They came not to praise Block E, but to condemn it. And did they ever.
With song, firecrackers and exploding balloons, Minneapolis officials threw a public demolition party to bid farewell to the notorious stretch of Hennepin Av. that is anchored by the Shinder's newspaper and book stores.
Although the wrecking ball won't strike until Wednesday or Thursday, the officials symbolically demolished the vacant sex-oriented bookstores, peep shows and the crime-ridden bars that turned a once-respectable block into one of the city's worst.
The demolition celebration, which cost between $4,000 and $5,000, is part of the city's effort to convert Block E into a glittering entertainment and retail project. It is spending $9.3 million to buy
and demolish all six of the one- to three-story buildings between 6th and 7th along Hennepin and the World Theater on 7th St.
"We're now removing this blight to bring life and people back to Hennepin Av.," said Jim Heltzer, executive director of the Minneapolis Community Development Agency and yesterday's master of ceremonies.
Under a dismal gray sky, several hundred people stood in the closed bus lane or on the sidewalk in front of City Center to watch the event. In addition to speeches and a promotion of each new project already under construction or planned for the area, the celebration featured a song, "Bye Bye Block E," sung by City Council Member Van White.
To the tune of "Bye Bye Blackbird," the lyrics went like this:
Pack up all your crime and porn
Block of scorn, be reborn
Bye Bye Block E
"In the 1980s, Block E and Hennepin Av. may have been a walk on the wild side - it became a place to find vice at a price," said Council President Alice Rainville, who recalled the respectable restaurants and bars that lined the street fewer than 20 years ago.
There was a perception, she said, that the city had surrendered the block to those who populate the underside of Minneapolis, and the numbers seemed to support that perception. Last year, Block E accounted for 25 percent of all crimes reported in the downtown area, according to the Minneapolis Police Department.
"But this will change," Rainville said. "The acquisition and demolition is a sign that the city has recaptured the block."
The finale of the demolition celebration was the symbolic explosion of Block E. Rainville lit a fuse, which set off firecrackers, which popped several hundred balloons arranged to look like sticks of
dynamite. Thousands of other balloons were released at the same time.
After the buildings are really torn down, within three months, a parking lot will operate until a new development is approved by the city. Developer Ray Harris, best known for his Calhoun Square project, has won exclusive negotiating rights from the city for his $62 million entertainment and retail proposal.
Moby Dick's is beached at last
Problems vast, now are past
Bye Bye Block E
But not all of Block E's problems are gone. Moby Dick's, which police called a "literal den of thieves," is angering some residents in the trendy warehouse district, where it wants to reopen under a new name - Melville's - and a more restrictive liquor license, but under the same ownership. A dance theater and artists who work in the building that Moby's wants to move into say they fear that the denizens of Block E will follow the bar to their neighborhood, six blocks away.
The city, the Downtown Council and other groups involved will try again at a council committee meeting Wednesday to strike a compromise over Moby's relocation. A similar problem could occur if, as expected, Ferris Alexander reopens his sex-oriented bookstore, peep show and movie theater complex. It is currently "in storage" while the search for a new location continues.
Some council members used yesterday's event, only three weeks before Election Day, to take a jab at the city charter amendment proposed by Mayor Don Fraser, who was out of town yesterday. The
acquisition and demolition of Block E was a council initiative, not the mayor's, noted Council Member Tony Scallon, chairman of the council's Community Development Committee.
"In the end, it will provide the stimulus for development," he said.
While the speakers hailed the demise of Block E, not all city officials were jubilant. Council Member Brian Coyle said he supported the plan to raze Block E because it's an important block for development purposes, but he doesn't share the council's "obsession with scrubbing the city clean."
"Every city needs a little bit of everything," Coyle said. "When you come down here on a Saturday night, which I do, you see that the people we want to wash away are still on the street. They're just more dispersed."
No one here can stop or aggravate us
No more hard-luck stories will deflate us
Say goodbye to urban blight,
Now we'll light up the night
Block E, Bye Bye