THOR groundbreaking brings private investment to the area
In North Minneapolis, the corners of Penn and Plymouth Avenue for decades have not lived up to their thriving business history during and before the 1970s, businesses owned and/or operated primarily by African Americans. In a series called “Transforming the North Side,” MSR Staff Writer Charles Hallman has been speaking with leaders of organizations who are working to bring jobs and other resources to North Minneapolis, in some cases to this very intersection. This story continues that series.
Third in a series
The long-vacant corner of Penn and Plymouth Avenues North soon will be the new “anchor” of Northside’s revitalization. THOR Companies last week broke ground on the $36 million retail and office building located across the street from the Minneapolis Urban League, a building THOR built years ago.
The January 17 one-hour ceremony included Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith among many others inside an installed heated tent. When completed in spring 2018, the new 92,000-square feet of retail and office space will also include a 620-stall parking garage. Target Corporation has committed to lease office space in the new building.
“We have to engage in thriving communities,” said Target CEO Brian Cornell.
North Minneapolis “is an asset, not a liability,” boasted Thor Founder-Chairman Richard Copeland. “We are going to prove that.”
Copeland was born just blocks away from where his company — one of the country’s largest Black-owned businesses and the largest Black-owned company in Minnesota — will build its corporate headquarters. He told the MSR, “I’m just a humble small-town kid who made good. This is going to be a legacy project that will last over a hundred years in this community.”
“We have been working on this vision for 12 years,” recalled NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center CEO Stella Whitney-West. Her operation, along with Estes Funeral Home across the street, is part of the Northside expansion and development project on Penn and Plymouth that is expected to be fully completed by 2020.
“Number one, this is our community,” declared THOR CEO Ravi Norman in an MSR interview before last week’s ceremony. “Once we had the ability to make it happen, then we wanted to make it happen.”
The new THOR headquarters will join the Minnesota Urban League, which is located on the corner across the street, and the University of Minnesota Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC), which is located just down the street on Plymouth, all soon to be neighbors.
“The vision for this corner goes all the way back when we talked to Richard about building UROC,” recalled then-U of M vice president Robert Jones on the converted shopping mall in the late 1990s, now named for Jones. “One of the reasons Craig [Taylor, then the school’s business and community economic development director] and I pushed the University to have a physical presence here is because we felt strongly that that institution needed to be connected to this community,” said Jones, now the University of Illinois chancellor.
Taylor, now the City of Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) executive director, told the MSR, “I think this is a catalyst that will help stimulate more economic growth and development, and help stimulate revitalization for the inner city here.”
“It’s creating economic opportunity,” added THOR Senior Project Manager D’Angelos Svenkeson after the ceremonial shoveling of dirt. He called the project “a Class A space.”
“[We] control the dollars. When you are in the driver’s seat, you can do that,” D’Angelos declared.
“Estes, NorthPoint, Urban League and UROC are part of this eco-system,” continued Norman. “The biggest asset here is the people who live here, the people who want to work here. And we want to be part of it, helping to make that happen.”
Norman added that being intentional is “changing the narrative” that North Minneapolis is the place to build and expand. “The building will come to life as people use it,” he predicted. “We want it to be a destination place. We have to make sure it’s safe, comfortable, and we hope it will have a cool factor.”
“This is the largest private investment that I can remember” in the area, noted Metropolitan Council’s Gary Cunningham. “I grew up on Plymouth and Knox, and to see this community rise from the ashes is something to see. I know Ravi went through a lot to get this project done.”
“You could’ve located your headquarters anywhere, but you chose to come here” to North Minneapolis, said Gov. Dayton during his brief remarks. The project “will transform this area [and] bring economic opportunity and promise to the people of this area.”
“This is the beginning of a transition of this area,” continued Dayton. “Ravi and Richard deserve the credit for this. I’m just proud to be here and support what they are doing,” the governor told the MSR afterwards.
The THOR project brings to the Northside “an infusion of energy, excitement and opportunity at the intersection [of Penn and Plymouth]. I’m happy to have them as a neighbor,” said Minneapolis Urban League President Steven Belton. “It is a Black-owned [and] operated organization [that] has the vision and the commitment.”
“We’re excited about the groundbreaking,” said Svenkeson. “Now it’s time to move on to the grand opening.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.