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St. Paul nonprofit aims to open ‘Little Africa Plaza’ in Mitchell-Hamline neighborhood by fall 2024

By fall of next year, a nonprofit aims to turn a dilapidated building on North Snelling Avenue in St. Paul into a cultural hub celebrating African culture.

ST PAUL, Minn. — A century-old, vacant building on Snelling Avenue is the center of an ambitious remodel spearheaded by a St. Paul nonprofit. 

Dr. Gene Gelgelu, president and CEO of African Economic Development Solutions (AEDS) hopes the future “Little Africa Plaza” will allow his nonprofit to expand their financial coaching and economic assistance to African immigrants while also providing a one-stop shop with a grocery and retail space for immigrant communities.

“At a time where we have imminent threat of displacement or gentrification…we want to preserve small businesses using this building,” Dr. Gelgelu said.

The building, located at 678 Snelling Ave. N, was built in 1925 and served as a former Thunderbird dealership, according to real estate development consultant Lisa Kugler. Kugler, along with Gelgelu, is teaming up with contractors and architecture firm Cushing Terrel to envision what all the site can entail: expanded office space for AEDS, retail space, a grocery store and an African museum where African artists can sell their work.

“The space, because it’s so open, lent itself to a number of different uses. They needed a bigger office; the Mezzanine could be expanded to make office space," Kugler said. “There was enough space for the grocery, and we left the parking row because we needed to have some parking… some way for people to not climb over snow banks with their bags of groceries. The museum is something AEDS has always wanted to do.”

Gelgelu added, “We are going to use art as a catalyst for economic development strategy. I am really optimistic we can make this place rehabilitated and make as beautiful as possible by 2024.”

To fully renovate the 8,400-square-foot building, it will cost more than $4.4 million, Kugler says. While AEDS has purchased the building, they have not yet broken ground. Kugler says currently, she is making 17 applications for money, “from foundations, the city, the state, and federal money.”

Gelgelu says they hope to break ground this August, with a target completion date in fall of 2023.

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