Anissa Keyes in what was the ballroom of the building she now owns; she envisions an event and gathering space for business people in the community in this grand old space. Credit: Tom Crann | MPR News

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An old, dilapidated bank building on North 42nd Avenue and Lyndale Avenue North is getting a new life.

Anissa Keyes was initially looking for a space for her mental health business — but when she saw the Camden Park State Bank, her vision expanded. Now, she’s turning the space into an incubator for Black-owned businesses. She’s calling it the Northside Epicenter.

She gave MPR News host Tom Crann a tour of the space before its soft opening on July 11 and shared how she hopes it can transform the community.

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What is the history of the building?

The building was built in 1920—the first half of the building. So it’s three stories on the front end, that’s the closer end of 42nd and Lyndale. Then, about 10 years later, the second story, or two story building, was built next to it—that was in 1930.

I wasn’t born until 1976. At that time, I don’t think the bank was around anymore. It was more so a ballroom. There was a salon and barber shops.

Anissa Keyes owns the Camden Park State Bank building, a north Minneapolis landmark, and is working to restore the building as Northside Epicenter, an incubator for black-owned businesses. Credit: Tom Crann | MPR News

This was a building that had a lot of small business owners from the community that were already in it. I think over time somehow that just began to diminish and so it just became worn down and not necessarily being utilized in that fashion anymore.

There was a shooting in this building. And I understand your real estate people came to you and said you really want to go through with this. What was your reaction to that?

When I got under contract with the building, the building was actually 100 percent full, or maybe 95 percent—it was pretty close.

About three months into the purchase, we found out that there was a shooting and these windows on the side of the building were all completely shattered. Tenants, of course, began to be worried about business and began to leave.

My realtor came to me and said, “Hey, there’s a shooting. Somebody died. Do you want to do this?” And I was like, “Absolutely.”

What made you say that? A lot of people would back out and look for another place.

Similar to what I’ve done on 52nd and Bryant Avenue—this corner in north Minneapolis where I have the healing center space—[it’s] really about finding spaces in north Minneapolis to repurpose and to create an asset for the community. If we’re not finding ways to attack some of the violence and some of the disparities in the community, these things will continue to happen.

So I feel like when you have local investors that are here, that are committed—and I’m on 26th and Knox, so I’m right at the street—I can check on my space. I can ensure I know how important it is to my community.

So, for me to hear that, it was just motivation to say, we need to do something different. We need to find something different for the space.

What will that look like? What can you do that prevents the shooting from happening again or that revitalizes the block?

So this is what I’m excited about. I’m going to bring 15 Black-owned small businesses into the space. We’re going to have a Black business ecosystem.

Artist Pia Love puts the finishing touches on a mural as part of the renovations for H.E.A.L Minneapolis, a plant-based restaurant which will be an anchor tenant of the Northside Epicenter. Credit: Tom Crann | MPR News

I have been intentional about making sure that the businesses that are in here are services that are not provided locally in the community, or if they are, they’re not provided in abundance—things like a plant-based restaurant, a natural hair growth salon, a title company, a law clinic, a mental health clinic.

Bringing in, number one, the ability for small Black business owners to be able to create generational wealth for themselves and for their families, close that wealth gap. In addition to that, bringing in services and products in our community that are not already here.

Megan Burks is an associate producer for MPR News' All Things Considered program.

Tom Crann is the host of All Things Considered for MPR News. He's been in the host chair since 2005.