After years of hoping for a grocery store in their city, residents in Robbinsdale are buzzing about proposed plans for their very own new market.
But it would come at the cost of one of their most historic buildings: the Terrace Theatre, which many residents have rallied to save in recent years.
Preliminary plans submitted to the city last week would demolish the 1950s-era theater and part of the Terrace Mall to build a 91,500-square-foot grocery store yet to be named. The news has split the community.
“We’re obviously very disappointed,” said David Leonhardt, a resident trying to save the theater. “It’s an important landmark that deserves a second chance. We’re going to fight this.”
Other residents, on the other hand, have been looking forward to a new grocery store in Robbinsdale since Rainbow Foods shut down there in 2013. Some had even pursued plans to start a co-op.
“People were excited for a potential for a grocery store,” City Council Member Pat Backen said. “Situations like this are always tough decisions.”
Robbinsdale has seen its business sector revitalized in the last few years, with a new brewery and a string of popular restaurants such as the highly acclaimed Travail Kitchen & Amusements. Now, city leaders say, a grocery store would fill a bustling 10-acre area off 36th Avenue and West Broadway, and could anchor future development.
“There’s a lot of passion and emotion involved in this,” Mayor Regan Murphy said. “We don’t have big development like this often in Robbinsdale.”
City leaders said there’s still a long process ahead with more details to be filled in, such as which store would occupy the space. The development application has been submitted by St. Louis Park-based Inland Development Partners, which didn’t return messages for comment.
An open house to discuss the plans will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. July 13 at the Metro Transit building, 4145 Hubbard Av. N., and a public hearing will be held July 21 before the Planning Commission.
Included in the redevelopment proposal are a 4,500-square-foot convenience store and coffee shop, with gas pumps and a drive-through, which would be built on a parking lot next door owned by North Memorial Medical Center.
City Manager Marcia Glick said developers told the city that the theater and mall are in poor condition, with standing water and asbestos tiles. They got an $82,000 state grant this week to clean it up if the application gets approved.
“We’re anxious to see the development discussion go forward,” she said.
Only the north side of the divided mall would be redeveloped; much of that north section, including the old Rainbow store, remains empty. The Terrace itself has been shuttered since 1999.
Preservationists like Leonhardt dispute the need for a grocery store, pointing to six stores within four miles of Robbinsdale City Hall. But Murphy said there’s still a need for a local store accessible by biking or walking.
“It’s left a big hole; people want another grocery store,” Murphy said. “It’s not exciting, the prospect of tearing down the Terrace Theatre, but it’s certainly exciting to have a proposal like this.”
In 2004, there was talk of turning the Terrace into offices, but plans didn’t materialize. Last year, residents renewed efforts to preserve and reopen it, collecting 2,200 signatures on a petition. City officials have said renovations could run as high as $10 million.
The 1,300-seat theater, done by accomplished local theater architects Liebenberg and Kaplan, is considered a masterpiece of midcentury design and is marking its 65th anniversary this year. The State Historic Preservation Office has called it “one of the most distinctive buildings in Robbinsdale.”
A preservationist group, Save the Historic Terrace Theatre, has completed the “determination of eligibility” process for the theater to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Leonhardt, who is the group’s board chairman, said that they will continue the work to get listed on the register, which could take four to five months. Even then, there’s no guarantee the building would be preserved.
Leonhardt, who met his wife while working at the theater, is hopeful the developer will find a way to build the grocery store without tearing the theater down.
“It’s a key piece of Robbinsdale history,” he said. “I find it hard to believe that it’s such in a state of disrepair that it can’t be saved.”