‘Little Africa Plaza’ breaks ground in St. Paul

The imagined transformation of a 1920s car dealership into an African cultural hub in St. Paul’s Hamline-Midway neighborhood became a reality on Sunday.

Non-profit African Economic Development Solutions broke ground on the $4.5 million Little Africa Plaza, which will house an African grocery store, museum and a couple of offices and shops.

Concordia University economist Dr. Bruce Corrie, who attended the ceremonial groundbreaking, called the future site an “economic engine” and an opportunity to pour into a community that has both culturally and economically grown the state of Minnesota for generations.

“It’s about a $2.8 billion in buying power,” Corrie said, referencing a survey he concluded in 2015 (and updated a couple of years ago) of the economic power of the African immigrant population in the state.

“And that means they’re paying about $300 million in taxes,” he added. “So it’s not only a powerful engine within the community, but it’s also fueling Minnesota’s economy in many ways.”

“Almost everything is a cultural asset,” shared CultureBrokers president Lisa Tabor. “Turn it into some opportunity to share with visitors and also to capture some of the billions of dollars that visitors spend in Minnesota.”

“So the question then would be, what are we doing to nurture it, and grow it and expand it?” Corrie said, adding, that’s precisely the vision behind Little Africa Plaza.

“So really everything’s in motion,” said Rebecca Muchow, a senior architect for Minneapolis-based firm Cushing Terrell which has been contracted to design the plaza.

“Several entrepreneurs will be able to come into the space, have their goods sold, there’s two dedicated retail spaces that somebody can lease out within that,” she described.

“Our vision is to attract more business to the corridor,” said African Economic Development Solutions founder and CEO Gene Gelgelu, adding, as an immigrant himself, “it took me a long time… to learn about everything.”

The Little Africa Plaza will also include an African history and cultural museum, something that “actually doesn’t exist in the state of Minnesota,” Gelgelu said.

“For the hundreds of 1000s of people who are coming here, I hope they find a home, of course, but I hope they also find some inspiration and some knowledge and some connection,” Tabor concluded.

“When you enjoy cultures, it’s kind of like a two-way street. Both, the people on both sides benefit,” Corrie added.

The Little Africa Plaza is expected to open in April 2024.