The abandoned Suburban Chrysler dealership on St. Paul's East Side, complete with several acres of cracked asphalt, will be transformed over the next year into a retail center that will include green space and 250 jobs.

Peter Remes, a St. Paul native and founder of development firm First & First, said Exchange Street, a general merchandise retailer of new and used goods, will be the anchor tenant in the refurbished 23,000-square-foot dealership building. Pawn America and Dairy Queen will join about 10 other tenants in the development, which eventually will include two smaller buildings planned for the site.

Remes, 52, paid $2.6 million for the site in 2011. Total acquisition and construction costs could top $10 million for the project, Suburban Town Square.

"We got a lot of asphalt for our dollar and [the sellers] threw in the weeds," he quipped. "We've worked hard to bring this project together ... and [are] extremely excited to make a lasting and positive impact by generating construction and retail jobs that will contribute to the evolution of this amazing neighborhood."

Architect Dean Dovolis, who collaborated with Remes on the recently completed Ice House Court/Vertical Endeavors, a $7 million retail-office-housing project at 26th Street and Nicollet Avenue, said the just-underway development on St. Paul's Suburban Avenue will include about 46,000 square feet of retail in the three buildings. A third of the property will be dedicated to trees, landscaping and artwork.

Dovolis, who has specialized in renewing old neighborhoods for 30 years, credited the local district volunteer council with helping develop plans that met residents' concerns and goals for the site and helped get the project through the planning process.

law firm merger

The 23-year-old law firm of Mansfield, Tanick & Cohen is shutting its doors after the economics of law shrank what was once a 20-attorney firm to half that size. Eight of the remaining 10 lawyers, including name partners Marshall Tanick and Earl Cohen, are taking their practices to the Edina offices of Hellmuth & Johnson. Seymour Mansfield is considering several options for his practice.

The Minneapolis firm lost four attorneys in the past year to other firms, a common practice these days that translates into the loss of clients who follow their lawyers to new firms.

"Looking at the economic picture led us to seek out a merger partner," said Cohen. "About a month ago we started talking to the Hellmuth firm and decided it was a good match. We each knew what we were looking for."

Hellmuth & Johnson has a focus on construction, real estate, finance and technology. The Mansfield, Tanick & Cohen attorneys bring expertise in employment and business law, real estate and intellectual property law.

"This brings us additional bench strength for our clients," said Blake Nelson, managing partner for Hellmuth & Johnson. He noted that the merger also brings a women's entrepreneurial practice to the mix. When the merger is complete Oct. 1, Hellmuth & Johnson will have 47 attorneys and 100-plus employees.



• No ribs in the Persian Gulf neighborhood yet. Famous Dave's, growing nicely since the recession, is backing away from a recent New York Times article that said the Minnetonka-based barbecue chain planned 30 or so restaurants in the Middle East and North Africa over several years.

"Famous Dave's is pleased with the attention we received in The Times story," the company said in a statement. "We agree there's a wonderful opportunity for international growth. ... However, we want to clarify that we have not established a timeline or detailed plans for regions such as the Middle East."

• A pilot program to reduce pollution is seeking Minneapolis businesses and nonprofits for free energy-efficiency audits. The city wants to cut energy bills and greenhouse gas emissions by a third by 2025. Minneapolis is working with the Retiree Environmental Technical Assistance Program, a group of retired engineers and other professionals. The group has performed more than 250 assessments since 2010, including recent studies of Anchor Fish & Chips, Hmong American Mutual Assistance Association, Morningstar Coffee and Stadium Village Church.

• Volunteers from travel-and-hospitality giant Carlson dedicated a Habitat for Humanity home built by the new owners and volunteers at 2210 Irving Av. N. Another crew from Carlson arrived a few days later to work on a house next door. Trudy Rautio, CEO of the travel-and-hospitality company that includes Radisson Hotels, said Carlson enjoys partnering with Habitat and the North Side. Meanwhile, thanks to a Wells Fargo grant, Tree Trust and Wells Fargo volunteers and neighbors are planting  trees in the Jordan and Folwell neighborhoods for homeowners who lost trees to the May 2011 tornado on the North Side.

• The Autism Society of Minnesota (AuSM) will host an Autism and Employment Forum on Oct. 9 at 3M Co. in Maplewood. The forum is designed to help employers to learn from other businesses about the benefits of hiring employees with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and how to support them. Educators, families and individuals with autism will learn how to turn autism into an asset through meaningful work. Featured speakers will include Randy Lewis, a Walgreens executive, and Dr. Stephen Shore, who writes about his challenge with ASD. Folks from Cargill, Best Buy, Medtronic and Target will discuss hiring and retaining those with ASD. More information: or call 651-647-1083.