Two shuttered Burger King restaurants in Minneapolis could reopen, after the city signaled a willingness to reverse an earlier decision blocking their drive-throughs.
A City Council committee on Thursday gave the company its approval to move ahead. The final decision rests with the full City Council, which meets next week.
The choice about whether to allow Burger King to reopen two locations — one in north and the other in south Minneapolis — hinges on whether the chain abandoned the two properties, forfeiting their right to operate the drive-throughs.
Even as they accepted the company’s arguments that these properties weren’t legally abandoned, some council members criticized Burger King for leaving them dark, boarded up and, at least in one location, tagged with graffiti.
“I can only go by what I can see on those sites, and they look abandoned to me,” Council Member Lisa Goodman said during the committee meeting.
Over the years, the city has passed a series of measures that prohibit new drive-throughs from opening in Minneapolis. The city argued that they contribute to car noise and traffic and make sidewalks dangerous for pedestrians.
Drive-throughs built before the ban have been allowed to continue to operate. The Burger King locations in question, 3342 S. Nicollet Av. and 818 W. Broadway, opened before the ban took effect.
Both locations shut down in April 2018, after the franchisee, P3 Foods LLC, filed for bankruptcy. Their parking lots and counters sat empty while Burger King worked to find a new owner to reopen the fast-food restaurants.
In Minneapolis, buildings that have been abandoned for more than a year cannot reopen under nonconforming uses that had been grandfathered in.
After the Zoning Board of Adjustment in December rejected the company’s request to reopen the restaurants, it appealed to the City Council.
Burger King brought two attorneys and a company representative to the Zoning & Planning Committee meeting on Thursday morning. They said the bankruptcy case stymied their efforts to reopen quickly.
Paul Battista, a Florida-based attorney who represented Burger King during P3’s bankruptcy case, said the international company was able to persuade a trustee to end the lease on the property and franchise agreement so Burger King could find a new operator. But, he said, the trustee prevented the company from removing the furniture and fixtures inside.
“Bankruptcies last a long time,” Battista said. “It’s just the nature of the beast.”
He noted that Burger King continued its commitment to the properties in other ways, with leases on the Broadway location until 2040 and the Nicollet location until 2034.
Another attorney for Burger King, Carol Lansing, who previously worked for the city, said she felt the earlier decision by city zoning officials had been “impermissibly influenced by the disfavor that drive-throughs are under.”
Council members on the Zoning & Planning Committee voted unanimously to allow the company to reopen both locations.
Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, whose ward includes the Broadway location, said he thought Burger King’s case was strong and the city should approve the company’s appeal. But he echoed Goodman’s concerns.
“Small businesses from the area … they feel an obligation to make the corridor look good and yet we have a major corporation sitting on a corner in a sea of parking lot, boarded up, minimal lighting, if any,” Ellison said. Those conditions, he said, make people “lack trust in this organization.”
Ellison, a former graffiti artist, asked them to work on improving the outside appearance while remodeling work is happening. He called the existing graffiti “terrible” and offered to put them in touch with artists who could help.