Ackerberg shares vision for Calhoun Square and Uptown

Calhoun Square's new owner, developer Stu Ackerberg, said boosting daytime traffic is essential to Uptown's health

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Developer Stu Ackerberg, who recently purchased Calhoun Square for a reported $69.5 million, shared his vision for that building and the wider Uptown area at the CARAG neighborhood board’s May 20 meeting.

A crowd at least two or three times the usual size turned out for the meeting, drawn by Ackerberg and perhaps Anne Rucker, too, since she’s opening her Bogart’s Doughnut Co. in the neighborhood next week and brought three boxes full of samples. But after hearing from Rucker, the group turned its attention to Ackerberg, who said he plans a “heavily cosmetic” remodeling of Calhoun Square’s common areas starting in the next 30–45 days.

The developer, whose Ackerberg Group portfolio includes multiple Uptown properties, said boosting daytime traffic is essential to the health of the retail center and the entire area. He’s close to inking a deal that could do just that.

Ackerberg said he has a signed letter of intent with tech firm Code 42 for a 250,000-square-foot office space in the next phase of his MoZaic project. If they agree on a lease, the firm, currently based in Northeast, would move 400–500 jobs to Uptown.

Completed in 2012, the first phase of MoZaic includes 66,000 square feet of class A office space on three floors above a six-story parking ramp and first-floor restaurants.

Uptown largely operates as an entertainment district and really comes to life at night and on weekends. Adding office workers could counteract the slowdown restaurants and shops experience on weekdays and attract more of what Ackerberg called “traditional retailers.”

“It’s sort of hard to buy a belt in Uptown,” he said as an example.

“That’s the missing link,” he said of office workers. “… They need to eat, they need to shop.”

They could also play into Ackerberg’s plans for a 30,000-square-foot undeveloped lot adjacent to Calhoun Square. During the meeting he said he was “not at all prepared to talk about” that site, but hinted it could evolve into a mixed-use development with office space above retail and “maybe even a hotel if we can figure that out.”

That would please CARAG Board Member Brad Klein, who said he’s often asked about a hotel in the Uptown area. Out-of-town visitors have to find lodging in other neighborhoods.

Board Member Michelle Beaulieu suggested Ackerberg consider a temporary use for the undeveloped site, which is currently surrounded by a fence covered in advertisements. It could be opened during neighborhood festivals, like the Uptown Art Fair, Beaulieu said.

She also urged Ackerberg to consider integrating two nearby transit stops into his plans for Calhoun Square.

Ackerberg said the remodeling of the Calhoun Square common areas would aim for an “urban, gritty feel.” He had little nice to say about the current layout of those spaces, but added more significant changes aren’t possible in the near future, with all but about 12 percent of the building’s space currently leased.

His future plans also include changes to the Girard Meander pedestrian area east of the building, which he said is not attracting enough activity.

Board Member Maura Lynch said many in the neighborhood don’t want Calhoun Square to be just another mall. Ackerberg said he understood that.

“The last two owners were mall owners and they really didn’t want people in there,” he said. “We want just the opposite.”

Board Member Cameron Conway said Calhoun Square was his “main street” during the winter months, when many pedestrians use the building as a climate-controlled pass-through, window shopping along the way. Conway urged Ackerberg to keep that use in mind.

“Take more inspiration from Main Street Northeast than the Mall of America,” he said.