Kenya McKnight-Ahad: “She’s smart; she is engaged. … She is a fighter.

Editor’s Note: Finance & Commerce publishes the first in a series of five articles that will introduce readers to Blacks, Indigenous people and people of color [BIPOC] developers and their projects in and around the Twin Cities. Each story highlights some of the opportunities and challenges faced by developers of color.

FOver several years, Kenya McKnight-Ahad has rented space in an older building on Broadway Avenue, north Minneapolis, for her business, which helps women of color achieve financial security.

Although the space meets her needs, she moved in March 2020. McKnight-Ahad says she could no longer cover the rent expenses of her two suites in the early 1900s building at 1200 W. Broadway Ave .

Now, with a little help from the City of Minneapolis and other financial resources, and a lot of courage and determination, she is back as the owner of the building.

Additionally, McKnight-Ahad is planning a $ 5 million to $ 7 million renovation and expansion that will double the 18,000 square feet of existing rental space in the building, which sits at the heart of its former playground on the north side.

“I was brought up on the north side so being in the hall is really important,” McKnight-Ahad said in an interview. “I like having a building that I own in the hallway.”

McKnight-Ahad closed the purchase of a $ 1.2 million building in June. Sources like Sunrise Bank, Fortis Capital and the City of Minneapolis helped finance the acquisition. Sunrise has also committed $ 4 million in new market tax credits for the improvement project, which is expected to begin in fall 2022, she says.

Overlooking the corner of Broadway and Fremont avenues, the building is already full of tenants. Breaking Bread Cafe and Appetite for Change, a nonprofit group of community builders and food producers, are among the users.

McKnight-Ahad hopes existing tenants will stay for the long term, but future expansion and renovation will create additional space for workshops, conferences and wellness-focused businesses owned by black women, she says. .

McKnight-Ahad is no stranger to business and community activism.

In his previous concerts, McKnight-Ahad worked as a community organizer, economic development policy maker and transportation planner. She became a full-time entrepreneur about seven years ago with the launch of the Black Women’s Wealth Alliance.

The Black Women’s Wealth Alliance provides wealth education, technical support services, training and professional development assistance to black women business owners, entrepreneurs and professionals.

McKnight-Ahad was selected in 2019 as the Finance & Commerce Top Women in Finance winner. In a 2019 profile, Finance & Commerce noted that her organization has provided financial education to over 2,500 black women, established and advised over 100 black women-owned businesses, and invested over $ 100,000 in grants to women. black “entrepreneurs, students and professionals.”

Kenya McKnight-Ahad, CEO of the Black Women’s Wealth Alliance, recently acquired this building at 1200 W. Broadway in Minneapolis and is planning a major expansion. The building will provide space for businesses owned by black women and other tenants. (Photo: CoStar)

While the Black Women’s Wealth Alliance is well established, the acquisition of the West Broadway building represents her first venture in development and commercial real estate, requiring a new set of skills and experience.

Lack of access to capital is a major barrier to entry for emerging developers. But just understanding the process, connecting with the right people, and just knowing where to start are also big challenges, she says.

“You have to come to the table with everything already figured out and arranged before someone helps you,” she said. “It is a problem.”

Emerging color developers “have no shortage of ideas and aspirations to improve our community,” she said. “We lack the information, the connections and the know-how to really get started and move forward. “

Some resources are coming together. Among the organizations trying to help color developers navigate the system is LISC Twin Cities, a St. Paul-based nonprofit dedicated to revitalizing underserved communities.

In May, LISC selected a dozen color developers, including McKnight-Ahad, to participate in a new initiative, which offers financial and technical assistance to help them cross the finish line with their residential, commercial or home projects. mixed use in the Twin Cities.

Peter McLaughlin, executive director of LISC Twin Cities, said McKnight-Ahad embodies the spirit of what LISC is trying to accomplish with the program.

“She’s smart, she’s engaged, she’s in the community and she has a project where she controls the site,” McLaughlin said. “And she’s a fighter. She has all these parts.

“We chose her because we thought she would be a success, not only with this one project, but that she would be a long-time player, a long-time participant in the development community,” McLaughlin added. .

For her part, McKnight-Ahad says she hopes to be part of the long-term change on the north side of Minneapolis. Sizeable challenges remain for the diverse community, which has long suffered from inequity and a lack of investment.

But McKnight-Ahad doesn’t have to look far to see signs of progress. In the same block as its Broadway Avenue building are the 180,000 square foot Minneapolis Public Schools. Headquarter establishment.

The $ 36 million MPS building, which opened in 2012, has been one of the biggest investments in North Minneapolis in a long time.

“There’s a lot going on on the north side now,” she said. “We are part of a great wave of investment and development led by people who grew up in the community, who are engaged in the community, who are already established leaders in the community. I’m happy to be a part of this wave right now.

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Nonprofit chooses 12 color developers for new initiative

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