Africa Development Center purchases North Country building

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Cedar-Riverside—After sitting vacant for more than a year following the closing of North Country Co-op, the doors were once again open at 1927 S. Fifth St. on March 19, when the African Development Center (ADC) held an open house to celebrate its purchase, earlier that month, of the former co-op site.

Guests mingled among tables set with white linen, most stopping to congratulate ADC Executive Director Hussein Samatar, who took time to personally show floor plans for the coming renovation.

On the east wall of the main space, two charcoal drawings of President Barack Obama, by Oluwambe Amodu, hung beneath the word “PRODUCE” painted near the ceiling — a remaining sign of the city’s first co-op, which closed in November 2007, after years of financial troubles. That wall, just inside the main entrance, will form part of an art gallery in the new space, which will include ADC’s offices, a conference room, childrens’ space, a coffee shop and deli and more.

The interior, Samatar explained, will be separated into two distinct sections: the coffee shop, a large classroom and the gallery in the front (north part) of the building, with ADC’s offices behind. The existing wall that was the back of the former co-op’s sales floor will be taken out, and ADC plans to finish the basement. The theme, said Samatar, would include “color, fabric and funkiness. We’re going to be a very colorful building,” he said.

The move from its offices at 1608 Riverside Ave. will allow ADC to expand physically in proportion to the growth in the organization’s work. A timeline of ADC’s accomplishments charts its evolution from a one-man operation to its current status. “We started lending in 2005 with $25,000,” said Samatar of the community development center aimed at providing services, business and homeownership training, financing and more to African immigrants in Minnesota. “We’re at $2.5 million now,” he said.

Samatar envisions the site as a signature building for the West Bank community, with the coffee shop and deli open to everyone in Cedar-Riverside. He highlighted the planned 50-person conference room and nearby play room with childcare for visitors with children.
Samatar hopes to move to the building after the $1.5 million first phase of the renovation is complete in September. Financing for phase one comes through a loan from the Sunrise Consortium (which is made up of Franklin, University and Park Midway banks), new markets tax credits allocated by Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation in Detroit Lakes, as well as a $350,000 from the city in the form of a 2 percent loan ($150,000) and Great Streets gap financing ($200,000).

The funding is based, said Samatar, on “the strength of [ADC’s] own balance sheet.” The larger goal is to raise a total of $6 million to purchase the land and the second, adjacent building — on the east side of the old co-op — to further expand. Donations through an ongoing capital campaign will help reach the goal.

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