MoZaic project aims to bring office workers back to Uptown

  • Article by: DON JACOBSON , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 19, 2012 - 10:55 PM

City leaders hope the Ackerberg Group's mixed-use building can attract small businesses and boost daytime foot traffic.

Stuart Ackerberg has a hip idea for Uptown: Get it down to business.

The Twin Cities developer has brought office space to the trendy Minneapolis neighborhood known for its bustling nightlife. Ackerberg added 65,000 square feet of premier space to the top three floors of the MoZaic, a mixed-use 10-story building at Lagoon and Hennepin Avenues.

"What we see as the missing link in Uptown for its long-term health and welfare is really daytime population," said Ackerberg, owner of the Ackerberg Group.

While Uptown has been at the center of the area's entertainment scene, it's empty from 9 to 5, a situation that has long concerned neighborhood and city leaders. They hope the Ackerberg Group can bring back small businesses and shops, which left in the late '80s when suburban malls became more popular with shoppers.

"We had attorneys' offices, dentists' offices, insurance offices -- but we don't have any of that anymore, not like we used to," said Minneapolis City Council Member Meg Tuthill. "We're looking for balance. I'm going to count on this being a big success, not only for Stuart and his investment, but because it will be a big plus for our community."

MoZaic could be the first shot at luring these businesses. After six years of planning, Ackerberg launched MoZaic's construction last fall with a 436-stall, above-ground parking garage. The structure received $11 million in federal Recovery Zone Facility bonds from Minneapolis.

Ackerberg conducted a tour of the $45 million project this month as he prepared for the coming of MoZaic's first office tenant, the John Ryan retail marketing agency, which occupies 12,500 square feet. The Bar Louie restaurant chain has also signed a lease. Its 7,300-square-foot space opens onto an art park plaza as well as a bridge over the Midtown Greenway.

Ackerberg said the office component was self-financed -- in general, lenders don't want to take a risk on new office construction, let alone do such a project in Uptown. But Ackerberg topped the building with offices instead of more easily financed apartments because that's what he said the community needs.

"There's a lot of housing that's in the process of being completed and should be completed in the next year, with 1,300 new units coming on line in the area," he said.

And the presence of office workers could help the neighborhood's retail mix. Traditional retailers haven't thrived in recent years because there is no daytime foot traffic, Ackerberg said.

"They're forced to have their sales period go from about 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., where if we had daytime population, they could expand their period to sell from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.," he said.

Wholeheartedly agreeing was Tuthill, who for decades ran Tuthill's Balloon Emporium at 25th Street and Hennepin Avenue S.

"As a former business owner there for 30 years, I can tell you I could have closed my store during the day and rolled my phones to a cellphone," she said. "There just wasn't business."

Don Jacobson is a St. Paul-based freelance writer. He can be reached at 651-501-4931.

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