The new ownership arrangement at Block E should help the struggling entertainment and retail complex capitalize on two big changes in downtown Minneapolis: the new Twins ballpark opening in April, and a redesigned Hennepin Avenue that includes two-way auto traffic and pedestrian improvements.

Those two changes helped to motivate the shift in Block E's ownership as well as a new round of discussions with prospective tenants and, perhaps, architectural alterations to the complex, according to Dan McCaffery, president of the Chicago development firm McCaffery Interests Inc. The company last week transferred full ownership of Block E to one of the project's major investors, Union Labor Life Insurance Co. (ULLICO). McCaffery Interests will continue to manage and lease the property. ULLICO is better able to finance the upgrades that Block E needs, McCaffery said. He declined to name any of the dozen or so potential tenants he's talking to or to elaborate on design changes for the building if new tenants are signed.

"The city has improved around us," he said, referring to the ballpark and the new traffic pattern, "and we can't be an island." He said he's optimistic about Block E's long-term future despite a difficult decade during which the complex struggled to attract and hold upscale business. The prospect of 3 million fans per year attending Twins games barely two blocks from Block E's doors should tempt retailers and restaurants to give the building another look. Kieran's, a popular Irish pub and restaurant, has already committed to one of two vacant corners. McCaffery said he has high hopes for the other, at 6th and Hennepin, where a Borders bookstore called it quits in 2008.

With a major financial stake in Block E's success, City Hall welcomed the new ownership arrangement and the prospect of reinvestment. For several years the city's economic development agency has urged design changes to the building, including more windows transparent to the street, a more prominent movie marquee and an attractive street-level interior passageway between Hennepin and First avenues. Block E's disappointing fortress-like design (dictated, ironically, by city officials in the late 1990s) isn't the property's only problem.

From the start, the complex attracted loitering and the perception of criminal activity that kept paying customers away. The city, meanwhile, was slow to respond with the kind of innovative policing that might have protected its $39 million stake in the $134 million project. The block had been seedy for decades; replacing Moby Dick's, Shinders and Rifle Sport Gallery with Borders Books, the Graves 601 Hotel and the Hard Rock Café didn't automatically transform the demographics on the street.

But even a struggling Block E is several cuts above the block it replaced. Crime is way down. Street life has improved noticeably. Sidewalks are far cleaner, and the economy seems poised to revive. Public investments in light-rail and new traffic patterns have set the table for private investment in office, housing and even retail once the economy returns. Baseball is another important ingredient for the success of Block E and its surroundings.

"Target Field presents a huge opportunity," said Mike Christenson, Minneapolis' director of Community Planning and Economic Development. "We have to give fans a reason to make multiple stops when they come downtown to a ballgame -- to stay in hotels, to eat, drink, shop and walk around. This is our chance to reintroduce ourselves to the rest of the state."