Back to the Mall: Dead Malls of Minnesota

  • Blog Post by: Nathaniel Hood
  • November 20, 2012 - 10:41 PM

Following up with my Dead Malls article, I felt it was only fair to visit some of them.  I trekked over to both the Knollwood Mall and Bandana Square  (okay, admittedly it wasn’t a trek, I work near Knollwood and live in St. Paul).

Knollwood Mall [St. Louis Park, Minnesota]

It’s unfair to label Knollwood a “dead mall” – it is very much alive. While not thriving, there is activity over the lunch hour and some suburban retail staples exist (e.g.: Applebees, DWS, AT&T Store, TJ Maxx and the Home Goods store). To survive, Knollwood has done what a handful of other struggling malls have done, they’ve turned themselves inside-out.

The exterior, which isn’t connected to the mall, has a healthy existence. The Cub Foods draws a crowd and small shops include typical strip mall additions, such as Subway, Leeann Chin and Caribou Coffee. The inside has a few tenants, but is eerily empty as you walk further away from the main entrance.

There is some action by the Kohl’s clothing store, but the emptiness clashes with the glossy wide-open interior corridors. The space isn’t in disrepair. The mall is in good shape, minus the empty spaces. I’m not sure if Knollwood will ever be the mall it used to be in the traditional sense, but with a location like St. Louis Park, I’m positive there will some redevelopment.

Bandana Sqaure [St. Paul, Minnesota]

This is a more peculiar case. I’ll let an author on explain it:

This would be one of the coolest malls in Minnesota – if only it was still a mall. Bandana Square was an early twentieth century railroad station converted into an enclosed shopping center with a historic feel. Somehow it didn’t go over very well – perhaps because it is far from the freeway in St. Paul’s industrial Energy Park. [Link] [See also]


The buildings are phenomenal. The arched windows, the historic brick facade and even the tree layout make Bandana Square a beautiful place (minus the countless empty parking spaces surrounding it). The poster is 100% correct: for a mall’s sake – the location sucks. It’s not just that it is away from the highway system, but it’s surrounded by similar style suburban redevelopment industrial parks and 1980s large-scale apartment / condo buildings.

By the way – this might be the most confusing skyway in the Twin Cities. It connects the back parking deck to the main Bandana Square building by bridging a gap over a surface parking lot. It’s hard to imagine that anyone thought this was a good expenditure of money?

At the end of the day, Bandana Square is a magnificent building that has adopted to a life outside of retail. It has a lot of really good tenants, including a hotel, numerous small businesses and a good-sized medical clinic (Aspen - who gave me great help when I couldn’t breathe out of my left nostril – thanks by the way).

There is a larger narrative here, and one that I hope to touch on in the future. That is the story of adaptive re-use. For anyone interested in the topic; here’s a reading recommendation. And here, too.

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