Estes move advances Plymouth-Penn redevelopment

 Fourth in a Series

This is the latest story in a series called “Transforming the North Side.”

Group photo (l-r) Frederic Estes; Camille Boone-Harrison; Estes owner April Estes; Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges; Estes CEO Tracy Wesley; Lisa Estes; Miquel McMoore; Pastor Brian Herron, Zion Baptist Church (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

The second phase of the Penn-Plymouth redevelopment is now underway. As the Thor Construction office building is only a few months away from completion, construction on the Estes Funeral Chapel across the street will soon begin.

“Next year this time, we should be having the grand opening of our new funeral home,” said Estes CEO Tracy Wesley to the MSR following the September 14 groundbreaking ceremony. The new building, scheduled for completion in the fall of 2018, will include two chapels and a reflection garden on the current NorthPoint parking lot site.

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“It’s a vision and a dream come true.”

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Estes, founded by the late Richard Estes in 1962, was the only Black-owned funeral home in Minneapolis. The company has been at its current location on the corner of Penn and Plymouth since 1987, after they moved from their first location on Humboldt and Plymouth Avenues.

When plans were introduced for a proposed light rail expansion along Penn Avenue, it looked like the longtime Northside funeral home might have to move again, but where? Wesley admitted he was not as concerned about the Estes chapel staying at its current location as he was about the light rail being built on Penn and what would happen to the chapel in its new location after the move.

State Senator Bobby Joe Champion told the MSR that, as far as he knew, there never were any light rail plans that didn’t include Estes: “Estes is a great institution.”

Once the new funeral chapel is constructed, the third and final redevelopment phase of the NorthPoint expansion is expected to begin sometime in 2018. “We have been working on this for 13 years,” said NorthPoint CEO Stella Whitney-West to the MSR. “It’s a vision and a dream come true. [There] was a lot of hard work, a lot of faith, a lot of partnerships, and the faith of the community. Without that, we would not be where we are.”

James Burroughs, the state’s diversity officer, told the groundbreaking audience of nearly 60 persons that in a few years, four to five Black executives will occupy the four corners of Penn and Plymouth: Wesley, Whitney-West, Thor Chairman Richard Copeland and Thor CEO Ravi Norman, and Minneapolis Urban League President Steven Belton.

Burroughs later told the MSR that having “a Black-owned business staying in this community, and other Black-owned business [Thor] come to the community, and a Black-led [organization] such as NorthPoint stay in the community” presents a positive picture both within and outside North Minneapolis.

(l-r) Estes CEO Tracy Wesley and owner April Estes (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

“The renovation of the Northside is finally happening,” Copeland proudly pointed out. “I’ve played a part in it.”

Thor’s Ravi Norman said Estes “is a shining example of investing in North Minneapolis. We are just trying to follow suit.” He said that his company’s new headquarters is looking at an early February 2018 opening.

“It’s a landmark for the community,” said Juan Jackson, NorthPoint’s board chair, also at the groundbreaking.

Regarding the Northside development, Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin told the MSR, “We can be good partners to put something together for today and tomorrow.” He added that the County firmly wants to invest in the Penn-Plymouth redevelopment project, which would include NorthPoint, “to bring life to this corner once and for all.”

Champion said the North Side should be a destination, not a pass-through. “I don’t want people passing through North Minneapolis going someplace else.”

Anthony Taylor, who works at nearby Wirth Park, and Lenora Ware, who has lived in North Minneapolis for over 40 years, were riding their bikes and briefly stopped at the ceremony. Taylor told the MSR that the Penn-Plymouth redevelopment helps the area’s overall quality of life by creating jobs and bike lanes that will encourage residents to stay in the community.

Ware said the Northside community is a family. “We are all connected to our community.”

Although the Penn and Plymouth redevelopment is well underway, some say similar redevelopment efforts are needed in other parts of the North Side, such as West Broadway.

Copeland said he would like to see more for-profit businesses in the area. State Senator Jeff Hayden, also present, agreed: “I think commerce is the way to go, not only for the community, but all over the region.”

Estes’ commitment to the Northside was cemented last week. “It is not just for Estes Funeral Chapel, but for our community,” said Wesley. “We’re here for the community…to serve and to give back to the people in the community.”

 

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

 

Related stories:

Transforming the North Side — 44 groups collaborate to bring in living-wage jobs

NorthPoint expansion could be a ‘game changer’

Penn/Plymouth projects raise hopes for Northside rebirth