Lileks: Just admit it, Minneapolis: Block E was a bonehead idea

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 28, 2013 - 7:33 PM
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Pedestrians prepare to cross 7th Street, near Hennepin Ave. at Block E, Jan. 25, 2012, in Minneapolis.

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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Despite its evocative and thrilling name, Block E never got off the ground. Plans for an annex, BUNKER F, also failed.

It would have been nice if it got off the ground, in the sense of the Shubert Theater, and was hauled away on an enormous flatbed and dropped off in Lake Superior, where locals would tell tales of the mysterious moaning sound that came from the lake. They say at night you can hear the moans of th’ investors, keening for their expected rate of return.

Now Block E will be repurposed into a new exciting facility that will include a practice facility for the Timberwolves and Lynx, who currently mill around Target Center asking passersby if there’s any place around here one could shoot some hoops.

The exterior will be redone in “Minnesota Modern,” whatever that means; if you’re hoping for enormous faux logs to make it look like a cabin, sorry.

The drawings make it look steely and clean with swaths of charcoal gray. They also show a sign at ground level that says “TENANT,” which either means “Store Name Here,” or they’re angling to get the TENANT chain to build one of their popular coffee-shop / bookstore / spa / skeet-shooting / karaoke hybrids. If that’s the case, let me jump ahead to 2017:

“Block E suffered another reversal today when TENANT, an experimental concept that thrived in dense cities populated by unmarried tech workers with preposterous amounts of money and apartments the size of a gas-station bathroom, announced it would be closing its doors for good. “We will, of course, be letting everyone out first,” said the store’s manager.

Don’t get me wrong — if this is the overhaul that makes the place thrive, huzzah. The new designs look good. If the owners can hustle up repaying the money the city laid out to help build the gimcrack carbuncle, hurrah. If they bedeck the sides with dazzling signage and assist the transformation of Hennepin Avenue, it all will work out well in the end. There’s just one thing I want.

An apology. An abject, honest litany of contrite admissions. Like this:

• We’re sorry we took a gritty block that just needed some sandblasting and a million gallons of Lysol and turned it into the Graveyard of Obvious Franchises. Gosh! In retrospect, the density, vibrancy and individualistic structures that made up the block were a pretty good example of how cities arise organically. And we leveled it! Our bad. It’s just — well — they had these drawings and there was a big guitar from Hard Rock Cafe, and we got carried away.

• We’re sorry that we looked at the site, which was across from the soul-grinding expanse of the City Center parking ramp, and decided against putting up something with lots of windows that showed the vitality within, and decided instead to put up the Great Wall of China in clown makeup. Really, that one’s on us, too. We figured people would see the false facade and think “surely there’s lots of stuff going on in there, even though there’s no evidence to support the fact, but I’ll bet you can get ice cream in a waffle cone for 9 dollars. Let’s drive from Maple Grove and find out.”

• We’re sorry no one noticed that the only way to get from the street level to the third-floor entrance was to turn left at the elevator, go to the roof, rappel down the side, take a bus to St. Cloud, make a reservation at the hotel, take the airport shuttle back downtown, check in at the hotel, use the stairs and take a battering ram to the door to the third floor. Turns out the guy who designed that based it on one of those mazes they put on children’s place mats.

• We’re sorry about the Applebee’s. Should’ve been a Perkins. Although the Hooters clientele may have mistaken the concept of the “bottomless” cup of coffee.

• We’re sorry, most of all, that we thought that retail fortresses are the key to downtown health. In a perfect world, City Center would still have that great bustling food court, Gaviidae Commons would be full of marvelous stores under a cerulean vault. But all those things were built when the downtown population was about 287, and all the lunchtime traffic consisted of people who want to get out of the office before they strangle someone.

• We’re sorry we took for granted that downtown is a grand place unlike anywhere else in the metro area and went with a plan for the future, when people will be streaming into downtown’s lofts and towers. Still, you have to admit the new Block E looks so much better, so let’s stop talking about tearing it down; heck, by 2037 it’ll be historic! There might even be a movement to restore it to its original appearance in the name of preservation! ... There we go again: To make sure that never happens, we have burned all the plans. It’s not enough, we know. But it’s a start. So is everything forgiven?

If we get that apology, yes. Everything is forgiven.

Except the loan.

 

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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