First it was Snyders. Then Borders. Then Escape Ultra Lounge. GameWorks has tried to sublease some of its space but came up short. Then July 18, the latest and most high-profile tenant took flight, Bellanotte restaurant.
Yes, businesses are running from Block E faster than LaToya Jackson is running to book publishers with the title "My Brother Michael."
The floundering state of downtown Minneapolis' seven-year-old shopping mall is no surprise, at least not to those of us who doubted the idea of trying to woo suburbanites into the city by building a mall with everything they can get closer to home.
Pointing out all that's lame about Block Empty is like picking on the kid in class with his underwear on inside out. It's too easy. Instead, I thought I'd throw out ideas on how to salvage the place. It's there. It's paid for (the city's $39 million share, anyway). Let's make the most of it.
To strike up a little inspiration, I hung out in the mall last Monday night before the Dead Weather's sold-out concert across the street at First Avenue. I bet no more than five clubgoers crossed 7th Street that night. Applebee's had a measly five patrons (and definitely not the same five from the club). Even the Hard Rock Cafe was deader than half the musicians on its walls.
Not one to easily give up on my steadfast journalistic pursuits, though, I went to the only Block E business that had any life in it. Yes, Hooters.
Honest to God (and my wife), I've never had the pleasure of dining at a Hooters. Man, what a trip. My virginal experience taught me three things about the place: The food's not bad; women actually do dine there, and I don't care if you're a half-blind nun or a man who likes Beyoncé for her music, your eyes are going to be pulled toward those fluorescent-orange shorts at some point in your meal no matter how hard you try to look away.
That gave me my first of 10 ideas on how to salvage Block E:
1. Make it entirely a Hooters-themed mall. I didn't dig the place that much, but clearly lots of people do. Like the waitresses, Block E should make the most of its assets.
2. Turn the empty spaces into Graves 601 mega-suites. How disgusted were the operators of one of Minneapolis' swankiest hotels when a Hooters and Applebee's opened next door? Make it up to them with Bellanotte's old 10,000-square-foot space. It'd be the kind of killer pad that could bring NBA players back to Block E (although no current Wolves players could afford it).
3. Two words (and one ampersand): Crate & Barrel. All those basement-less condo dwellers who swarmed downtown for about 15 minutes a couple years ago are learning they need more contraptions for stockpiling their junk.
4. How about not leaving our downtown streets looking like Third World countries all summer long? I swear it takes our city road crews longer to finish one measly block than it took me to finish watching "Lost" on TiVo this year. ("Dammit, will you guys kill Jacob already?!") Then they always seem to cut into the same stretch of street a year later, as if they're working for the Sisyphus Road Co.
5. Retool downtown's image. I never really understood why so many people think downtown is as dangerous as Mogadishu. It's really not that scary, folks. Heck, they've even closed the Chevy's restaurant by Block E. (Is there anything more frightening than bad faux-Mexican food?)
6. Move Lee's Liquor Lounge there. Lee's owner Louie Sirian recently complained to sports columnist Patrick Reusse about the fact that Target Field will open next season within Carlos Gomez bat-throwing distance of his historic bar. Apparently he dreads the idea of 40,000 people walking past his place 80 nights out of the year. He'd have no such worries at Block E. I'd pay admission just to see the Lee's stuffed bobcat hanging next to Mrs. Fields Cookies.
7. Follow the lead of Shout House piano bar. Add a karaoke bar, a "Girls Gone Wild" flashing booth and a dance club that plays only "Can't Touch This." I'm just trying to think of all the annoying things 21-year-olds like to do when they get really, really sloshed, which includes singing along to Billy Joel's "Piano Man."
8. The Gay 90s, Phase II. Minneapolis's ginormous gay club is already laid out like a mall, and has outlasted virtually every other downtown business its size. It's time to reward it with a bigger home. A few tweaks, and I bet it could even incorporate the Hooters.
9. Pawlenty 2012 headquarters. Just trying to think of an ideological balance to No. 8.
10. Swap places with the Shubert Theater. I'm not suggesting hoisting the Shubert onto dollies again and moving it back a quarter-mile to Block E, where the theater was located until 1999. They should cram what's left of Block E's tenants into the still-vacant Shubert -- i.e., Hooters up in the balcony, Coldstone Creamery backstage, etc. Then let all the arts organizations waiting to use the Shubert these past 10 years have free rein of the mall.
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