Marcus Ashworth doesn’t plan to break ground on the Center@Sixth project until spring, but has already sent two businesses through its incubator program.
Once completed, at 1714 Sixth Ave. The building above will house a non-profit organization that helps black and brown entrepreneurs build their businesses with the help of local professionals such as lawyers, accountants and planners.
He’s working with Nadia La Baker and Jumbo Africa Food to help test the concept, helping both launch booths at the Des Moines Downtown Farmers Market. Ashworth’s idea seems to be working, and both owners regularly sell their products every Saturday.
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“It was nice to see it work,” he said, adding, “It’s more fun than making money, making music, making whiskey.” In addition to developing Center @ Sixth, Ashworth is a hip-hop artist, the producer and founder of Media Fresh Records, and the creator of Ziad Rai Small-Batch Whiskey.
To get the businesses going, Center@Sixth partnered with Major Financial Group and EMC Insurance Co. to cover up-front costs for necessities like pop-up tents, cash registers, tables and signs — “all the things these businesses need to slide in and start making money,” Ashworth said. Market paid more than $1,000, said Aminata Makama, owner of Jumbo Africa Restaurant.
“It really helped me a lot since I started,” she says. “When I invest a lot in this business, I have to buy all these things.”
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Makama sells East African food, mainly from Tanzania. The main dish is coconut cream rice filled with chicken, beans and vegetables.
She’s not sure Iowans will embrace her food — especially at 7 a.m. — but the customer base she’s built as a caterer and around the holidays has grown tremendously since she started a month ago. She said the market was slow because of the Iowa State Fair last week, but she only had four rounds left until the market closed.
“I’m very blessed,” Makama said. “We have a lot of customers that we met at festivals, so I see them almost every Saturday. They are coming to pick up their lunch, their dinner.”
Ashworth says Nadia La Baker, who launched on the market a few weeks ago, is in a similar position. Owner Nadia Ahisou, a French-style home baker of croissants, baguettes and other pastries, has already been able to upgrade her equipment and is looking for a storefront, she said. Could not be reached for comment.
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Meanwhile, Ashworth is preparing to break ground on the 4-story, $10 million development in the spring. The first floor will include three anchor tenants – a yet-to-be-announced local coffee shop and restaurant, as well as a tasting room for Ashworth Ziad Rye, featuring new and popular products and guest pours from other black and brown whiskey producers. .
Between the anchors will be 1,000 square feet of retail space and two food stands for businesses that run through the enclosure. As businesses enter and leave the program, the products rotate, with the assumption that customers can leave any day and get something new.
“One day it’s mimosas and another day it’s samosas,” Ashworth said.
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The mezzanine will have classrooms for entrepreneurs to learn business skills and usable offices. Ultimately, the goal is to get business owners ready to set up on their own, whether it’s a storefront or partnering with another business. Ashworth said Hi-Ve promises to sell some successful products.
The building will have 32 apartments, 51 percent for tenants earning 80 percent or less.
Center @ Sixth recently received $1.8 million in tax increment financing from the Des Moines City Council. The council agreed to provide a $300,000 match if the Iowa Economic Development Authority selects Ashworth for a grant from the state’s new nonprofit innovation fund. Governor Kim Reynolds created a $20 million fund this year through the federal America’s Savings Plan Act to help nonprofits expand to meet Iowa’s needs.
Ashworth said he personally invited Reynolds to apply. Eligible expenses include expenses for construction, acquisition, site development, engineering and architectural services.
Center @ Sixth is also accepting donations through the Greater Des Moines Community Foundation.
The construction should take about 14 months.
Kim Norvell covers development and growth for the record. Contact her at email@example.com or 515-284-8259. Follow her on Twitter. @KimNorvellDMR.