A push to reopen Nicollet

City gaining traction on efforts to reopen Nicollet near Lake Street

When Daniel Relyea pushes his infant son J.P. in a stroller from his home at Nicollet Avenue and 33rd Street to the parking lot of Kmart, he can’t help but think of what the intersection of Lake and Nicollet once looked like.

The bustling Nicollet corridor connected north and south Minneapolis, with a baseball stadium — Nicollet Park — at the Lake Street intersection where fans went to watch the Minneapolis Millers from 1896 to 1955.

For 35 years, a Kmart store has blocked the street, much to the chagrin of neighbors like Relyea. He has become active in trying to get the street reopened, or at least to have the backside of the store cleaned up so people can see a mural that represents community uproar over a city decision that gave a developer a piece of one of the busiest corridors in Minneapolis.   

“Back in 1977, Kmart got what it wanted, now it’s time the community gets what it wants,” Relyea said.  

City officials say momentum is building in their effort to re-open the street.

A year ago, the city was approved for a $900,000 federal grant to study a potential streetcar line on Nicollet Avenue, signaling U.S. Department of Transportation interest in the corridor.

In the fall of 2010, Hennepin County opened the Whittier Clinic, constructing the building so it faces Nicollet. The county is also leading a project to redesign the Lake and I-35W interchange, which will overhaul transit in the area.

Nicollet is enjoying promising business growth on both sides of Kmart, with Eat Street to the north and the now-emerging business area from 35th to 38th,  where Pat’s Tap and Blackbird Cafe opened recently.

Nicollet Avenue, south of Kmart, will be reconstructed starting next spring.

“There’s a lot of conditions lining up — forces lining up — that will add a considerable momentum to the reopening of Nicollet,” said City Council Member Robert Lilligren (Ward 6), who has been working on reopening the corridor for several years.

Lilligren on Dec. 14 authored an amendment to the city budget that directs city staff to create a project team tasked with reopening Nicollet.

The Kmart site is owned by New York-based developer and real estate investor Lawrence Kadish, said Mike Christenson, director of the city’s department of Community Planning and Economic Development.

Kadish did not return a voice message left at his New York office.

Kadish owns the sites of several Kmart stories. According to a Lima News article from 2010, Kadish owned the site of a Kmart in Lima before that store closed. He also owned a site in Richfield before it closed, according to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal.

Sears Holdings Corp. announced in December plans to close up to 120 Kmart and Sears stores. The Minneapolis location was not on a list of the first 79 stores that the company planned to close.

Christenson said potential developers of the Kmart site are interested in better transit in the area, including a southbound exit ramp from 35W to Lake Street.

“The most important thing we’re hearing from developers is the redesign of the transit station and access from 35W,” he said.

Stakeholders for the 35W Access project have been meeting regularly putting together a plan to design 30 percent of the intersection. Construction won’t likely begin for a few years.

“Whatever the interchange looks like, most people agree there should be an open Nicollet,” Lilligren said.

While he hopes for a reopened street, Lyndale resident Relyea also wants more immediate attention for the backside of Kmart.

Back in the mid-1970s, when city planners allowed Kmart to block the road, the store agreed to allow the community to paint a mural on the backside of the building.

Relyea, 34, said that mural has been neglected, as weeds and trees block its view and trash is built up along a fence.

Relyea is part of steering committee that will plan art projects on a reconstructed Nicollet Avenue.

He would like to see a plaque and a cleaned up area behind Kmart as part of the project.

The mural signifies the community’s opposition to the project, with a battleship symbolizing the neighborhood’s dissatisfaction with city planners giving up the street.

“One thing I’m really disappointed about is that there is no marker, there is absolutely no story — and there ought to be  — about this mural and its significance and why it’s there,” Relyea said.

Reach Nick Halter at [email protected]