Formerly a Super America, a building on Lowry Avenue N. sat abandoned for more than a decade.
Now, Chris Webley, a north Minneapolis business owner and developer, is leading a $1.3 million stylish overhaul that will result this fall with Tap In, a restaurant focusing on local food and a cocktail bar. The building will also feature an artist-incubator space and a solar garden.
Webley is the founder of the New Rules co-working space and other enterprises at 2015 Lowry Av. N., just down the block from his latest development. A one-time 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 enterprise,” said Webley, who also lives on the North Side. “We use empathy to problem-solve. I’m also a Six Sigma-trained textile engineer who works off efficiency and process. I invest and attract patient capital.”
It’s a promising time for the area. The W. Broadway and Lowry commercial corridors boast recent and planned multifamily housing, food, health, art and other enterprises worth over $150 million.
Webley, 35, prides himself on “development without displacement” in the most diverse, low-income quadrant of the city. New Rules enterprises seek to link artists and small businesses to the space and resources needed to grow “replicable ecosystems and solutions of sustainable economic growth for Black and brown communities.”
“We’ve established trust and relationships in the community,” said Webley, who has also been a YMCA board member and youth mentor. “New Rules, since 2014, is modeling new behavior.”
Webley staked New Rules with about $650,000 in proceeds he earned from the sale of a couple of buildings in Columbus, Ohio. He invested in his first inner-city projects while working in textiles at the headquarters of Victoria’s Secret.
Webley moved to Minneapolis to join Target in 2012. He was laid off with hundreds of others in Minneapolis during a 2014 retrenchment.
Webley, good with a hammer, also helped remodel the New Rules headquarters and co-working space at Lowry in 2015. It includes second-floor apartments, just a few blocks from the Tap In development. Webley also has redeveloped an affordable housing apartment building and a couple of smaller properties.
North Side redevelopment has been hamstrung by absentee owners who typically want a premium for undervalued properties. Most have been resistant to reinvest since the 1960s, resulting in 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, who attracts other community-driven young adults,” said Caprini, also a Minneapolis school board member. “He’s about how he and others can build community businesses and build wealth. … He’s one of the pieces of the North Side redevelopment puzzle that’s being put together methodically and intentionally.”
Jim Terrell, a 40-year banker and economic development manager with the city, has put together a multimillion-dollar redevelopment fund that helps local developer-owners — on top of their own equity — fill the gaps between what banks will lend for low- value properties and construction costs and the cost to rejuvenate them.
From this fund, Webley received a $300,000 no-interest loan for the Tap In project that will not need to be repaid as long as he retains ownership of the property.
“The typical project on the Northside has a 20 percent or 25 percent gap based on debt [a new owner] can service and rents they can charge,” Terrell said. “And it costs the same to rehab a building as it does in North Loop and downtown. You can’t charge the same rent. And Chris… wants rents to be affordable.”
Terrell said the secondary real estate loan allows local owner-operators such as Webley to charge lower rents to grassroots entrepreneurs who seek space for their enterprises.
“Chris has a fire and zeal to do the work,” Terrell said. “He also listens to counsel. It’s also gratifying to work with a young person who knows a lot but knows he doesn’t know it all.”
Webley is also part of the growing North Side “Black Excellence” movement through myriad enterprises from barbering to retail, construction and hospitality. They are inclusive in their approach to building a local economy around local dollars spent at area enterprises.
“We are intentional about changing the landscape and putting back into the community,” Webley said. “For too long this was an extraction economy.”
Webley and many other residents are working on a better-for-more community that deserves the spotlight as much as the crime stories.