The nearly vacant and long-troubled Block E retail complex has signed one of Minnesota's most respected brands as a tenant — the Mayo Clinic.

The world-renowned medical center will open a sports medicine facility as part of a partnership with pro basketball's Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx, which will move their practice facilities and headquarters from Target Center to the retail complex this fall.

"It was really worth the wait," Block E co-founder Philip Jaffe said. "We didn't want to fill up the building with just anyone. We took our time, and now downtown will be better." The 20,000-square-foot Mayo space will be on the third floor of Block E, where teams will have practice courts, a workout area and other amenities. Block E will be renamed Mayo Clinic Square and will include services ranging from physical rehabilitation to sport-specific skill programs for elite and amateur athletes. All of the additions are part of Block E's $50 million renovation.

Crowded marketplace

Mayo, which currently has no Twin Cities presence, is entering a decidedly crowded sports medicine marketplace with competitors such as TRIA Orthopaedic Center in Bloomington and Golden Valley-based Twin Cities Orthopedics, practices with national reputations.

Stephen Parente, a health care economist at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, says Mayo's move north "makes a lot of sense. Orthopedics and radiology are the last major lucrative specialty areas out there in medicine. [Orthopedics] is a somewhat elite, baby boomer-fueled market."

In addition, the teams announced that Mayo will become their preferred medical provider, a role previously filled by TRIA and Edina Family Physicians.

TRIA's president and chief operating officer, Ted Wegleitner, said: "We are proud of the great relationship we have had with the Timberwolves and Lynx for decades. As it's very early in the process, we are still exploring our role moving forward."

Twin Cities Orthopedics CEO Troy Simonson said he "views competition as positive for the market. We are confident in our ability to compete on the basis of quality patient care, exceptional patient experience, and overall cost."

Dr. Michael Stuart, co-director of Mayo's Sports Medicine Center, said he understood the partnership and facility "will have some effect on our orthopedic colleagues and friends in the Twin Cities," but he hopes all can work together to provide top-notch care to patients.

Mayo's addition is also a major win for Block E, which has been struggling for some time. It was built at 600 Hennepin Av. S. with $39 million in public subsidies more than a decade ago, but most major tenants gradually departed, including GameWorks, Applebee's, Borders Books, Hooters and Hard Rock Cafe. Camelot LLC bought Block E in 2010 for $14 million and tried at first to gain interest from the Legislature for a $400 million casino, an idea that failed to gain traction.

'Minneapolis-modern' renovation

Beyond the strong health care and team presence at Block E, owner Camelot will soon begin remodeling the fortress-like structure's exterior and interior core with a "Minneapolis-modern" aesthetic in mind. The overhaul will feature high ceilings and more sunlight in public spaces, and is expected to be completed by early 2015. No public funds will be used.

Fixes will also remedy Block E's "public circulation flaws with new grander entrances and a new ground-floor corridor that connects Hennepin Avenue to 1st Avenue," said Carl Runck, Camelot's development manager.

The first floor of Block E will include "signature" restaurants with a more pedestrian-friendly facade, said Jaffe, adding that Kieran's Irish Pub, Shouthouse Dueling Pianos, Jimmy John's and Starbucks will remain.

The second floor (and skyway level) will be devoted to office space and some service retail, including the return of Mrs. Field's cookies, he said. The Wolves and Lynx will also have team stores on that level.

Rob Moor, CEO of the Timberwolves and Lynx, said the facility's urban location will be unique in the NBA and WNBA. "Most practice facilities are hidden in the suburbs. We are going to break that mold and become totally integrative with the community," he said.

Janet Moore • 612-673-7752