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Continued: Is downtown Minneapolis retail going downhill?

  • Article by: JACKIE CROSBY and SUSAN FEYDER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: January 14, 2008 - 10:50 AM

The Mall of America, which opened in Bloomington in 1992, has also stolen some of downtown’s glamour. While it didn’t sound the death knell for downtown as some had feared, it did coincide with a steady exodus of national chains that has continued for 15 years.

The vacancy rate for retail space downtown last year was 19.4 percent, down slightly from 2006. But that follows a steady increase over several years, according to figures compiled by Bloomington-based United Properties. In 2000, the rate for downtown space was just 10.5 percent.

That contrasts with the Twin Cities overall, which had a retail vacancy rate of 6.9 percent last year, about the same as in 2001, United said.

Stefanie Meyer , United vice president for retail leasing, said the dip in downtown vacancies last year was caused by a sprinkling of new arrivals, including Len Druskin and Brooks Brothers, which left the IDS Center for the Mall of America in 1992 but opened a City Center store.

But those openings have only made up some of the ground lost in recent years from store closings at City Center, Gaviidae and Block E. The 2005 closing of the TJ Maxx store on the lower level of the IDS Center put 60,000 square feet of space on the market that still hasn’t been filled.

IDS general manager Jim Durda said there have been discussions with some retailers, including Best Buy, about leasing some of the former TJ Maxx store. He declined to comment on speculation that Ann Taylor will relocate from Gaviidae Common to the Williams-Sonoma space.

Retail downtown has evolved from destination shopping to stores that serve people who work and live downtown. Developments in the pipeline largely are geared to residents. An apartment and retail complex proposed for 222 Hennepin Av. will have a Whole Foods Market. Zenith, a condominium complex under construction near the new Guthrie Theater, has leased its first floor to a health clinic.

Some of the biggest progress downtown in recent years has come from new bars and restaurants, including Fogo de Chão and restaurants in and near the new Guthrie, and new hotels including the Chambers and Westin Minneapolis.

Nightlife usually plays a bigger role than stores for people moving downtown, said Barbara Brin, a Coldwell Banker Burnet agent who has sold condos in several downtown developments. “The average person is not going to care whether they live five blocks from a Crate & Barrel,” she said.

What could the future hold?

Dreams of Nordstrom dance in the heads of city leaders and property managers. Macy’s Guzzetta, who helped spark a renaissance in Washington, D.C., retail while CEO of Hecht’s, continues to woo the upscale retailer even as Nordstrom makes plans to open at Minnetonka’s Ridgedale Center.

City officials are trying to welcome stores, such as Best Buy, more used to building in the suburbs. “We’re saying, big box is welcome,” said Mike Christenson, the city’s economic development director. “What does it look like? Target. It’s got glass on the street, it’s attractive, the parking lot’s busy, the store’s busy.”

Ann Wimmer, who ran her own consulting firm and has worked at Gabberts and Nordstrom, came to the Downtown Council in November with the sole purpose of working with building owners and merchants to find the right stores for the right location.

Her first order of business: Keep momentum alive on Hennepin Avenue by creating an arts hub sprinkled with complementary retail. She’s not overly concerned by the recent departures. “Changes are natural in retail,” she said. “We don’t need to get overtaken with fear.” • • 612-673-1723

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