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The get-to-NoMi guy: Joel Breeggemann knows why you should move to North Minneapolis

When was the last time you visited North Minneapolis? What's that? You never have? Bummer for you, says neighborhood advocate Joel Breeggemann. You don't know what you're missing.

North Minneapolis boasts an extensive park system with scenic routes along the Mississippi River, several lively independent coffee shops, a pizza parlor, a thriving arts scene, and the redevelopment of West Broadway, a project that has brought new business and arts projects to an historically hardscrabble corridor. Two new bars have popped up, including hipster hot spot Donny Dirk's Zombie Den, and local bistro Victory 44 was named 2010's best neighborhood café by City Pages. North Minneapolis has twice been named the "Gayborhood of the Year" by Lavender magazine, and a wealth of stunning pre-World-War-II homes and a five-minute commute downtown make it a unique and increasingly sought-after urban locale.

Crime and livability issues still plague parts of the neighborhood, but residents tackle them with determination. Block clubs are strong, residents are on a first-name basis with the police and council members, and everyone knows and talks to their neighbors. Slowly and steadily, things are improving.

"North Minneapolis is like a small town in the big city," says Breeggemann, who has lived in the Camden neighborhood for nine years. "I lived in Uptown for 15 years and when I left I didn't know the names of any of my neighbors. Now I know all my neighbors. There is such as sense of community here--and there's a sense of pride to say you live in North Minneapolis because so many positive things are happening here."

Come Over, Look Around, Move In

And though Breeggemann is demure about it, he is one of the forces behind all those positive things. Several years ago, frustrated by North Minneapolis' lack of positive press, he launched the Get to NoMi campaign, an outreach effort to change public perception of the neighborhoods on the North Side.

NoMi, which is short for North Minneapolis, and the phrase "Get to NoMi," were both created by former NoMi resident Desiree Fernandez. Fernandez, who met Breeggemann at a neighborhood gathering, had a similar desire to change people's ideas about the neighborhood. "I was out gardening one day, enjoying my yard and my house and chatting with my neighbors, and I realized, 'Other people don't see the North Minneapolis I see,'" says the artist and graphic designer, who lived in the McKinley neighborhood. "I wanted to erase the stigma associated with the neighborhood and so I started thinking about how other neighborhoods had rebranded themselves. I thought: SoHo, WeHo, Dumbo—NoMi."

With Fernandez's permission, Breeggemann took the idea and ran. He started by marketing the neighborhood to the GLBT community at events like last weekend's Pride, and he reached out to media outlets with positive stories about the North Side. Then, when the house next to his went up for sale, he was inspired to target prospective homebuyers more specifically. "It was a little bit selfish," says Breeggemann. "I wondered how I could play a more active role in choosing my new neighbor." So he launched the NoMi Home Buyers Tour, a once-a-month tour of for-sale homes in North Minneapolis. To date, he's held just shy of 20 tours. The house next to his sold to a woman who saw it on one of the tours.

The first tours were "really high-touch," says Breeggemann, with realtors or volunteers waiting for visitors at each home and a social gathering either before or after the tour at one of the neighborhood watering holes. Today the tours are so popular--over 300 prospective buyers toured homes in February and close to 200 in April--that, by necessity, they're less highly orchestrated. But they're no less successful: they've resulted in the sale of at least two dozen homes. (The next tour is tentatively scheduled for July 18.)

NoMi Gets Known

"The home tours have brought so many people into the neighborhoods," says Stephanie Gruver, a realtor who has lived in the Camden neighborhood in NoMi for 14 years. "The tours have also gotten long-time residents out to meet the new folks and encourage them to become part of the community. And it's amazing to me how the media has responded. Print and television coverage has been very positive." Even the new nomenclature is catching on: mayor Rybak has used the phrase NoMi in speeches and the press has begun to use it in stories.

The success of the Home Buyers Tours coincided with the foreclosure crisis--and the timing couldn't have been more fortuitous for either the neighborhood or prospective buyers. Just as positive messages about the neighborhood started to circulate, home prices hit a new level affordability.

"NoMi has been a popular choice for first-time buyers in all age groups," continues Gruver. "I've never seen so many young professionals buying up here. They see the value in the housing stock, the potential for the business districts to grow, and the amazing park systems that tie into south Minneapolis and Northeast. One of my clients recently purchased a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath home, completely renovated, with granite counter tops, for less than $125,000. How can you beat that?"

Laine Bergeson is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor who lived on the North Side for six years and still cheers out loud when she sees a NoMi bumper sticker.

Photos, top to bottom:

Joel Breeggemann, NoMi advocate extraordinaire

Donny Dirk's Zombie Den, a brand-new hipster hot spot

This is the inner city? A  fisherman trolls near the shore in the North Mississippi Regional Park in NoMi.

Victory 44, City Pages' Best Neighborhood Cafe for 2010

North Side realtor and fan Stephanie Gruver

All photos by Bill Kelley


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