With his first Northside development now open, Devean George is proud to be part of the positive things going on in on the area. The Commons, located on the corner of Penn Avenue North and Golden Valley Road, is a 45-unit, mixed-use apartment building that also has an after-school program.
George, a city native, grew up not far from the location and later became an NBA first-round draft pick. He played 11 seasons, including as a member of three Los Angeles Lakers championship clubs. During his pro years he became convinced that his community service interests could be put to good use in his hometown, perhaps even more needed than his skills on the basketball court.
“North Minneapolis needs this,” said George, after visiting a community center in Dallas that was designed to serve multiple needs. As a result, he contacted several former teammates and classmates, saying, “‘I can do this in my hometown.’ That’s when I came up with a plan.”
Since he retired as a pro ballplayer in 2010, George has invested in North Minneapolis as well as other parts of the city and St. Paul. “I don’t take no” for an answer, he said.
“The basketball discipline and dedication made it happen. I would get up at six in the morning, go [to] practice…train, it became a habit. I’m just doing this [now] in business.”
The almost $12 million Commons is just the first phase of George’s plan. He hopes to break ground with phase two sometime next year with a sister building across the street. But he anticipates approaching that phase in a way that makes it easier than the first.
“The difficulties came from every direction,” said George. “This is a difficult process just to build these buildings. I tell people the cost of construction is the cost of construction no matter where you go. It’s concrete, floors and windows. It costs the same amount when you build it right here or build it [somewhere else].”
However, when it comes to North Minneapolis, such processes seemingly can be even more costly, and not just when it comes to dollars and cents. “I got some pushback at first from the neighborhood association,” said George. Their concerns centered on the belief that a housing development would lead to more crime at the intersection that has a reputation for such behavior.
“Now that we have the building up, we gave people the chance to come in — the same people. The naysayers now love it, because all the things they thought would happen haven’t happened.” Currently, the Commons is 100 percent full and has a waiting list.
“We got 47 families. There’s a high demand for it,” said George.
The building has secure underground parking for the residents, secure entrances, a large fitness room, and community service spaces. A NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center satellite office is being proposed there. A food co-op is scheduled to move in soon, and Avenue Eatery announced they will open a second location there next year.
“They [the residents] like the security of the building. They feel safe. We can give them a good environment,” said George, adding that he is probably most proud of the outreach program for community youth located there as well. The after-school center has around 20 kids ranging in age from seven to 16.
“We feed them when they come in at 2:30 [pm],” said George. “We also feed them dinner. The little kids go home, and the big kids come and get homework help.”
The Commons’ affordable housing project, if located in an upscale part of the city, most certainly would bring George and his investors more in rental income, but as he pointed out, you can’t charge the same rate on the North Side.
“There’s no reason why North Minneapolis should not look like this,” said George as we walked through the Commons’ first floor area. He said the space is filling up fast, but “Right now I am being very selective” on who is moving in.
“We have some troubled times in North Minneapolis.” Devean George is working to help change things there. “I keep plugging away.”
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.