How Neighbors Turned Unused Buildings into a Thriving Community Hub

After years of brewing at home, Evan Sallee and his partners at Fair State Brewing, Minnesota's first consumer-owned beer cooperative, were finally ready to open a taproom in Minneapolis. They needed a spot that could accommodate brewing, with a storefront that invited people in off the street. That combination was hard to find until they looked at a space on Central Avenue in the city's Northeast neighborhood.

At first they thought it wouldn't work. The wooden floors wouldn't support heavy equipment, and the back rooms were sorely in need of repair. In their experience, problems like these were deal breakers. But here, the landlords had prioritized renting to local entrepreneurs and would pay for the necessary renovations — in part, because they wanted to drink there themselves.

"Our entire goal in creating it was to make it a central hub for community to get together," Sallee said.

The building wasn't held by absentee landlords or faraway developers, but by around 200 local people who owned the property collectively. They're part of the Northeast Investment Cooperative (NEIC), a first-of-its-kind co-op in the United States that pools members' money to invest in commercial real estate. They share profits, decision-making, and the community rewards of having, among other things, locally owned shops they want in their neighborhood.

Around the country, property values have soared with a renewed interest in urban living — a trend that’s created lucrative new markets for developers. As lease costs rise, local businesses are often shuttered and deep-rooted residents displaced. The resulting turnover has changed the character of many neighborhoods.

The friends who founded NEIC didn't want that to happen in Northeast. Though they were initially concerned about their neighborhood's vacant and underused buildings, they also knew that larger developers would follow close behind the growing residential interest in the area. If local control of property could help support independent businesses, they wondered, perhaps there was a way to own it together.

A longtime destination for working-class immigrants, Northeast is still dotted with Eastern Orthodox churches and the large husks of grain elevators that once drove the city’s industry. Many people who grew up here still live here. "There was a lot more sense of place," Recovery Bike Shop owner Seth Stattmiller said, comparing it to the neighborhood where his previous shop was located. "People are here for their lives."

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