A crowd of about 200 turned out to watch Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, the developer and other officials turn the first dirt.
After 15 years, 12 failed plans and at least eight developers, Minneapolis leaders put shovels in the ground Friday and turned dirt on the Hennepin Avenue parking lot known as Block E.
"There must be a line, `It'll be a cold day in you-know-where when they break ground on Block E.' I think we have it," developer Dan McCaffery told the crowd of about 200 that turned out downtown
in windy, near-freezing weather.
The surface parking lot, bound by Hennepin Av. and 1st Av. N. and N. 6th and 7th Sts., once housed adult bookstores and the notorious Moby Dick's Bar. After construction is complete in 2002, developers say it will be a hotel-retail-entertainment complex, featuring a GameWorks restaurant, a Renaissance Hotel and a 17-screen Crown Theatres cinema.
The $134 million project includes $39 million in public financing, and supporters say it will bring 1,200 jobs downtown to the hotel, stores and restaurants. McCaffery said he plans to announce more tenants soon.
Supporters say they hope the complex will become a critical link between the city's Hennepin Avenue theater district and the Warehouse District. Detractors think the public is picking up too
much of the cost for a risky venture.
Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton said the block had been a development nightmare - but no more. "This is a dream come true. I am finally glad that I can celebrate it with each and every one of you," she said.
Among those looking on was Minneapolis Community Development Agency project manager Phil Handy, who has worked on the project off and on since it began. Handy wore a big grin and the hard hat he saved from a 1988 ceremony when the city began tearing down buildings to make way for development.
To cap the ceremony, Sayles Belton helped steer a backhoe that knocked over a 16-foot-high wooden letter "E" painted purple.
The letter fell, in one piece; then McCaffery, Sayles Belton, City Council President Jackie Cherryhomes, and other city and development officials grabbed shovels and turned a bit of dirt in a
small hole where the asphalt had been removed from the parking lot.
The Block E label came from the City Center Development District, formed in 1975, to spur redevelopment of the blocks on both sides of Hennepin Avenue. City Center, for example, is on blocks A and C.
Block E has yet to be renamed. A news release referred to it as "the block formerly known as E" and showed the letter "e" merged with the symbol that the musician Prince formerly used as his name.
Rochelle Olson can be contacted at email@example.com