A prospective new redevelopment team has emerged for a long-vacant former northeast Minneapolis restaurant landmark, and maybe not too surprisingly given the remarkable popularity of craft beer, it's coming from some big players in the brew pub industry.
The former Little Jack's Steakhouse at 201 Lowry Av. NE. — which with its basement banquet hall had served as a cultural hub for "Nordeasters" for decades — has been the subject of a turnaround effort since the city took possession of the tax-forfeited property last year.
The dilapidated 112-year-old building and its adjacent surface parking lot have been split into two separate phases. While the parking lot has had a firm plan in place from Clare Housing as the new home for 36 units of permanent affordable housing for those with HIV/AIDS, nothing similar had emerged for building itself.
But now a preliminary deal has been struck to sell the ex-Little Jack's to the team of Paul Dzubnar, chief executive of Green Mill Restaurants and the Crooked Pint Ale House, and Pete Rifakes, the founder of the Town Hall Brewery, Town Hall Tap and Town Hall Lanes in Minneapolis.
The duo have been working with city officials, First Ward Council Member Kevin Reich and the current ownership group led by DJR Architecture principal Dean Dovolis to acquire the property as the site for Town Hall's newest brew pub concept, which is tentatively being described as a modern-day tribute to the "tied house" Northeast pubs of yesteryear.
Tied houses, until they were effectively banned with the coming of Prohibition in 1919, were saloons directly owned by brewers that served only that company's beer, and each brewer had a distinctive architectural style. In Minneapolis, the phenomenon of tied houses was more prominent than in almost any other American city — by 1908, it had nearly 400 tied houses, including 131 run by Northeast's Minneapolis Brewing Co., maker of Grain Belt beer.
Dzubnar's D&D Holdings Group has a purchase agreement on the property with 201 Lowry Development LLC, a group that includes DJR, Java Properties, Master Properties and David Nelson Properties. The deal is contingent on the city reassigning the redevelopment interest to them from the former group and granting the new team a one-year deadline extension for getting a project underway.
Previous estimates have put the renovation costs at about $1 million.
"I have been working on trying to acquire that property for a couple of years, and when I heard [Dovolis' group] had put it up for sale, we came to terms on it," Dzubnar said. "I had pitched the idea to my partner Pete. We do a lot of research when we think about Town Hall locations … each one of them is different."
Dzubnar said the tied house theme is still preliminary, and could be changed if some elements of the plan don't work out. But generally, it is meant to be a tribute to the neighborhood's heritage and also a fit into its new cultural identity as a magnet for locally owned establishments catering to the craft brewing crowd.
Another part of the new plans is to revive the Little Jack's history as a banquet hall, which could fit in well with Dzubnar's experience in catering within his Green Mill restaurants and as owner of Sterling Catering & Events.
Council member Reich said he was especially excited by that prospect as he helped in the effort to find a viable redeveloper for Little Jack's.
"Its history in the community was not only as a place to grab a brew, but as a place for a lot of family events and celebrations, and the current business model will accommodate that part of it too," Reich said. "I got all of my athletic trophies awarded to me in that banquet hall at Little Jack's.
"I think of all the Little League kids that might go down there and have their banquets with their parents. This idea has all the elements of a good, transit-oriented redevelopment."
Don Jacobson is a freelance writer in St. Paul and former editor of the Minnesota Real Estate Journal.