Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. popularized the notion of the “Beloved Community” as a global vision in which all people can share in the wealth of the Earth: Poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.
In Thank You for Being Late, journalist, author and Minnesotan Thomas Friedman notes “every day going forward we’re going to be asked to dance in the hurricane, set off by the accelerations in the Market, Mother Nature, and Moore’s law.” He goes on: “There is only one way to thrive now, and it’s by finding and creating your own eye. The closest political analogue for the eye of a hurricane that I can think of is a healthy community. When people feel ‘protected, respected and connected’ in a healthy community, it generates enormous trust. When trust is in the room, people are much more adaptable, think long-term, [are] more inclined to collaborate and experiment [and are] open to new ideas and novel approaches.” [Editor’s note: This excerpt has been condensed and edited for brevity.]
These thoughts on community—both historical and more contemporary—lie at the heart of our vision for our company’s move to North Minneapolis (see “Digging In,”). At Thor Cos., we aim to deliver a smart approach for living in, working in and building healthy communities. We are committed to the mission of developing a beloved and healthy region, with our greatest impact in North Minneapolis and other targeted emerging communities. But we rely upon a broad range of cooperation.
Friedman also mentions the Itasca Project (of which I am a participant) in the New York Times as “Minnesota’s Establishment 2.0: more diverse than the nearly all-white and male establishment of old, to be sure, but every bit as powerful, and just as invisible when need be,” recognizing its consensus-oriented approach, personal commitments and exchanges and unique structure. Our $36 million headquarters and innovation center project in North Minneapolis is an example of the positive outcomes that grow from the Itasca Project, and a foundation for a replicable model. It includes the following participants in our emerging beloved and healthy community:
Minnesota is uniquely positioned for proactive private sector commitment, due to its large representation of Fortune 500 firms. In our project, Target Corp. stepped up as a master lessee, which helped both our credit underwriting for financing and programming with key nonprofits. Chairman and CEO Brian Cornell, SVP of properties Mark Schindele and EVP/chief corporate social responsibility officer Laysha Ward were visionary leaders who understood that their willingness to “lean in” could be catalytic.
Thor’s role as strategic visionary, dealmaker, on-the-ground developer, designer, builder and community organizer exemplifies the need for a passionate, persistent, community-oriented business focused on North Minneapolis to ensure the scalable resources of Fortune 500 firms are effectively converted into successful, long-lasting projects. At Thor, we also believe that ownership matters in terms of anchoring a community and owning the property to maximize choice, control and returns, while increasing community hope, pride and additional investment.
Regional and community-based banks, willing to be more flexible in underwriting and structure than some of the larger banks, will find new banking and investment opportunities in this emerging paradigm. In our deal, Anchor, Bremer and Western Bank stepped up with competitive proposals. Larger banks willing to find alternative solutions to their usually conservative underwriting still can participate in the emerging trend, as has U.S. Bank, which leveraged the prioritization of its new market tax credit allocation and purchasing power for our deal.
The government’s role at the city, county and state levels is critical to infrastructure, education, transportation and investment. Many in the private sector sometimes feel as though this group is too inefficient and uncompromising, but my experience with the Hennepin County leadership and staff, as well as leadership and staff of the City of Minneapolis, was proactive and solution-oriented.
Local Initiatives Support Corp., a national nonprofit financial institution that supports community development corporations in 31 urban areas including Minneapolis, is providing both mezzanine subordinated debt and other unconventional forms of equity capital to help us close the financing gap. In addition, the University of Minnesota has been a great partner in our deal, with an amicable shared-access and construction-use agreement.
Finally, there are the people who invest blood, sweat and tears in North Minneapolis every day, diligently working to advocate, challenge and support the things necessary to achieve success. In our deal, they included Stella Whitney-West of Northpoint Health & Wellness, Bill English from the Northside Jobs Creation Team, Alfred Babington-Johnson of the Stairstep Foundation, Tawanna Black of Northside Funders Group, Louis King of Summit Academy OIC, Sondra Samuels of NAZ, Chanda Smith Baker of Pillsbury United Communities and James Burroughs of the State of Minnesota, along with many others.
In the end, we can have this beloved and healthy community and region if everyone leans in just a bit further than normal—just as they did for our project.
Take care of yourself, and each other!
Ravi Norman (RNorman@ThorCon.net) is the CEO of Thor Cos., a holding company for development, design, construction and consulting businesses. He holds degrees in economics, business management and finance from the University of Minnesota.