Formerly a Super America, a building sat deserted on Lowry Avenue N. for more than a decade.
Now Chris Webley, a north Minneapolis business owner and developer, is leading a stylish $1.3 million overhaul that will culminate this fall with Tap In, a restaurant focused on local cuisine and a cocktail bar. The building will also feature an artist incubator space and a solar garden.
Webley is the founder of New Rules Co-Working Space and other businesses in 2015 Lowry Av. N., just a block away from its latest development. A former textile engineer, he designs to meet the needs of tenants and neighbors who want to be part of an emerging, innovative North Side.
“We bring the community into the plan and the company,” said Webley, who also lives on the North Side. “We use empathy to solve problems. I am also a Six Sigma trained Textile Engineer working on efficiency and processes. I invest and attract patient capital.”
It is an auspicious time for the region. The W. Broadway and Lowry commercial corridors boast over $150 million in new and proposed multi-family housing, food, healthcare, arts and other businesses.
Webley, 35, prides himself on “development without displacement” in the city’s most diverse low-income neighborhood. New Rules companies seek to connect artists and small businesses with the space and resources needed to build “replicable ecosystems and solutions for sustainable economic growth for black and brown communities.”
“We built trust and relationships in the community,” said Webley, who was also a YMCA board member and youth mentor. “New Rules has been modeling new behavior since 2014.”
Webley staked New Rules with approximately $650,000 in proceeds he made from the sale of some buildings in Columbus, Ohio. He invested in his first inner-city projects while working in textiles at Victoria’s Secret headquarters.
Webley moved to Minneapolis in 2012 to join Target. He was fired along with hundreds of others in Minneapolis during a 2014 cut.
Webley, who is skilled with the gavel, also helped transform the New Rules headquarters and co-working space at the 2015 Lowry. It includes second floor apartments just a few blocks from the Tap In development. Webley has also redeveloped an affordable home and a few smaller lots.
The North Side’s redevelopment has been hampered by absentee owners who typically want a premium on undervalued properties. Most have resisted reinvestment since the 1960s, leading to the area being overlooked.
Kimberly Caprini, a north Minneapolis resident who works and lives with her family near Webley’s Lowry Avenue developments, called him a person of foresight and wisdom.
“He’s a breath of fresh air that attracts other community-minded young adults,” said Caprini, also a Minneapolis school board member. “It’s about how he and others can build community businesses and build wealth. … He is one of the pieces of the North Side redevelopment puzzle that is being methodically and intentionally put together.”
Jim Terrell, a 40-year-old banker and economic development executive with the city, has assembled a multimillion-dollar recovery fund to help local developers and owners — in addition to their own equity — to bridge the gaps between what banks consider low grant loans. Value properties and building costs and the cost to rejuvenate them.
From this fund, Webley received a $300,000 interest-free loan for the Tap-In project, which does not have to be repaid as long as he retains ownership of the property.
“The typical project on the Northside has a gap of 20 or 25 percent based on debt [a new owner] can service and leases they can charge,” Terrell said. You can’t charge the same rent. And Chris… wants the rents to be affordable.”
Terrell said the secondary home loan allows local owners-operators like Webley to charge lower rents to grassroots contractors seeking space for their businesses.
“Chris has a fire and an eagerness to get the job done,” Terrell said. “He also listens to advice. It’s also satisfying to work with a young person who knows a lot but knows that he doesn’t know everything.”
Webley is also part of the growing North Side Black Excellence movement through countless businesses from barbers to retail, construction and hospitality. They take an integrative approach to building a local economy around local dollars spent in regional businesses.
“We want to change the landscape and bring it back into the community,” Webley said. “For too long this has been an extraction economy.”
Webley and many other residents are working on a better-for-more community that deserves as much attention as the crime stories.