Formerly Super America, a building on Lowry Ave N. sat abandoned for more than a decade.
Now Chris Webley, a north Minneapolis business owner and developer, is spearheading a sleek $1.3 million makeover coming this fall with Tap In, a local food-focused restaurant and cocktail bar. The building will also feature an artist space-incubator and a solar garden.
Webley is the founder of co-working space New Rules and other businesses at 2015 Lowry Av. N., a little below its last growth. A former textile engineer, he designs to meet the needs of tenants and neighbors who want to be part of an emerging, innovative North Side.
“We’re bringing the community into the design and into the business,” said Wemley, who also lives on the North Side. “We use empathy to solve problems. I am also a Six Sigma trained textile engineer who works with efficiency and process. I invest and raise patient funds.”
It is a very promising time for the region. The W. Broadway and Lowry commercial corridors feature more than $150 million in recent and planned multifamily housing, food, health, art and other businesses.
Webley, 35, prides himself on “development without displacement” in the city’s most diverse, low-income quarter. New Rules businesses seek to connect artists and small businesses with the space and resources needed to develop “replicable ecosystems and sustainable economic development solutions for black and brown communities.”
“We’ve built trust and relationships in the community,” said Webley, who has also been a YMCA board member and youth mentor. “New Rules, since 2014, shape new behavior.”
Webley is betting on New Rules with about $650,000 in proceeds he earned from the sale of some buildings in Columbus, Ohio. He invested in his first downtown projects while working in textiles at Victoria’s Secret headquarters.
Webley moved to Minneapolis to join Target in 2012. He was laid off along with hundreds of others in Minneapolis during layoffs in 2014.
Handy with a hammer, Webley also helped remodel New Rules’ headquarters and co-working space at 2015 Lowry. It includes second floor apartments just a few blocks from the Tap In development. Webley has also redeveloped an affordable apartment building and some smaller properties.
The redevelopment of the North Side has been hampered by absentee landlords who typically want a premium on undervalued properties. Most have been resistant to reinvestment since the 1960s, leaving the area neglected.
Kimberly Caprini, a north Minneapolis resident who works and lives with her family near Webley’s Lowry Avenue developments, called him a person of foresight and wisdom.
“It’s a breath of fresh air, attracting other community-driven young adults,” said Caprini, also a member of the Minneapolis school board. “It’s about how he and others can create community businesses and build wealth. … It’s one of the pieces of the North Side redevelopment puzzle that is being put together methodically and purposefully.”
Jim Terrell, a 40-year-old banker and director of economic development in the city, has put together a multimillion-dollar reconstruction fund that helps local owner-developers — in addition to their own equity — bridge the gaps between what banks will lend for low value of real estate and construction costs and the cost of revitalizing them.
From that fund, Webley received a $300,000 interest-free loan for the Tap In project that will not have to be repaid as long as he retains ownership of the property.
“The typical project in the Northside has a 20 percent or 25 percent gap based on debt [a new owner] can serve and rent that they can charge,” Terrell said. “And it costs the same to restore a building as it does in the North Loop and downtown. You can’t charge the same rent. And Chris … wants rents to be affordable.”
Terrell said subprime real estate allows local owner-operators like Webley to charge lower rents to grassroots entrepreneurs looking for space for their businesses.
“Chris has a fire and a zeal to get the job done,” Terrell said. “He also listens to advice. It’s also nice to work with a young person who knows a lot but knows he doesn’t know everything.”
Webley is also part of the North Side’s growing “Black Excellence” movement through a myriad of businesses from barbering to retail, construction and hospitality. They are inclusive in their approach to building a local economy around local dollars spent at area businesses.
“We’re intentional about changing the landscape and giving back to the community,” Webley said. “For too long this has been an extractive economy.”
Webley and many other residents are working toward a better-for-more community that deserves the spotlight as much as the crime stories.