Developers gearing up for Calhoun Square work

CARAG — The former Music-Go-Round building at Lake Street and Fremont Avenues was demolished earlier this month to make way for construction staging for the Calhoun Square parking ramp.

It’s a first step toward the Hennepin Avenue & Lake Street center’s long-awaited redevelopment planned to begin this spring.

Demolition work and site clearing began Feb. 6 and was scheduled to last seven to 10 days, said the center’s general manager Gayle Siegler, who works for Minnetonka-based Capital Growth Madison Marquette (CGMM). CGMM manages the Calhoun Square property for owner BlackRock, a New York-based investment firm that bought the mall for $47.3 million last August.

Development plans were scheduled to go before the city’s Planning Commission for a vote Feb. 11 for and on to the City Council afterward.

The proposal includes a complete reconfiguration of the mall to include more shopping space, multiple interior seating areas, an outdoor pedestrian plaza and market, new streetscaping and other elements. Plans include a three-story building on Lake Street where restaurants Rotisseria and Passage to India are and a two-story building on Hennepin Avenue where Borders Books used to be.

The parking ramp will grow by roughly 300 spaces to 730. A 108-unit residential component is planned for a later phase, but exactly what type of units it will include has not been decided.

Developers said the new mall would connect better with its
surroundings.

Many new tenants are planned for the revamped center including a large L.A. Fitness Center, according to the plans. Numerous existing tenants including ZRS Fossils, Agan Traders and Urban Traveler have been asked to clear out by spring. National clothing retailer Express moved out in January.

Some of Calhoun Square’s anchor tenants such as kitchenware store Kitchen Window and restaurant Figlio will stay in the mall.

City Council member Ralph Remington (10th Ward) said he was glad to see the developers making progress, but he questioned some of the mall’s components, such as the fitness center.

“That’s all well and good, but I see a fitness center being a destination spot,” Remington said. “I don’t see people going there, working out and going shopping.”

An anchor bookstore (Borders Books left the mall in 2006), a post office and a pharmacy are some of the things Remington said he’d like to see in the new center. He also said the redesign lacks a strong sense of purpose and he worries about the new mall’s ability to retain good tenants.

“I think Calhoun Square is in danger of becoming a retail motel,” Remington said. “Without some sort of sense of driving vision, it will fail.”

The CARAG neighborhood group met with developers and reviewed plans multiple times, but did not recommend approval or disapproval of the project. The group did create a statement urging the Planning Commission to work with developers to address neighborhood concerns and improve the project.

“CARAG’s primary concern about the project is that doesn’t contain a sufficiently high level of amenities, required by the city’s Planned Unit Development ordinance, to justify the numerous zoning exceptions the project would require,” the three-page statement reads.

A large public plaza at 31st Street & Girard Avenue that was part of a previous redevelopment plan for Calhoun Square, but is not in the current plan, is one of the lacking amenities, according to the statement.

But CARAG’s statement said the plan was good in general and expressed eagerness to see a change at the center.

“We are anxious to see Calhoun Square become a vital and thriving asset to our community once again,” it said.

BlackRock purchased Calhoun Square from Principal Financial Group, which opted not to follow through with a city-approved redevelopment of the center after the housing market soured.

Jake Weyer can be reached at 436-4367 or jweyer@mnpubs.com.