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$28 million renovation of Minneapolis Coliseum Building will open doors for diverse, small businesses

The historic building in the Longfellow neighborhood was nearly destroyed by fires in 2020, now a group of Black business owners are bringing it back - with purpose.

MINNEAPOLIS — The vibrant, multicultural murals that have wrapped the first floor of the vacant Coliseum Building for nearly three years, are now a sign of things to come inside.

A $28 million renovation is now underway inside the century-old building located at East Lake St. and 27th Ave S in the Longfellow neighborhood. By the time it opens next year, the Coliseum will offer a mix of retail and office space, with a focus on providing long-term affordability and support for primarily Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) business owners.

"It is like having something that you visualize and you hope for, become reality," said Janice Downing, owner of Commonsense Consulting@Work, and one of three Black business leaders who have invested in the future of the historic building.

Downing, and her friend, Alicia Belton, principal architect and founder of Urban Design Perspectives, spent years dreaming of owning a building where they could run their small businesses while supporting other BIPOC entrepreneurs. 

"We weren't exactly looking for an 85,000-square-foot building. We were actually looking for something much smaller, but it seemed to work with what we had envisioned," Belton said. 

Remarkably, the historic landmark withstood two separate fires during the civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Despite extensive damage, several tax credits, grants and other programs helped fund a redevelopment effort led by Redesign Inc., a locally owned, non-profit developer. 

As the redevelopment plans began, Redesign Inc. hired Belton as the architect. 

"The building has great bones," Belton said. "The first floor is retail and restaurant/event center and then the second and third floors are workplace."

Mama Safia's Kitchen, which was previously located in the building but was heavily damaged in the 2020 fires, has already announced plans to move back in. There will also be a new bar and restaurant concept operated by Chris Montana, founder of DuNord Social Spirits, who is also an investor in the project.

"Before there was even a floor plan to agree to, they signed up," said Taylor Smrikarova, director of property development at Redesign. "This is a building that is in the community, that is sizable - it takes up almost a whole block - and when you walk in, you're going to feel like you're welcome."

The building will feature a newly designed central lobby. Downing and Belton are also combining on a shared event and conference room space called SHAKE Community, which is focused on helping support BIPOC businesses in several ways.

"I've been a small business for a very long time and so being able to work in partnership with other small businesses," Belton said. "There's this synergy. We have the same needs in terms of marketing, accounting, and services; so we try to share those resources so that we are able to build capacity and support each other as we're growing."

It's a dream that they hope helps the Longfellow community move forward after a nightmare threatened to fracture it.

"I am really excited to rewrite that narrative," Downing said. "Excited to participate in that space in a different way."

"We get to be a part of the healing process," Belton said. "We get to be a part of reweaving this neighborhood and community back together again." 

"It feels like, if we can do it, then others can as well,"  Smrikarova said.

The Coliseum redevelopment is just getting underway and it's expected to be completed about this time next year. 

Smrikarova said most of the first and second-floor office spaces have tenants lined up already, but they are about to begin tours for spaces on the third floor and basement as well. 

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