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Kmart talks inch forward, redevelopment plan released

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: March 4, 2014 - 10:51 AM

Talks to reopen Nicollet Avenue at Lake Street appear to be progressing, as the city Friday commenced a process that will eventually give them authority to purchase the land.

Kmart’s obstruction of Nicollet Avenue has long been considered one of the worst urban planning blunders in modern Minneapolis history. Opening the street has been a top priority for incoming city council member Lisa Bender.

On Friday, the city released a redevelopment plan for the area. Bender said that if this passes -- a council vote is expected in April -- it will give the city authority purchase property in the area.

City officials have been locked in negotiations for years to convince a multitude of owners and lessees on the site to cooperate with the plan.

“This is an optimistic step,” Bender said. “It means that we’re still in active negotiations with the private property owners…It’s evidence that those negotiations are moving forward and that we are getting ready to hopefully take partial control of the site in the near future.”

In a staff report, city staff said goals for the area include reconnecting Nicollet Avenue, improving access to Interstate 35W, promoting new transit options along Nicollet Avenue and Lake Street, as well as eliminating blight. Future land uses could include mixed-use buildings and high-density residential buildings.

UPDATE: Howard Riefs, director of communications for Sears Holdings, which owns Kmart, sent this statement: "While Kmart has been and continues to be committed to an open and fair dialogue with the City on this matter, we did not receive notification of the proposed redevelopment plan until today when it was released to the public. We will review the proposal and provide further comment in due course."

The Nicollet-Lake closure was controversial from its beginnings in the mid-1970s, based on Star Tribune clippings. A redevelopment plan was initially approved in 1972 to improve the troubled area and millions of dollars in bonds were sold to acquire and clear land. Then the city desperately needed a tenant.

In 1976, Kmart demanded that Nicollet be closed in order to build their store, a proposition that “generated intense neighborhood opposition,” according to one news article. “The people in my neighborhood don’t want Nicollet Ave. closed, and we don’t want K-Mart if that’s what it involves,” a service station owner named Carl Brown said at a community meeting.

The article about that community meeting summed up the pressure on the council: “Aldermen Earl Netwal and Tom Ogdahl admitted that the city is in a bind over the development. The land was cleared years ago, the city is losing taxable property, business have shown little interest in building there and the one large firm that is interested – Kmart – won’t build unless Nicollet Ave. is closed off.”

One letter writer proposed even proposed building an archway through the Kmart structure to connect the street (right).

The City Council’s community development committee ultimately deadlocked in a 2-2 vote. The full council then approved the plan 10-2. “I have 34,000 people in my ward who won’t have to drive to the suburbs,” said Alderman Keith Ford, who was "very pleased" with the outcome.

Soon after, Mayor Charlie Stenvig “refused to sign but did not veto” the council resolution because he was not completely behind it, according to another artcle. By doing so, he allowed the Kmart and SuperValu grocery store to move forward. The delay in locating an anchor tenant had "cost the city about $4.8 million more than was originally anticipated," the article said.

The new redevelopment plan for Lake Street and Nicollet Avenue will be heard at a planning commission committee of the whole meeting next Thursday.

Top photo: Lake Street and 1st Avenue, 1972 and today. Middle photo: "Nicollet block closed to allow store construction," July 1977. Bottom-right: Henry Henriksen letter to the editor, May 1976.

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