The real surprise in Wednesday’s announcement about the fate of the downtown Minneapolis Macy’s store is not that it is closing or that the property has been sold. Instead it was that New York-based 601W Cos. had purchased it, not the San Francisco-based real estate firm that had long been considered the front-runner to buy the famed location.
Big department stores have faced formidable headwinds for some time and have long found suburban malls to be friendlier turf. As the Nicollet Mall store went from Dayton’s to Marshall Field’s and then Macy’s, the looming end of an era was almost palpable to shoppers.
The store’s expected closure in March will indeed be a sad day, but Minnesotans ought to embrace the opportunity to revitalize a beloved location. The oldest of the three buildings on the block-sized property in particular has lent grace and charm to downtown for over a century. New uses and new energy are welcome, but the new owners should understand that there’s a strong, shared hope here that redevelopment will honor the property’s history and not leave it unrecognizable.
Plans proposed by the San Francisco firm, City Center Realty Partners, made it clear that the renovation would be done with “reverence,” as one Minneapolis business expert put it Thursday. Less is known about 601W’s plans. The New York firm was a fairly recent addition to the buyers contending for the property, with some local officials only learning of its identity with the sale announcement.
Initial redevelopment plans call for remaking the property into a mix of office and retail space. This appears to be 601W’s first Minnesota project and one of its early ventures into the Midwest. Its executives declined to speak with reporters on Wednesday — a missed opportunity for a firm to connect with the new community it will be working in.
Still, 601W’s track record inspires confidence that the property will be in good hands and that the firm will be a strong partner for the city as the $50 million Nicollet Mall makeover continues. The company has extensive urban retail experience and has been a sure hand on far bigger projects than the Macy’s property.
In addition, it won’t be cutting its teeth on renovating a historical property. The company is in the midst of a $500 million overhaul of Chicago’s old main Post Office building, according to a Star Tribune story. The $40 million purchase of the Minneapolis property is a relatively small addition to 601W’s portfolio.
The redevelopment price tag for the Minnesota project is unclear. Older buildings often require environmental remediation during renovation, especially for residential uses. This could add significantly to the project’s cost. It’s not uncommon for developers to seek assistance from local government for this. The city shouldn’t rush to offer that up, but its leadership should be evaluating the role the city might play in the redevelopment.
Officials with 601W should also focus on building local partnerships. Here’s a tip for the firm’s executives as they begin this venture: Referring to the site as the historic Dayton’s property from now on would do much to generate goodwill in a state that treasures its memories of the much-loved department store.