New program aims to support local developers

Northwest Minneapolis initiative gets community involved

Northwest Minneapolis initiative gets community involved

A new initiative in Hennepin County hopes to transform vacant lots and buildings into vibrant new spaces by supporting small, locally based developers.

“We’ve wanted to diversify the developer pool. We’re trying to open the door to an industry that a number of groups have historically been excluded from,” said Ryan Kelley, manager of place-based investments and transit-oriented development (TOD) for Hennepin County.

The county launched a pilot program for TOD predevelopment assistance last year.

Ten emerging developers have now received help from the county to further their projects by matching them with professional designers and consultants. They can then receive no-cost assistance with everything from financial feasibility and architectural design to city zoning.

“We know development is incredibly risky and complicated. We are targeting that early stage of development where it’s hardest to access some of that knowledge and financial capital,” Kelley said. “So, what can we provide to tee them up to get their project to completion?”

Ahmad Eltawely is one of the developers to receive the county’s help in the first wave of funding for this program and hopes to turn a vacant lot in North Minneapolis into a community hub called “Equity Matters.”

He lives about a block away from the site.

“There were multiple homicides within a block of where we are standing. One day we were having a barbeque in our backyard and bullets started whizzing over our heads,” Eltawely said. “But we believe in investing in our community as much as we can. We want to build a space that will bring our neighbors together.”

He has now created plans for a two-story building at the intersection of Emerson Avenue North and North 24th Avenue that would include six townhomes and a 2,000-square-foot community gathering space.

He said that would include an ‘incubator’ space for new businesses, artists and creatives in the community, along with a neighborhood coffee shop and bakery.

“I think relationships are just everything in life, the people you meet, what you learn from them, and we want to create a space that’s welcoming to that to make connections,” Eltawely said. “We want something unique for our neighborhood.

Eltawely has experience in residential real estate with flipping houses but has never taken on a commercial development before.

He said the county’s program helped propel his project forward.

“The program has been a tremendous blessing. It’s opened my eyes up to a lot of the resources that are available to emerging developers,” Eltawely said.

Eltawely hopes to break ground in North Minneapolis by next spring and have Equity Matters up and running by 2025.

Some of the other projects to receive predevelopment assistance include ZaRah on Broadway Avenue, which touts itself as the state’s first black-owned holistic wellness complex, and a four-story “UNITY Building” on Lake Street, which will include everything from a day care to an event venue.

“People in their community best know the community needs,” Kelley said. “And the value that new community-based developer adds with their project, that ripple effect is the longer term goal.”

To learn more about Hennepin County’s pilot program, CLICK HERE.