Mpls. property deal 'significant step' to reopening Nicollet Avenue

Redeveloping Nicollet and Lake
City of Minneapolis planners are taking the first steps to try to redevelop the area where a Kmart store, built in the 1970s, blocks off Nicollet Avenue at Lake Street.
Jon Collins | MPR News

Updated: 1:36 p.m. | Posted: 11:05 a.m.

Minneapolis leaders announced a property deal Thursday that could lead to the reopening of Nicollet Avenue, one of the city's most iconic streets, which was closed by the construction of a Kmart store off Lake Street in the 1970s.

City officials announced a deal to buy a lot that's currently home to a grocery store at the site and a separate option to purchase land beneath the Kmart store. Recommendations for both land deals will be considered in a city council meeting next week.

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A deal with Kmart itself, which has a lease at the building on site until 2053, is still necessary for the final redevelopment to go forward.

The Kmart store sits squat on the site next to a grocery store amidst a sea of parking. It's long been the goal of neighborhood groups and city officials to reopen the street, but previous efforts to negotiate with all the landowners and companies with interests on the site have faltered.

Minneapolis City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden said she's heard from constituents about reopening the street since taking office.

"This is a very significant step, but it's still a step," Glidden said. "This will do a good job of showing that the city is committed to the project, it hasn't just been talk."

The city deal with the grocery store site is worth $5.275 million, with an expected closing in December.

The tentative deal for the land beneath the Kmart store would be for $8 million eventually, with the possibility of putting $800,000 down to hold the property after a due diligence is completed.

The cost of the grocery store site and the $800,000 option to buy the land under Kmart will be covered in the short term by the city's development account, but will later be shifted to tax increment financing from the city's common project.

Both those property proposals will be considered in a city council committee on Tuesday.

But the reopening of Nicollet Avenue is still not a sure thing. The city needs to negotiate a deal with Kmart, who has a lease on the site until 2053.

Company officials have expressed an interest in a Kmart location as part of the redevelopment, said David Frank, transit development director for the city of Minneapolis.

"This is many years of planning and effort by mayors and city councils past, and especially the mayor and city council present," Frank said. "The patience that was needed to get to this point has been difficult to muster at times, and we should also say, this is an important step, but it's far from the last step."

The acquisition of the nearby property and land beneath Kmart takes away variables and makes talks with Kmart less complex, Frank said.

"This is a great place to stand to conduct those negotiations," Frank said.

A spokesperson for Kmart said the company still wants a presence at the site.

"We continue to appreciate public commitments by Mayor Hodges and Council Member Bender to ensuring Kmart remains a vibrant neighborhood asset, and hope city staff partner with us on a final plan," according to the company's statement.

The property deals are yet another step in a city plan approved last April that envisions a denser redevelopment of the area, including more mixed-use buildings, the reopening of Nicollet and establishing better ties to nearby transit infrastructure like the Midtown Greenway and a possible Nicollet Avenue streetcar line.

Many small stores once dotted the intersection of Nicollet Avenue and Lake Street. Those buildings were demolished as part of a city redevelopment plan in the 1970s that itself faltered. Kmart emerged as the primary option for the site, although the company insisted that the street be closed between 29th Street and Lake Street.

The Kmart store was built in 1977, according to city records. It faced community opposition almost from the start. A mural on the back of the store even depicts the neighborhood's losing battle to keep Nicollet Avenue open and the suburban-style development represented by Kmart out.