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NEON's big plans for strengthening North Minneapolis

Apr 5, 2021

Northside Economic Opportunity Network, an organization that supports entrepreneurs in North Minneapolis, has big plans to bolster community business and development in the near future. Among the nonprofit's goals, NEON wants to develop a business incubator building for foodfocused entrepreneurs, distribute loans from a new fund to developers of color, and purchase its 1007 and 1011 W. Broadway Ave. headquarters.

These moves could catalyze commercial activity and wealth generation on the northside, NEON leadership said. "Our vision is to transform North Minneapolis and the surrounding area into a prosperous, visible, sustainable and highly diverse multicultural community of entrepreneurs," said Warren McLean, president of NEON.

The network's planned 20,000-square-foot Food Entrepreneurship Incubation Center, designed by LSE Architects, would feature a large commercial kitchen, food storage space, and room for popups and farmer's markets. It would also house NEON's food business assistance programs and feature a food photography studio. The building would stand at 2110 23rd Ave. — currently a vacant parking lot between KMOJ 89.9 FM/NAZ and The Capri Theater — and would cost $1.5 million to develop, a third of which has already been raised, NEON said. The organization aims to break ground on the project in 2022. The center makes sense for North Minneapolis, said Ann Fix-Yin, NEON's director of business development. Food entrepreneurs account for 40% of NEON's clients, and North Minneapolis has long languished as a food desert.

Aside from food scarcity, North Minneapolis is also burdened by a large number of untapped empty lots. While large developers haven't been chomping at the bit to build on the land, firms owned by people of color actually have interest — they simply don't have the resources to pursue deals, said Stephen Obayuwana, NEON vice president. That's why the organization collaborated with the Local Initiative Support Corp. to create the Northside Commercial Real Estate Revolving Loan Fund in December.

Anchored by a $1 million seed investment, NEON will distribute loans of up to $200,000 to developers of color for residential, commercial and mixed-use projects. The hope is to grow the fund to $5 million by 2023. As for NEON obtaining ownership of its own building, the move is crucial, McLean said, because it will mean the organization can provide its services, like affording its clients economical office space, permanently. It would cost the network $2 million to purchase and renovate.

After acquisition, NEON plans to renovate the building to expand its space to 16,222 square feet, up from 6,560, which NEON estimates will boost its office provision revenue 247%. More, NEON hopes to become a certified community development financialNEON's big plans for strengthening business and development in North Minneapolis - Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal 4/15/21, 09:05 Page 3 of 3 institution — an organization that receives money from the federal government to provide loans for businesses in low income and ethnic-minority communities — later this year. These plans come after demand for NEON's services skyrocketed in 2020. The economic impact of the pandemic and the unrest that followed the death of George Floyd in police custody drove NEON to provide twice the amount of technical assistance in 2020 than it did in 2019, and to disburse $3.8 million in grants and loans, up from $46,000.

Much of the capital distribution uptick came from the organization's service as a Small Business Emergency Loan provider, McLean said. The hope is these plans will aid in NEON's quest "to change North Minneapolis from a drive through to a destination," McLean said.

Iain Carlos Reporter Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal

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