All Things Considered

New small business program looks to revitalize Selby Avenue corridor in Rondo neighborhood

exterior of a building
The building on Selby Avenue where the small businesses participating in the incubator program will be.
Courtesy of Rondo Community Land Trust

A new effort is underway to support emerging entrepreneurs in the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul. It’s part of a larger vision to revitalize the historic economic and cultural center that was fractured by the construction of I-94 decades ago.

Mikeya Griffin is the executive director of the Rondo Community Land Trust. She shared more details into the program on All Things Considered.

The following is a transcription of the audio heard using the player above, lightly edited for clarity.

Who is this program for and what will it provide?

Griffin: Well, as you know, Rondo Community Land Trust is committed to preserving affordability in our commercial space here in the Rondo community and helping to do all we can to reestablish it.

It is really meant for small entrepreneurs who are looking at potentially going into brick-and-mortar. The benefits are affordable space. Spaces right now on Selby Avenue, Grand Avenue are skyrocketing. They’re anywhere from $25 or $40 a square foot.

We rent out our affordable square feet at $7 a square foot and we would be able to provide on-time and in-time business technical assistance — from marketing, to development of and upgrading of someone’s website, how do we transition from e-commerce to brick-and-mortar and doing a combination of both.

What makes it possible to subsidize the commercial rents down to $7 a square foot because that’s way below market value, right?

Yes. In 2017, Rondo Community Land Trust became the first community land trust in the state of Minnesota to actually apply the community land trust model to commercial development, which means that we raise funds and take other grants and subsidies so that we can continue to provide a low-cost space for entrepreneurs who want to be in a lease situation.

So, it’s a permanently affordable commercial space that we are offering here in the community.

Tell me about the need for something like this in Rondo and what challenges entrepreneurs are facing in this area that this will help meet?

The reason why this is all necessary and needed is after [the construction of] I-94, urban renewal, all of those things — Selby Avenue was really where a lot of historic businesses that were taken through I-94 came.

Now, those businesses are also disappearing or gone. And so, our role really is can we re-seed those businesses that were so integral and part of the community back in this space here on Selby Avenue.

And that is a need on top of the other ongoing needs for small minority businesses that have traditionally not had access to capital. That’s really one of the reasons why we started applying the land trust model to commercial spaces because minority business owners were being priced out of the market.

Look down the line five, maybe ten years. What does success look like here if this program is doing everything you hope it does?

Well, success for us looks like a thriving corridor here on Selby Avenue that does what our mission is: celebrating cultural diversity and communities, creating economic wealth and opportunities for minority business owners and homeowners, and serves the Rondo community as a whole.

So, we’re really excited that we would be able to start this small incubator project that would allow a catalyst that really reestablishes Rondo as a cultural destination.

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