Downtown Mpls. digs to get a facelift

  • Article by: JANET MOORE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 12, 2012 - 1:25 PM

Two mainstay buildings at 917 and 927 Nicollet Mall are due for a $20 million renovation, creating space for restaurants while keeping Rush Bridal.

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Wedding attire graces the lobby of Rush’s Bridal, a family-owned shop. The Rush family has announced plans for a $20 million renovation of its two buildings at 917 and 927 Nicollet Mall, envisioning up to two new restaurants with sidewalk and rooftop seating, with retail or professional offices on the mezzanine levels.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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An already-bustling stretch of restaurants along Nicollet Mall will likely get two more eateries -- complete with trendy rooftop and street-side dining -- in a project pitched by the owners of Rush's Bridal, a family business that has been located on Minneapolis' pedestrian spine for more than 60 years.

Located at 917 and 927 Nicollet Mall, the "9's on the Mall" project will involve redeveloping the Rush and Kelly buildings, modest structures that date to the early 20th century. The renovation is expected to cost between $10 million and $20 million, according to developer Terry Jacobs of Minneapolis-based T Jacobs & Associates.

A new lobby encompassing space from both buildings will be constructed with an elevator and staircase. Construction is expected to begin in early 2013.

The Rush family, which owns the buildings, will finance the project through private investment and bank loans. Jacobs said several restaurants are talking to the family about locating in the rehabbed space, but no leases have been signed.

"This may be the last chance for a restaurant to have great sidewalk and rooftop dining space in the heart of Nicollet Mall," he said.

Rooftop dining in downtown Minneapolis has boomed in recent years following the success of the expansive deck at Brit's Pub at 11th and Nicollet Mall. Since then, several more have opened, including Solera, Crave and Seven Sushi Ultralounge and Skybar.

"I don't think you can have enough rooftop dining downtown; the more the merrier," said Andrea Christenson, vice president of Cassidy Turley, a commercial real estate firm in Minneapolis. "This is what brings people downtown."

But, she noted, restaurants have to be "on the top of their game" in terms of quality service and food to survive the higher-cost Nicollet Mall landscape. "It's not like an Olive Garden in the suburbs where you have more consistent and predictable customer traffic."

Renovation of the two buildings will free up about 19,700 square feet of space, not including the rooftop and sidewalk area. The space could accommodate one or two restaurants, and up to 18 retail stores and professional offices, Jacobs said.

The buildings already are home to Barrio Mexican Kitchen and Bar and private event rooms for the Local Irish pub, as well as Rush's Bridal, which will remain following the renovation.

Rush's Bridal, the only remaining store for brides in an area of downtown that once was home to several, will likely stay on the mezzanine level of the Rush building, according to Kathy Albergotti, daughter of founders Donald and Nancy Rush. Her brothers, Andy and Tom, are deeply involved in the project, as well.

"We're a true ma-and-pa business, and we wanted to keep the business for the family. My mom is now 88, and she still works in the store on Saturdays," Albergotti said. "We're also huge supporters of downtown."

Albergotti said the timing seemed right for the project as the economy picks up, and interest rates remain low. The Kelly Building at 917 Nicollet Mall has a market value of $1.2 million, while the Rush Building at 927 Nicollet Mall is valued at about $1 million, according to Hennepin County records.

Plus, Russ McGinty of North Central Commercial Real Estate in Maple Plain says rooftop dining is "very viable -- in Minnesota, people want to be outside."

Albergotti noted that the Downtown 2025 master plan, a blueprint that was recently released by the Minneapolis Downtown Council, calls for revitalizing Nicollet Mall by eliminating curbs, encouraging zero-emission transit vehicles and refreshing the retail mix. The plan calls for a "four-season experience" that will attract 10 million people annually by 2025 -- a feature akin to the Riverwalk in San Antonio or the Magnificent Mile in Chicago.

While some businesses in both the Rush and Kelly buildings will remain, the fate of others, including James & Mary Laurie Booksellers, a Jeromeo Curiousity Shoppe and the Jean Stephen Galleries, is unclear.

Scott Johnson, owner of Jeromeo, said he recently signed a new lease and hopes to stay post-renovation. His store, which features handmade jewelry, Asian artifacts and artwork, has been on Nicollet Mall for more than seven years.

"The people who come into my store want retail that's unique, especially for people coming from out of town," he said. "You can go to a Gap store or an Ann Taylor if you're in Atlanta -- it's all the same."

Staff writer Tom Horgen contributed to this report.

Janet Moore • 612-673-7752

  • related content

  • Retailers at 917 and 927 Nicollet Mall include a Jeromeo ­Curiousity Shoppe, James & Mary Laurie Booksellers and the Jean Stephen Galleries.

  • This is an architectural rendering of what the 9’s On The Mall project would look like.

  • Nearby skyscrapers tower over the two buildings at 917 and 927 Nicollet Mall that the Rush family plans to renovate, making room for up to two new restaurants with sidewalk and rooftop seating.

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