The National Norwegian Center in America broke ground Friday on a $19.5 million expansion that will be home to the Norwegian Consulate, Concordia Language Villages, the Norwegian-American Chamber of Commerce and several other organizations.
The Innovation and Culture Center will include a 270-seat event-and-dining center and business accelerator for Nordic companies seeking to expand. It will be part of Norway House's National Norwegian Center in America, which is recognized by the governments of Minnesota and Norway.
"These are exciting times," said Christina Carleton, who became executive director of Norway House in 2017 after nearly a decade at the Norwegian Consulate. "This will complete our campus. We are a welcoming place for all ages and backgrounds."
Carleton and her allies acquired and refurbished an abandoned building at 913 E. Franklin Av. for about $3 million in 2014 and 2015.
The thriving Norway House is a small cultural and business center that includes cooking and language classes, the Edvard Grieg music festival, Minnesota Peace Initiative and the inimitable Gingerbread Wonderland winter exhibit that attracts 15,000. It also contains a small café along with several small businesses, including a couple with African roots.
"But we can only seat 70 for events," Carleton said of Norway House. "Seating 270 will be great for groups that otherwise would meet at a suburban golf club or a church basement."
The striking innovation center, which will connect to Norway House, was seeded several years ago with a $5 million state challenge grant, at the urging of former Gov. Al Quie and the late Vice President Walter Mondale. Those funds will soon be tripled by hundreds of individuals, business and foundations, including the government of Norway.
The soon-to-be Norwegian-American block includes the century-old Mindekirken Church, one of the few Lutheran churches in America where services are still in Norwegian. It's a Norway-American focus, but open to all. In fact, local collaborations will grow as a result of the expansion in space and programs, Carleton said.
The Norwegian-American crew acquired and demolished an old laundromat and a couple of duplexes to make way for the new building. The neighbors on E. Franklin include Project for Pride in Living (PPL) and American Indian Housing Corp., the developer-manager of hundreds of units of affordable housing in the Phillips neighborhood in Minneapolis over the last 25 years.
A few blocks to the east, the Minneapolis American Indian Center (MAIC) plans to break ground next spring on a $24 million renovation and expansion of its nearly 50-year-old, leaky-roofed structure at Bloomington Avenue and E. Franklin. The Indian Center's executive director, Mary LaGarde, has raised about half the funds for that project.
Carleton and LaGarde are admirers and cheerleaders for each others' projects because it means more business for everybody.
Architect Sam Olbekson, a South Minneapolis native and member of the White Earth Nation, has designed a striking building that will help LaGarde further the transition of MAIC from a social services center to a centerpiece of Indian foods, art, health programs, exhibitions and more. The redesign will renovate and expand MAIC to showcase Two Rivers Gallery, Woodland Crafts Gift Shop and Gatherings restaurant.
Olbekson also designed a recently completed affordable housing complexat Cedar and E. Franklin avenues for 110 working-poor families and individuals. The $41.7 million Mino-bimaadiziwin, which in Ojibwe means "the good life," was developed by the Red Lake Band of Chippewa with financing from myriad partners.
Across an Indian-themed plaza, just east of the MAIC, developers from the American Indian Community Development Corp. and Project for Pride in Living (PPL) in 2015 delivered Anishinabe II, an $11.4 million, 77-unit housing complex, including a refresh of the original 45-unit Anishinabe project. The campus sits on a now-beautiful and landscaped setting that 30 years ago was a wasteland littered with trash.
"A vibrant Native American presence matters, including the nearby Many Rivers Native American housing," said PPL Chief Executive Paul Williams, whose housing-and-job training center are in two refurbished buildings on E. Franklin. "The residents support local businesses."
East Franklin was known in the 1970s and '80s as a blighted area between Interstate 35W and Hiawatha Avenue, full of gin joints, shuttered small businesses and street crime. It has undergone a slow transformation in recent years, helped along with an Aldi grocery that now anchors a renovated shopping center.
The corner of 11th and E. Franklin was a top police-call corner in the 1980s. The former Mr. Arthur's Bar became a floral shop and is now a branch of Chase Bank. PPL renovated two abandoned buildings and turned them into its headquarters and a job-training center.
The first Norwegian immigrants arrived in Minneapolis 160 years ago. American Indians have been here for centuries. It's great to see Norwegian-American and Indian-led organizations working with government and other stakeholders to help build back a rebounding E. Franklin.