Calhoun Square pre-development under way

Calhoun Square’s management company has begun discussions with architects, potential retailers, nearby residents, city staff, elected officials and others about the future of the shopping center at Hennepin Avenue and Lake Street.

The 145,000-square-foot building has been awaiting a major facelift for years and new owner BlackRock — a New York-based investment firm with more than $1 trillion in assets — plans to make it happen.

As the housing market worsened earlier this year, previous owner Principal Financial Group opted not to move forward with a city-approved redevelopment plan that included condos. Keith Anderson, executive director of Capitol Growth Madison Marquette, the company BlackRock retained to manage Calhoun Square, said his team is developing a new plan and is about 60 percent through the pre-development process.

"We"ve spent a lot of time, energy and money pursuing a variety of options for the project," Anderson said. "We"ve met with a lot of different groups … obviously with the intent of trying to create something that"s exciting, for the local or even beyond the local market, outside the immediate Uptown area that would have an attraction for people to come and shop and dine and whatever elements that may be included as we work our way through the process."

So far, project representatives have spent most of their time gathering input from stakeholders, Anderson said. The input will be used in the development of the project, he said.

"Obviously it"s important to embrace and understand their wants, needs and perceptions…" Anderson said. "But at the end of the day it still has to be a profitable project otherwise there isn"t a project."

Aaron Rubenstein, chairman of the Calhoun Area Residents Action Group (CARAG) zoning committee, said planners have been receptive of neighborhood concerns and ideas.

"We"ve had productive, open and friendly meetings," he said.

Anderson said project planners are focusing on the core building and what has to be done to meet current codes first. Other priorities are developing a parking plan and revitalizing the mall"s retail.

Planners have already begun the search for "magnet" tenants whose presence in Calhoun Square might attract other businesses. Making deals with magnet tenants early on will help shape the building itself to some degree, Anderson said. Some potential tenants have expressed interest, he said, but he wasn"t ready to announce any names yet.

Mixed-use options including a residential, office or hotel component are being explored for the development, but what works will largely depend on the market, Anderson said.

He said some minor construction such as indoor repairs or adjustments might take place this year, but nothing is expected beyond that. A timeline for construction isn"t set, he said.

"Sooner is better," he said "But we"re not trying to rush through the process."

Project representatives are scheduled to speak about their plans at the next CARAG meeting scheduled for Nov. 20 at 7 p.m. at Bryant Square Park, 3101 Bryant Ave. S.