Northside’s ‘economic engine’ is revving up

Thor Construction/LSE Architects

The Penn Avenue-Plymouth Avenue quadrant is two-thirds close to completion. Thor Companies’ $36 million headquarters on the southeast corner of Plymouth and Penn recently had a “topping off” ceremony, Vice-President of Development and Investment D’Angelos Svenkeson told the MSR last week.

The 92,000-square-foot retail and office complex and a 620-stall parking facility are in its final construction phase: Target Corporation, MEDA and Build Wealth Minnesota, which specializes in homebuyer loans and credit repair services, are among the anchor tenants. Hennepin County will lease the building’s fourth floor for office space, as well, Svenkeson noted.

The complex fills a corner that’s been vacant since the late 1980s. Directly across the street from Thor is the new Estes Funeral Chapel now under construction. After the two new structures are completed, the planned NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center expansion will begin.

Thor’s presence will help kick-start a new “economic engine” on the North Side, Svenkeson stressed. “This is a project being done by people of the community,” he said of Thor founder and Northside native, Richard Copeland’s vision. “We’ve spent about six years working to figure out where and how would be the best place to move from Fridley (Thor’s current location). As our mission and vision evolved, we wanted to put our money where our mouth was around economic and community development.

“As the company grew from just being a construction company to now Thor Companies…we wanted to be in the community and demonstrate that it can be done with private sector leadership,” Svenkeson continued.

Thor also will launch its new Multi-cultural Innovation Lab for Entrepreneurship (MILE). “Entrepreneurship is a greater tool in eliminating disparities in jobs. [It] brings together an industry that is focused on developing entrepreneurship and individual wealth and health in our community,” the vice president said.

City Councilmember Phillipe Cunningham speaking at C Line groundbreaking Metro Transit

Metro Transit’s new C Line rapid bus transit is scheduled to begin service in 2019 and will replace Route 19 connecting downtown Minneapolis and Brooklyn Center, running primarily on Penn Avenue and Olson Memorial Highway.

“We will start that work at Penn and Plymouth Avenue[s],” then move down to Penn and Lowry sometime in April or early May, Metro Transit C Line Community Outreach and Engagement Karyssa Jackson said last week in an MSR phone interview.

“I think folk are really excited about the C Line project itself,” Jackson said of the March 22 informational meeting at UROC. She and around 15 other Metro Transit, City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County officials provided an overview of the C Line project, its construction timeline and answered questions, which was attended by 75-80 residents, business people and others; an earlier information session was held Feb. 20 at NorthPoint.

“There is some anxiety around the project and the impact of the construction” on the area, Jackson pointed out. “There were a lot of questions around the detours that are going to happen during construction on Penn, and more specific questions on how that may impact their property. It went really well.”

“The investment by the county and Metro Transit into the C Line…is the backbone in how you create a long-term sustainable community,” Svenkeson contended. “We believe that mass transit is the driver for healthy communities” and not totally reliant on personal transportation, he pointed out.

D’Angelos Svenkeson Courtesy of Thor Construction

“A lot of people knew about C Line” but thought it was about installing new Route 19 bus shelters, Jackson continued. Also, some confused the project with a proposed light rail project that still hasn’t been approved. “This (C Line) project is fully committed. We got to clarify that point,” she said.

Jackson also noted that there will be some impact due to road construction along Penn Avenue, such as traffic detours from Penn to adjacent streets such as Queen, Russell, Sheridan and Logan Avenues “during certain stages of the project” and this will impact the residents as a result, she said.

After completion, “The benefit of this project” includes sidewalk replacement and improving pedestrian walkways along Penn Avenue, “and improving the bus service along that avenue,” Jackson notes.

“I have been working hard” to ensure that local residents, regular travelers in the area, business folk and others are regularly apprised of what’s happening with the C Line construction, Jackson surmised. “We will be launching the service in 2019. Most of the road construction work will be completed by the end of this year. We will still be doing some work on the (C Line) stations into the first part of 2019.”

Community members at C Line groundbreaking on March 20 Metro Transit

Metro Transit also has established a C Line “construction hotline” (612-567-4101) — “We will be doing a weekly construction bulletin that will go out on Fridays, and you can subscribe to that on,” she stated.

Svenkeson said that Thor’s new headquarters grand opening is planned for around the Fourth of July timeframe — “a key time for us to be talking about economic independence,” he pointed out. “Doing things like this [in North Minneapolis] shows it can be done in neighborhoods like Rondo and the east side of St. Paul, Frogtown and the west side, and South Minneapolis,” said the St. Paul native.

Finally, the renewal of the Penn-Plymouth corner comes after years of neglect. “We think it reinforces that we are assets in our community. We are changing vacant land… now we have economic engines in our community lifting itself up,” Svenkeson concluded. “It is going to be an exciting time.”


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