Catalyst Community Partners helps revitalize North Minneapolis

By Charles Hallman
Staff Writer

Building renovation, business development, use of minority contractors are the nonprofit’s priorities

While driving around the city’s North Side a few years ago, Stuart Ackerberg asked himself why the area did not enjoy the same economic vitality as other parts of Minneapolis. The owner and CEO of the Ackerberg Group soon began using his expertise in the renovation and reuse of old buildings to help Northside main streets such as West Broadway become more economically viable.

He started the nonprofit Catalyst Community Partners in 2008. Its goals include “stimulating private investment in North Minneapolis,” claims Catalyst Director of Operations and Communications Joelle Andreas. “North Minneapolis is a vital part of the community and a very important part of Minneapolis,” she observes.

Before he started Catalyst, Ackerberg purchased a then-vacant property at 1915 West Broadway in 2004 and took only 75 days to complete an extensive renovation there. It is now Agape Child Development Center, a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week childcare center.

Other Catalyst renovation projects include 1101 West Broadway, a vacant building for over 10 years transformed in 2007 into a home for a credit union, a community-building organization and a coffee shop; the Garden of Gethsemane Church for a Liberian immigrant congregation, completed in 2008; and the old Delisi building at the southeast corner of Penn Avenue North and West Broadway, which is now the 5 Points Building and the new home of KMOJ.

Andreas says that their latest project at an old funeral home building on 1200 W. Broadway is expected to be completed sometime in October. “We’ve already done most of the work on that home. We got a third of it done, which is now an office building. We are now working on the second third, which in the beginning of October will be our ‘community kitchen.’”

The idea for “Kindred Kitchen” came after Catalyst conducted a survey of community residents, says Andreas. “We’re targeting local food entrepreneurs — people who are working out of their homes or out of church basements who need a place to do their work.”

PEACE Foundation President Sondra Samuels says she saw how Ackerberg previously had renovated several houses near hers and was impressed with his commitment to redeveloping the North Side. Says Samuels, who joined the Catalyst board of directors last year, “To have an organization that’s committed to fixing the windows as if they were in Edina blew my mind.”

Samuels, longtime Northside dentist Dr. John Williams, and Legacy Management Corporation CEO Archie Givens are all members of the 10-person Catalyst board.

“It’s not just about brick and mortar to [Catalyst], but also about sustainability of the businesses,” continues Samuels. She adds that Black caterers are eagerly looking forward to working at the Kindred Kitchen when it opens next month at the 1200 West Broadway site.

“Before we even broke ground, we had over a hundred interested people ready to sign up to cook in our kitchen,” confirms Andreas. “What we found was that there were several ‘hidden food entrepreneurs’ in the area, and we got high demand for a place for them to cook.”

Also planned for the site is a business incubator program. “That will help food entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground, give them support to find bookkeepers or marketing help, website design, distribution, licensing, legal issues or insurance,” Andreas explains.

With the new Minneapolis school district headquarters soon to be built behind the building, “The next thing on the horizon is our Gullah Café, which will be located in the last third of the [1200 West Broadway] building,” says Andreas.

“It is going to be fast casual dining… We are hoping to find someone that’s interested in opening the restaurant.”

Andreas boasts that “clear diversity goals” are incorporated into every Catalyst redevelopment project using minority-owned contractors. She says that the participation rate by Blacks and other people of color on their projects is “40 to 55 percent, which is three times the state average. Many of our contractors are from the 55411 zip code. We take pride in using local and minority contractors on all of our jobs.”

Samuels admits that there probably was some initial apprehension on the part of some Northside community residents about Catalyst: “Is it about gentrification? Are they trying to take over our neighborhoods?” she recalls.

However, she thinks such concerns are slowly disappearing. “Catalyst has shown itself as a true partner. It is about economic development [and] about meeting the needs of the community.”

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.