The city of Hopkins is looking for a contractor to reopen the Depot as a café or some other kind of business that would keep providing space to high schoolers' events.
The long-running coffeehouse and teen hangout space, housed in the building and operated by Hopkins in partnership with other area cities, closed amid money trouble six months ago.
A contract would allow a business or nonprofit to rent the Depot space for an amount yet to be determined, as long as they can peacefully coexist with the teen events planned by the Depot's Youth Advisory Board.
"It's an expectation that the business would still allow the Youth Advisory Board to use that space for their events and the board meetings," said PeggySue Imihy Bean, Hopkins' special projects and initiatives manager.
Whoever gets the lease would also have to agree to serve as a "trailhead" for the Cedar Lake Regional Trail, providing water and bathrooms for trail users.
The Depot would not necessarily have to remain a coffee shop. It could become another kind of restaurant, or even another business such as a bike shop.
"We're not going to necessarily tell ... someone how to use their space," Imihy Bean said.
When the Depot opened in 1998, its coffee shop was supposed to support other Depot board activities. But coffee was a money-loser most years even before COVID-19. The pandemic and light-rail construction that closed the bike trail and Excelsior Boulevard meant years of heavy losses.
Over the past 10 years, according to the city, it has cost the between $228,000 and $384,000 to run the Depot's coffee shop and teen programs, with the money coming from Hopkins, which administers the Depot, and from the Hopkins school district, the city of Minnetonka and the Three Rivers Park District. Revenue has ranged from a high of $386,000 in 2016 to a low of $183,000 in 2021. Years of running mostly at a loss built up a debt of more than $200,000 by 2022, and the Depot coffee shop closed in early April.
Youth events have continued through the summer at the Depot but the building has not been open to the public.
The lease amount has not yet been determined, but Imihy Bean said half the money from the lease will go to pay down the Depot's debt, with the other half funding youth events. She said the city of Hopkins and the other Depot partners have not yet determined how much from their 2024 budgets will go to the youth events, but Hopkins hoped for enough to hire a coordinator for the youth board and another summer program.
Imihy Bean said the city is open to hearing just about any plan that would let the youth board and trail users keep using the space.
"I think people will be really excited to use the trail and have a spot to get a cup of coffee or a scoop of ice cream or use the bathroom," she said. "People just want that space open and be able to enjoy what is a really lovely amenity on the trail."