Kmart and Lyndale neighborhood weigh in on plan to reopen Nicollet

Mural at Nicollet & Lake Credit: Michelle Bruch

As a plan to reopen Nicollet at Lake Street advances through city approval, the Lyndale Neighborhood Association wants to put the Metro Transit bus garage in play at 10 W. 32nd St.

“We would like as part of this process to look at the possibility of relocating that bus garage, which is essentially a large cavern, under any new redevelopment in the area,” said LNA Executive Director Mark Hinds. “That would allow us to redevelop an entire block currently south of the planned area. … If you spend time walking south from Lake Street, what you’ll notice is the bus garage really kills any pedestrian connection between Lake Street and the area south.”

Hinds also wants the city to consider large office space as part of the project.

“One of the things that’s very hard as we try to attract businesses to the area is finding anything for businesses larger than 20 to 30 employees,” he said.

Hinds said property owners around Lake & Nicollet haven’t been sure how to invest in their properties as they await certainty on the project.

Certainty may still be a long time coming. Although the city is in the process of approving a general redevelopment plan that outlines project boundaries, it does not yet have “friendly” site control of the land. (The city is not currently pursuing eminent domain action.) The developer Sherman Associates renewed efforts to secure site control in mid-2012, and city staff took over those negotiations last summer.

The holding pattern is starting to impact Kmart, Sears Holdings officials said at an April 15 public hearing.

“This uncertainty surrounding the project is hurting our ongoing business and operations,” said Tom Manke, regional district manager for Kmart. “Already our customers are wondering for how long they can continue to shop at our Lake Street store. Our employees are concerned whether their jobs are secure. Despite this concern, Kmart stands fully committed to remain in Minneapolis to serve the needs of the community in its current location or at a redeveloped site, as long as the city works in good faith to ensure that a future Lake Street and Nicollet Avenue store will be viable.”

When any project begins at Nicollet & Lake, Kmart wants to keep its doors open throughout construction.

Max Bulbin, Sears Holdings’ director of real estate development and leasing, said it is “paramount” that Kmart operates continuously throughout the transition, though it wouldn’t be easy logistically.

“We’ve been there for 40 years. Our core members and customers live there,” Bulbin said. “We put a stake in the ground before anyone else did.”

An April 11 Sears Holdings letter to city officials notes that city negotiations in the 1970s with Target and Herberger’s fell through before Kmart stepped in.

Bulbin said Kmart has two stores in Manhattan, but hasn’t built any stores recently that fit the model for a new Lake Street store. He said they’re open to different parking options, though underground parking is expensive.

“This was built in the late ’70s, when retail sites all across the country were building with huge surface parking lots,” Bulbin said.

New development is more pedestrian and “urbanism” oriented, he said. Sears’ letter to the city states that 62 percent of its customers live within five miles of the store.

“Kmart has the unfortunate position of being the physical barrier,” Bulbin said. “We want to be there; this store is very important to us. We’ve served them well for a long time. It would be a huge blow to us if it goes.”

Sears Holdings asked the city to remove all references to “blight” in its proposed redevelopment plan. David Frank, the city’s transit development director, said that’s not possible, because the city must make findings about blight to establish the plan. Sears also asked for an “equitable financial proposal,” but Frank said that request is premature.

The city has already adopted a few goals for the area. Goals include a mix of housing types and affordability; retail along both sides of reopened Nicollet and Lake; and high-density, multi-story buildings with a mix of homes and commercial space. Large-format retail would need to be built according to “urban design” standards, with shared structured parking. Plans also call for a “linear park” on the west side of Nicollet between Lake Street and the Greenway. A rebuilt 29th Street would have a design that puts “people and bikes first.”

Hinds said the neighborhood is excited about the step forward.          

“In the time I’ve been at Lyndale, the question I am always asked, more than any other question, is when are we going to reopen Nicollet?” he said. “It’s not about Kmart and about Kmart being there, it’s about reopening our ‘Main Street.’ … This is an area of the city that is ready to bloom.”

*This story has been updated with additional comments from Sears Holdings.