Gambling on Minneapolis

Peters Billiards to stay and expand despite Crosstown project

&#8220You've got to know when to hold ‘em,” the song goes. &#8220Know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away and know when to run.” Folksy wisdom isn't hard to come by, especially when it isn't your hand that's being called and it isn't your money on the table.

Greg Peterson knows a bit about putting his cash on the line. He makes his living selling poker tables, among other things. And right now he's in all the way, having effectively laid a massive $4 million bet in the form of expansion plans for Peters Billiards, the business he owns, which sits right next to the Crosstown Highway 62/Interstate 35W interchange about to undergo reconstruction. Peterson isn't folding, and he isn't running away. In fact, he's moved his business about 27 feet to the west to make way for the construction - and he's tripling its size.

&#8220I've got $4 million out on the table, so we'll see what kind of return I get,” Peterson says with a wry smile as he sits in an upstairs conference room.

&#8220The deal was, we really didn't want to leave Minneapolis. We liked our location. It's just kind of a retailer's dream; it's our dream location because it's on the busiest freeway in town. It's central. It's just our home.”

He's sitting at an oval, wooden poker table commandeered for the conference room in the finished half of the expanded business. The smallish room is decorated with an autographed Kirby Puckett jersey and construction plans leaning against the walls.

The plans detail what has been accomplished so far in the expansion and what is to come: the first half of the expansion is completed and the business has moved from the old building (now torn down) into the brand new west section of their new facility. The second phase of construction has begun and is scheduled to be completed this September.

When finished, Peters Billiards will have grown to 37,000 square feet, making it not only the biggest retailer of billiards tables, games and furniture in the Kenny neighborhood, but one of the biggest in the country.

The first floor of the new store is filled with billiards tables, as well as video games (the upright Pac Man console goes for $3,999), pinball machines (the Simpson's Pinball Party game retails for $4,999), foosball tables (Tornado Cyclone Deluxe sells for $1,049) and Ping-Pong tables, jukeboxes, gaming tables and more.

The second floor has kitchen/bar stools (some of which go for upwards of $1,000), entertainment centers, lighting, home theater furniture and more.

&#8220It's really everything for the game room,” Peterson says of his store.

The Crosstown project

The state hopes to award contracts for the $250 million Crosstown project that is designed to alleviate the weekday gridlock that chokes the Crosstown and I-35W interchange. Proposed improvements include a high-occupancy vehicle lane between 46th Street and I-494 in Richfield/Bloomington, the addition of a lane on I-35W between Highway 62 and 46th Street, and new access ramps to westbound 62 from Lyndale and Portland Avenues.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) hopes to break ground on the project in July and finish it by the end of 2009, said John Griffith, MnDOT project manager.

&#8220The reason why we're doing [the project] is to make a safer freeway and to add more capacity,” he said.

Peterson isn't really anxious to see cars whizzing by his business in 2010 and beyond - he says that Peters is helped by the slow crawl drivers are forced into by congestion - but he recognizes that the Crosstown bottleneck needs to be fixed.

&#8220Certainly, it isn't our attempt to make traffic go faster by his business,” Griffith said with a laugh.

Bigger, better, faster

Peterson said the long process of getting approval from various city and state officials has been arduous, but he believes it will be worth it in the end.

&#8220The city's been really good to work with because they didn't want to look like the bad guy,” Peterson said with a dry laugh. &#8220And neither did the state - even though they are - they're trying not to look that way.

&#8220We've had a good relationship with them, really, even though we didn't want our building to get torn down. They needed the property; they needed to fix the freeway.”

The state will have 10 lanes going by Peters; five going by, in theory, at 55 mph in both directions.

Peterson said he purchased property from the nursing home next door and then worked with the city to get variances granted and get his new property rezoned for retail.

The state bought 15 feet from Peterson on Lyndale and about 12 feet on the freeway side of his business.

&#8220Our building was right on the lot line,” he said. Peterson bought Peters Billiards back in 1972 and moved it next to the freeway in 1976 from its original site at 31st Street and Nicollet Avenue.

He said the freeway plan looks good.

&#8220I think it really will help, but I think it will still be clogged,” he said with perhaps a trace of gratitude for those future jams in his voice.

He said during the upcoming construction, drivers will get a good, long look at his business.

&#8220We just have to get through that freeway construction. It's something that has to happen, but we're not looking forward to it, I guess,” he said.

He said he hopes his business can keep up its current level of sales; he doesn't really expect sales growth during construction.

&#8220There's a lot of retail on Lyndale Avenue,” he says. &#8220There's a lot of stores up and down Lyndale, and they all have that same fear - we all have to get through it. But our store is not like a grocery store or a hardware store or something, where you can go to the grocery store four blocks that way instead of going to Peters.

&#8220We're trying to make this a destination location. Trying to make this one of the nicest billiards stores - one of the nicest gaming and furniture stores in the country. Hopefully, people will feel that it's worth the wait and worth the drive.”