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Will gritty Glenwood Avenue be the next hot creative district? Forward-thinker Lili Hall says yes

When Lili Hall signed the papers to buy the crumbling space that housed a failing Asian grocery market on Glenwood Avenue, some of her employees at KNOCK Inc. were secretly skeptical. The marketing agency already had a sweet location in the quiet end of the Warehouse District, near clients and good lunch spots. Glenwood, meanwhile, had the Minneapolis impound lot, empty storefronts, vast swaths of concrete and a reputation for crime.

But Hall looked past the gritty edges and saw endless creative potential. Key amenities, such as the creative community at International Market Square, the Minneapolis Farmer's Market, and the Firm gym were right there, and downtown was just a couple minutes away.

"I lived in the Bryn Mawr neighborhood for 10 years, and then I moved to Golden Valley five years ago, and Glenwood was always my track into downtown," she says. "There's a certain point when you're coming in and all of a sudden the skyline appears before you, this great, gorgeous city. I'd been watching the street, studying the neighborhood, and I really came to feel that this is an up-and-coming area."

Hall had worked in the Warehouse District since 1993, and witnessed its dramatic transformation. "Suddenly it was beautiful and cool, and then rents went up and all the small businesses and artists and photographers moved out. How sad that was--these were the people who made this area. Now it's more commercial and the baseball stadium is there--which is amazing--but it's different. It's not a creative district anymore. It was time to find a new one."

What Does Lili Know That We Don't?

Some may have questioned Hall's prediction that Glenwood would be next, but her employees have enormous faith and trust in her. "I've known Lili a long time, and she's very rarely wrong about anything," says Tom Newton, VP of business development at KNOCK. "She's a trailblazer, a visionary, intuitive and really smart. She's never afraid to take risks and always does the right thing."

In 2001, Hall parlayed a successful career in retail marketing into her first entrepreneurial move, Knock. The award-winning design and branding agency helps clients such as 3M, Target, and the Children's Theatre Company define and communicate their identity in high-design print, interactive, and in-store presentations. In 2006 she spun out TREAT and COMPANY, a product design and development company that shares space with KNOCK. Partnering with Todd Paulson in KNOCK and Lisa Fredrickson in TREAT, she continued to grow her companies through the recession.

"I went into business with the philosophy that we were going to really come through for the client in every way, and that has carried us through. I was talking to some colleagues [with another company] about the economy, and they said, 'Oh, now we're really going to have to deliver,' and I said, 'We've always over-delivered.' Clients trust us and we make them look good all the time."

Hello, Glenwood

So the crew of 40-odd employees said goodbye to the Warehouse District, moved into the spectacularly remodeled new Glenwood offices, and haven't looked back. At a block-rocking open-house party on August 26, clients and colleagues mingled alongside Knock's new neighbors in what may someday be called the Glenwood District. Old neighbors came too, such as employees of Moose and Sadie's, a favorite KNOCK lunch spot.

"We've always supported the local businesses and our neighbors become our friends," said Newton. "We have already been warmly received by the Glenwood neighbors, and we want them to feel welcome here."

KNOCK's staff has become involved with the neighborhood on several levels, meeting its business neighbors, people in the residential neighborhood behind the offices, and investing time and resources into The Link, a neighborhood youth outreach program. They took an intern when a neighborhood organization approached them with high-school kids looking for experience.

Creighton King, a new-media designer who has been with KNOCK for eight years, said Hall's decision to build a beautiful building was a sign to the neighborhood that this was going to be a friendly and long-term neighbor. It's also been an investment in the happiness of the creative staff. "We get so much natural light in the building. The weather just comes into the space and it really energizes us," he says.

The floor-to-ceiling front windows frame a row of newly planted trees. Across the street is a closed supermarket building. Consider it prime real estate.

Amy Goetzman writes about the arts, culture, and people who are making Minnesota a better and more interesting place. She lives with her family in Minneapolis.

Photos, top to bottom:

Lili Hall, marketer and Glenwood Avenue booster

KNOCK's glossy, glassy new home, once a defunct Asian market (photo by Paul Crosby}

A sign of change on the avenue: Knock's "graffiti" wall.

VP of business development Tom Newton, Hall, and new-media designer Creighton King plot KNOCK's future.

Some of the 40-odd KNOCKsters at work in their new office.

The Street Werks 4-H group sell their home-grown veggies across the street from KNOCK's headquarters. Hall and her company have taken pains to reach out to Glenwood Avenue neighbors.

All photos, except where indicated, by Bill Kelley

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