The business and cultural backers behind “Norway House” in 2015 are planning a $10 million-plus expansion on a once-dilapidated block on the near South Side into what essentially will be the campus of the “National Norwegian Center in America,” including an adjacent Norwegian-Lutheran church.
The Norwegians, neighborhood “immigrant” entrepreneurs and workers of a century ago, are more than doubling down on a return to the old neighborhood. And the storefronts along E. Franklin Avenue in the Phillips neighborhood today include Latinos and East Africans.
Small business owner Jon Pederson, chairman of the board of Norway House, is joined by partners such as Scandinavian food-and-gifts retailer Julie Ingebretsen; former Tennant Co. CEO Janet Dolan, former Gov. Al Quie, banker Ole Koppang and other supporters. They plan to break ground in 2020 on a $10 million-plus event center and banquet hall that will replace a vacant laundromat and a few abandoned houses adjacent to Norway House.
‘A lot of appeal in the world’
“I view this as a startup business and I’m excited for what this is and what it will bring to Franklin Avenue and our community,” said Christina Carleton, Norway House’s executive director and a Norwegian immigrant.
Her late father, Thor Johansen, was a Norwegian diplomat. “The Nordic countries have a lot of appeal in the world. They are attractive, lead in environmental sustainability, global education and peacemaking,” Carleton noted. “A high standard of living. We are showcasing that in this place. And the Norwegian center will help engage the next generation of Norwegian Americans and others.”
And Minnesota boasts more citizens of Norwegian heritage than any state or country other than Norway, a nation of fewer than 6 million people.
Carleton, 35, educated at the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State University, Mankato, joined Norway House last year after working on business-and-cultural affairs for the Norwegian consulate’s office for a decade.
Pederson, 68, owner of Ruffridge-Johnson Equipment Co. in southeast Minneapolis, jump-started the Norwegian center village when he took over the board several years ago. He and others raised nearly $3 million to buy an old building and convert it to Norway House in 2015.
They chose rebounding East Franklin Avenue, a couple blocks east of Chicago Avenue, because it was once the center of Minneapolis Scandinavian life and an economical place to build. It is now home to more businesses owned by first-generation Africans and Latinos, with whom Norway House collaborates.
On the other side of the block sits Mindekirken, the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church, featuring the only scheduled Sunday services spoken in Norwegian in the United States.
Norway House, 913 E. Franklin, is a 12,000-square-foot renovation, that includes office space for Norwegian-American organizations; Concordia Language Villages, including its park program for Minneapolis inner-city kids; an exhibition space, and several businesses, including one owned by an Ethiopian-American.
Ingebretsen, whose Norwegian immigrant grandfather founded the south Minneapolis Scandinavian gifts-and-food shop more than 90 years ago, has operated a second store at Norway House since 2015, which features a kaffebar (coffee bar) with indoor and outdoor seating and a “gave butikk,” gift shop.
‘Big on exporting peace and culture’
Carleton, who married a farm kid from Blue Earth County who owns a Twin Cities engineering firm, Pederson and Quie successfully lobbied the 2017 Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton for $5 million in bond proceeds that can be used for the planned expansion, if it is matched by at least $5 million in private contributions.
Pederson, a Minnesota native, served a Vietnam tour in the Marines after high school, graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead, and met his Moroccan-born wife in Paris in 1976 while he was studying in Germany. He is a peace warrior who has volunteered over the years on Minnesota-Norway projects, the Boy Scouts and Concordia Language Villages.
Dolan, an attorney and businesswoman, retired from Tennant more than a decade ago, to focus on writing, and peace and environmental issues. She long has coordinated her work with Norway House, home to the Minnesota Peace Initiative and the Edvard Grieg Society.
“Norway is big on exporting peace and culture,” Carleton noted.
Nearby Augsburg University, which has German and Norwegian Lutheran roots, also will be a partner in the expanded education center and banquet hall.
Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.