A budding tiff between the city of Minneapolis and CenterPoint Energy over the use of the former Neiman Marcus store on Nicollet Mall appears to be near resolution.

The Houston-based utility initially planned to move about 350 of its employees into the 100,000-square-foot shuttered department store by early 2015, with no retail. However, city standards require that street-level retail shops or restaurants should occupy at least 60 percent of the fortresslike building's first floor, and extend along at least 60 percent of the facade along Nicollet Mall. The mall serves as the city's retail spine, and a retail store of some type has occupied the corner at 5th St. S. since the late 1800s.

CenterPoint's current plan calls for just 20 percent retail space, but the layout of the space is apparently acceptable to city staff at the Department of Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED). On Thursday, the city's Board of Adjustment will vote on CenterPoint's variance, which also has won the approval of a downtown neighborhood group.

CenterPoint spokeswoman Rebecca Virden said Monday the utility is looking for a retail tenant that is "community-based, something related to the city," since the building fronts the busy Metro Transit light-rail stop. The CPED report indicates the Meet Minneapolis Convention & Visitors Association is in talks to locate in the space.

According to the CPED report, some type of department store has occupied the corner since at least 1912, including Minneapolis Dry Goods, the Leader Department Store, the Baker Department Store and J.C. Penney. The Neiman Marcus building was erected in the early 1990s, and abandoned by the luxury retailer earlier this year.

Centerpoint's deal to purchase the Neiman Marcus building from Bloomington-based United Properties hinges on receiving the zoning variance, Virden said.

Janet Moore • 612-673-7752