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Growing up in the 700 block of Central Avenue in St. Paul, kitty-corner from historic Pilgrim Baptist Church, the echoes of the old Rondo neighborhood were never far from Tyrone Minor's ear. It wasn't memories of the buildings or businesses that were razed or relocated that drove him, Minor said. But the spirit of cooperation that was the hallmark of the traditional Black neighborhood.

It is that camaraderie, that banding together of Black- and people of color-owned businesses that Minor seeks to replicate at his new Mali Center, opening Saturday at 576 Front Av. Up to 18 businesses, from independent personal trainers to wellness coaches, mental health professionals and emerging entrepreneurs, will create what Minor hopes will be a force multiplier for all of them.

The former state track champion said he dreams of a business hub where community and cooperation lift all the building's businesses to prosperity.

"We'll have 10 personal trainers who work independently in the FIT Lab (Minor's longstanding fitness business) and another six to eight businesses that will have offices here," he said. "Then, we'll have individuals that just utilize what we call the ingenuity space. That's the space upstairs — room for workshops, seminars, board meetings, community events."

The completely revamped space, bright and bedecked in shades of purple — Minor's mom's favorite color — is meant to be comfortable, welcoming, he said. Renovated by Ryan Cos., the 5,304 square-foot building hosts a grand opening from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday. The building previously housed office and warehouse space. It's located near Dale Street.

Tyrone Minor prepared his Fit Lab gym for opening day at the Mali Center.
Tyrone Minor prepared his Fit Lab gym for opening day at the Mali Center.

Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

"We're honored to help Tyrone make the Mali Center a reality. It will certainly become a valuable fixture for the neighborhood," Ben Terry, Ryan's director of construction, said in a statement.

Several of the businesses focus on physical health and wellness as well as mental health, such as Dr. Sheila Sweeney and Kasim Abdur Razzaq.Razzaq was just named a Bush Foundation fellow.

Sweeney, an author whose book "Unapologetically Healing" was recently published, said the Mali Center is "a great opportunity to connect with like businesses."

For much of her career, Sweeney said, she has worked alone. She's excited to see how working collaboratively with other businesses might help her grow.

Moving into the Mali Center "gets me out of this silo, working with a group moving in the same direction," Sweeney said. "Post-pandemic, there is a greater value to collaboration. I think it builds community. We don't have to do it by ourselves."

Many of the business owners, like Minor, are graduates of St. Paul Central High School.

Erick Goodlow is chairman of the board for the Fairway Foundation, a non-profit formed more than 30 years ago to introduce golf to young people in the inner city. The foundation will have an office there, as well as a golf simulator that will be used by students in the winter.

"It will be our home base," Goodlow said.

He and Minor are lifelong friends, meeting in third grade. They have had countless conversations about Black wealth and creating greater financial independence within the Black community, he said. He is looking forward to the promise of the Mali Center to "be a part of an ecosystem that is diverse and culturally specific," Goodlow said. "It will also be an important example to show our youth those [models] of successful opportunities."

Minor, 53, has the lean and chiseled build of an athlete 20 years younger. After winning state championships in high school, he competed in college for Drake University and, later, the University of Minnesota. He has been an entrepreneur in the fitness industry for more than 20 years.

He sees the Mali Center, named for the renowned African empire from centuries ago, as a way for entrepreneurs to network for their professional and personal benefit. Not just financially, but physically and emotionally.

"Oftentimes when you're a [fitness or health] professional, you are primarily taking care of or investing in others. You neglect yourself,' Minor said. "And so, this is going to be a space where first and foremost, they can show up as their authentic selves."

A chance to improve their physical fitness will be right down the hall.

"Now they'll have access to the fitness facility. Right?"

Minor said he hears grumbling from those — usually outside Rondo — who say they're tired of repeatedly hearing about old Rondo and what was lost when Interstate 94 was built. His desire to recreate the old neighborhood's collaborative spirit isn't grinding an ax, he said, but continuing to try to heal.

"I think that if anyone grew up and knew their grandparents unjustly had property taken, their businesses disrupted and their community fractured, they would feel like that's an important part of my history that I never want to forget," he said. "But, also, I'm a person that doesn't let that deter me. And I would never use the past as a crutch for not doing well in the present or the future."

He added, "here we are creating our own community. We're investing in ourselves. We're doing exactly what other communities do. You would think that people would applaud this, right? Because we're coming together."

Tyrone Minor and Jamie Minor stand for a portrait at their new Mali Center.
Tyrone Minor and Jamie Minor stand for a portrait at their new Mali Center.

Jerry Holt, Star Tribune