‘A problem address’

Editor’s Note: This in the first in a two-part series looking at the overlapping University and Prospect Park communities. Wednesday’s story will examine the changing culture of the Prospect Park neighborhood.

by Mike Mullen

On her second night in University Village Apartments, Nicole Norton and a roommate stayed in to watch a movie. Around 10:30 p.m. that night, Sept. 3, they heard a popping sound coming from somewhere outside their window.

NortonâÄôs roommate, Allison Becker , joked that it sounded like someone had just been shot. Norton replied that it was probably fireworks.

Then they heard another noise, this one high-pitched and unmistakable. The siren grew louder and louder until finally it was right outside NortonâÄôs window. She saw flashing lights turn the corner across the street. Then another police car came, and another, and another. The sight was new to Norton, but not to the neighborhood.

The Profile Event Center, which sits across from University Village and near several other University housing buildings, has a decade-long history of criminal incidents, several of them violent. In Prospect Park, crime is nearly nonexistent. But the Profile CenterâÄôs rap sheet includes connections to at least a dozen assaults, two stabbings and an attempted drive-by shooting since 1999.

While Norton and Becker, both University of Minnesota students, watched lights and heard sirens, 17-year-old Christopher Ellis was bleeding to death in the parking lot of the Profile Center. Ellis, who had been kicked out of a teen dance at the Profile Center only minutes earlier, ran back to the parking lot looking for help after being shot. He was pronounced dead a minute before 11:00 p.m.

Owner Patrick Kellis has made recent changes to his business model he hopes will put an end to both the Profile CenterâÄôs tainted reputation and his nights of lying awake in bed.

âÄúWe have evolved,âÄù Kellis said. âÄúWhat we were in 1996 is not who we are today. We always had good intentions, but itâÄôs taken a while to evolve.âÄù

A model business

In 2000, police were called to the Profile Center more than two dozen times to respond to serious incidents, including five fights, four assaults, a person with a gun, a fight with a weapon and a stabbing. The stabbing came in September of that year. A police report on the incident notes that the building had âÄúbeen a problem address for a while.âÄù

On that night, police used Mace to chase off a crowd that they believe included gang members. Nearly seven years later, a 20-year-old man was stabbed on the Profile Center floor at a June 2007 concert of Somali singer Hassan Samatar. Police ejected a crowd of 400 people from the building and chased away concert-goers by firing 33 pepper projectiles. Kellis decided then that he could no longer host concerts.

In October of 2008, the Profile Center hosted a party for the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. Kenya Ollie , a University student, walked to her car and into a heated altercation. Ollie, an innocent bystander, was shot once in the stomach by a stray bullet, but escaped serious injury. Kellis decided that he wanted to stop holding public events and switch completely to weddings and corporate functions. After the homicide outside the Profile Center last month, Minneapolis Police Inspector Bryan Schafer wanted answers.

Commander of the cityâÄôs second precinct since June, Schafer had heard of the Profile CenterâÄôs reputation. He asked a policeman who often does security at the building what was happening there. Schafer was offered a tour of the building, and what he found stunned him. Schafer saw an elegant dining hall and nearly 100 recording studios. He saw the buildingâÄôs 48-camera security system. He heard that Tom Brokaw had spoken at an event in the building, and Carrie Underwood had rehearsed there.

âÄúI was pleasantly surprised to see the caliber of business that they run,âÄù Schafer said.

Schafer said he reported back to the front office of the police department that he was impressed by Kellis as a businessman and a community member. Schafer said he now feels a bit sorry for Kellis, noting that the buildingâÄôs reputation may be undeserved.

âÄúThe kind of business theyâÄôre running would be a model that I would like to see in every business, bar or nightclub,âÄù Schafer said.

What is actually there

Anish Das lived a few hundred feet from the Profile Center for two years and hardly knew it. Das, a spring 2008 graduate from the University, has been at the nearby U Flats apartment complex since September 2006. About a year ago, he discovered the Casablanca Restaurant , which adjoins the Profile CenterâÄôs main banquet hall. He began eating there, and soon his brother Arijit Das, now 29, joined him. Anish Das said the brothers began to talk to Patrick Kellis about the restaurant, and offer suggestions, some of which he liked.

Earlier this year, the brothers approached Kellis about taking on a partnership role with the restaurant. Kellis drew up a contract with the brothers working toward owning the restaurant after four years. The Das brothers signed the contract on Sept. 3, just hours before Christopher Ellis was fatally shot. Kellis said that after the shooting, he would have allowed the Das brothers to abandon their new contract.

Rather than backing out of the deal, the brothers offered to help in any way that they could. When they came in the day after the shooting, Anish and Arijit DasâÄô unwavering enthusiasm for their new venture helped prop up an owner who needed moral support.

âÄúI had no energy that day,âÄù Kellis said. âÄúI was just kind of in shock, and very depressed about what had happened, so it was very helpful to have that energy.âÄù

The brothers said that most people do not even notice their restaurant is there, tucked into the buildingâÄôs corner. But they know that they are not only battling outward appearance, but outward perception.

âÄúMost peopleâÄôs first exposure to this place is hearsay, so itâÄôs rumor versus actuality, which is kind of unfair to us,âÄù Arijit Das said. âÄúBut it gives us the opportunity to prove to them what is actually here.âÄù

What is actually there is a tiled floor and white linen tablecloths. The menu, designed by Somali-born, French-trained chef Keyse Ibrahim , includes a meat-on-the-bone goat dish which steams out of the kitchen five minutes after it is ordered. The brothers have tried to make ties with the Prospect Park community. They catered the neighborhood associationâÄôs last meeting free of charge, and have offered discounts to the nearby church and elementary school.

âÄúWe felt we could improve everything that weâÄôre a part of,âÄù Anish Das said. âÄúAs well as have what weâÄôre a part of improve who we are.âÄù

âÄòIt doesnâÄôt get worse than thatâÄô

On the last night that he ran a public club, someone died in Patrick KellisâÄô parking lot. Kellis had allowed the Synergy Dance Club to hold dozens of events over the previous year, but had decided that Sept. 3 would be their last night. He left about ten minutes before Christopher Ellis was shot and killed. Kellis woke up the next morning to a message from his building manager that a boy had died.

Even now, KellisâÄô voice drops to a near whisper when he tries to talk about it.

âÄúI mean, a 17-year-old,âÄù Kellis said, shaking his head. âÄúIt doesnâÄôt get worse than that.âÄù

Kellis knows that his business has a reputation, and admits that in his early years as an owner, the building attracted a crowd that would no longer be welcome. With the most recent shooting, which Schafer calls âÄúa fluke,âÄù Kellis knows that his businessâÄô reputation will not soon be forgotten. But thatâÄôs not his first concern.

âÄúObviously, with a 17-year-old dying, what happens to my business is really inconsequential,âÄù Kellis said.

Kellis estimates that 750,000 people have come through the Profile Center in the 13 years he has owned it. Last weekend, he hosted two Somali weddings, a Quinceañera âÄî the Mexican sweet 16 party âÄî and a corporate event. Kellis said he could imagine himself running a club that hosted concerts and private parties rather than high-end weddings and business conferences.

But he said the atmosphere of a nightclub, with egos and hormones, is more likely to lead to violence than the atmosphere at a wedding, with grandparents and children.

Kellis said that one of the reasons he stopped practicing law was its adversarial nature, with one side pitted against the other. Parties and events, he thought, made everyone happy.

âÄúObviously the bottom line is you try to drive revenue, but itâÄôs not all about money for me,âÄù Kellis said. âÄúItâÄôs about feeling good about what I do. And then sleeping at night.âÄù