Dan Coleman, a veteran real-estate developer-manager, acquired a building at Minneapolis' 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in 2019, drawn to the intersection's budding promise.
Coleman, who owns other residential and commercial properties in the Powderhorn neighborhood, lured the popular Dragon Wok restaurant from a smaller space on Nicollet Avenue.
Then, on May 25, 2020, George Floyd was killed by police near the intersection. A makeshift memorial was erected. The intersection was barricaded as visitors continue to pay respects and try to make sense of the killing.
Businesses near the intersection suffered. Dragon Wok closed.
"It was tough," said Coleman, who also lost other tenants in 2020. "You couldn't get services. Couldn't get garbage collection. [Dragon Wok's] Grubhub and Door Dash delivery drivers couldn't get in. The intersection was barricaded and occupied."
Traffic now flows slowly through a makeshift roundabout. Coleman has a new tenant for the Dragon Wok space. Chef Imani Jackson plans to open her catering and takeout business, Chopped & Served, in June.
"We are in a rush," said Jackson, who had operated for several years in a smaller space in another neighborhood. She's excited to invest in the 38th and Chicago neighborhood.
Former Dragon Wok owner Rashad West did not return calls for comment.
Coleman, a Minneapolis native, is a hands-on property owner, including snowplow detail. The University of Minnesota grad invested much of his earnings from playing professional basketball in Europe in the South Side.
In 2021, Coleman wanted to buy two other buildings, at 3728 and 3740 Chicago, with P.J. Hill, a financial adviser who grew up and still lives in south Minneapolis and co-chaired Mayor Jacob Frey's 2021-22 Inclusive Economic Recovery task force.
The deal fell through. Among considerations the bank listed were the low number of tenants, most of whom left during the pandemic and after the riots.
Owner Mike Stebnitz bought the buildings in 2009. He lived in one of them as he slowly renovated and leased the structures over the years and became a neighborhood booster, recruiting other businesses to locate there.
He now lives in Florida most of the time and still has the buildings on the market. However, while in 2019 he offered them for $2.2 million, the price is now $1.65 million.
As business struggled during the 2020 pandemic and aftermath of Floyd's death, Stebnitz lost tenants. Wing Young Hui, the internationally known Twin Cities street-scene photographer, was the sole survivor.
Stebnitz is more optimistic these days. Late last year, he hired real estate agent and property manager Richelle Taylor, who filled his buildings with six commercial tenants and four renters.
"I had all my eggs in one investment, including my retirement," Stebnitz said. "I'm back in the black in terms of cash flow. It's also hard because I threw myself into that intersection. But I'm not losing $10,000 a month anymore. I survived."
Now he's ready to pass on the buildings to someone else and hopes more people of color will own businesses in the area.
Taylor, a veteran Black real estate agent, shares his philosophy that there needs to be more than a memorial at 38th and Chicago.
"There is a long history of memorializing the Black struggle in this country, and that does not create Black dollars," she said. "It creates a memorial to Black struggle. I'd like to see [more] opportunity for Black businesses to succeed and thrive."
One of the tenants she signed is Billy Jones, a Black entrepreneur who grew up in the neighborhood.
"I've seen the opportunity and I'm optimistic," said Jones, who owns ForReal Coffeehouse at 3740 Chicago Av. as well as a software firm. "We can make sure [Floyd] didn't die in vain."
Coleman too wants to see a fitting memorial for Floyd and a thriving business hub that builds wealth for diverse owners and enables the neighborhood to prosper. He said he's encouraged that the neighborhood is experiencing less criminal activity and that some new businesses are opening.
"The issues surrounding George Floyd Square, a memorial and traffic, will be worked through. And there are a lot of strong opinions," he said. "The neighborhood, I believe, has kind of a new start.''