The Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx plan to open a practice facility and new headquarters space in Block E, the long-troubled retail complex in downtown Minneapolis.
The teams confirmed the news Monday, as Block E’s owners announced a privately funded renovation that features a sleek design for new office and restaurant space.
“This is really important to the success of downtown, and we want to do it right,” said Phillip Jaffe, a partner of Provident Real Estate Ventures, the asset manager for property owner Camelot LLC. To that end, Provident has hired Minneapolis-based RSP Architects to recraft the building’s fortresslike exterior and interior core with a “Minneapolis modern” aesthetic in mind, as well as office and restaurant leasing experts to help bolster the flagging tenant mix.
The renovation, which will feature high ceilings and more sunlight in public spaces, is expected to be completed by late 2014.
The 11-year-old facility at 600 Hennepin Av., which received a $39 million public subsidy, has languished in recent years after major tenants such as GameWorks, Applebee’s, Borders Books, Hooters and Hard Rock Cafe departed. Some blamed Block E’s troubles on poor design and lack of marketing. But fundamentally, the national chains located in the complex failed to coax visitors downtown when patrons could park for free in the suburbs.
In 2010, Provident principals ponied up $14 million to buy Block E, which had been turned over to one of its lenders. They subsequently tried to win support from the Legislature for a $400 million casino, but when that idea failed to gain traction, the owners decided to revert to a mixed-use strategy.
Mindful that Block E’s original developer received a hefty — and controversial — infusion of public dollars, Provident pointed out Monday that the renovation will not rely on public financing. And the property owner said it would pay off the remaining $13 million tax-increment financing balance by 2019, seven years ahead of schedule. Jaffe declined to quantify the renovation’s price tag.
For teams, proximity counts
The impending $97 million renovation of the city-owned Target Center helped spur conversations about relocating some operations to Block E, Jaffe said. “The Timberwolves and Lynx were looking for a practice facility. What better place than across the street?” he said.
Rob Moor, CEO of the Wolves and Lynx, said in a statement that given Block E’s “proximity to the soon-to-be renovated Target Center we believe there are bound to be tremendous synergies between the projects that will result in a state-of-the art facility unlike anything else in the NBA or WNBA.”
The practice facility, including a basketball court and headquarters for the teams, will be located on the third and fourth floors of Block E, once home to a 15-screen movie theater.
A lease has not yet been signed between the team and Block E’s owners, but Moor said that “we are hopeful in the coming weeks we can complete those steps and make this project a reality.”
Looking for new tenants
The remaining 120,000 square feet of Block E, including street- and skyway-level space, will be redeveloped into offices, stores and restaurants, Jaffe said.
His preference would be restaurant tenants unique to Minnesota. The problem with previous tenants was that they lacked the kind of exclusivity that would attract customers, he said. “No one is going to drive downtown to go to an Applebee’s,” Jaffe said.
Kieran’s Irish Pub, the Shout House Dueling Pianos, Starbucks and Jimmy John’s will remain.
Jon Dahl, a real estate broker with Jones Lang LaSalle hired to market Block E, said the behemoth’s location is a big selling point to prospective office tenants looking for Class A space. The property is “right between the business and entertainment districts downtown” and it would be an optimal site for prospective tenants from the city’s creative and marketing community.
While the interior remodel will depend in part on the needs of future tenants, preliminary renderings re-imagine Block E’s exterior with a contemporary flair, in line with the Guthrie Theater and the Millennium Hotel.
David Serrano, a senior associate with RSP Architects, said the goal is “to clearly state Block E has changed. We want it to have an energy and elegance that will allow it to look great day and night.”
RSP has done work on the Coloplast Corp. building in the North Loop, as well as the Millennium Hotel, Calhoun Square and a Boston Scientific building in Arden Hills.
Mayor R.T. Rybak, who was critical of Block E’s large subsidy, said in a statement: “This is a significant development for Block E, for Hennepin Avenue and for our upcoming Target Center renovation … It’s the latest sign that downtown Minneapolis is the fastest-growing and most vibrant downtown in America.”
‘A great location’
One of the biggest changes in recent years for Block E’s environs was the opening of Target Field in 2010. Jaffe said the baseball field and Target Center drive more than 4 million people a year to downtown’s western edge. In addition, the skyway still attracts heavy foot traffic as downtown workers and visitors walk through it to access city parking ramps.
“Obviously Block E has a great location,” said Jim McComb, a Minneapolis-based retail consultant. “The main problem was the original design,” he said, noting there was no easy way to walk through it on the street level. “If you straighten out the building’s circulation, then it should be suitable for retail use on the first and second floors,” he said.
As stores shut down, Block E’s reputation became synonymous with urban crime. Provident’s news release takes care to point out that stepped-up security and “strong relationships” with the Minneapolis Police Department and the Downtown Improvement District have caused police calls to decline 99 percent from 791 to 16 in the last 12 months.
In its previous life, Block E was one of Minneapolis’ seediest strips, but most of the block was razed to make way for the retail complex. The Shubert Theater was moved a few blocks north on Hennepin Avenue and is now part of the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts.