Calhoun Square’s new owner considers open-air walkway

New plans for Calhoun Square include cutting the building in two to create a pedestrian zone between Hennepin Avenue and the parking garage behind the mall on Girard Avenue. Submitted image

To make the mall currently known as Calhoun Square fit better into the neighborhood, its new ownership is considering cutting the building in half.

Smaller store spaces, local anchors and an open-air pedestrian walkway bisecting the current structure from Hennepin Avenue to the Girard Avenue parking garage are some of the early ideas from Northpond Partners, a Chicago-based firm that bought the mall in November.

“Part of what we want to do is open this asset back up to the street and to the neighborhood,” said Jesse Baerkahn, president of Graffito SP, a retail development and urban design firm hired by Northpond.

Northpond, which owns several properties in the Twin Cities, including The Icehouse in Whittier and The Broadway in Northeast, updated the South Uptown Neighborhood Association about its plans for the mall at a Jan. 21 meeting.

Many of those plans will center on improving the pedestrian experience around Calhoun Square, according to Baerkahn. The plan to divide the building with a pedestrian thoroughfare lined with shops is one way to do that. But Baerkahn said the new ownership will also seek to make the rear of the building, along 31st Street, more accessible and try to create more entrance points for stores from the sidewalk.

His firm has already noticed the frequent conflicts between cyclists, drivers and ride-share services on Hennepin Avenue and is looking to set up a designated drop-off point for Uber and Lyft. More bike parking at more locations surrounding the building is also in the plans.

Inside the mall, the new ownership group wants to move away from national brand anchor stores.

“We really focus on best-in-class local tenants,” Northpond vice president Alistair Perry said, referencing The Broadway building in Northeast, anchored by Spyhouse Coffee and 612 Brew, as an example.

Northpond has booked its first new retailer, longtime West Calhoun floral shop Indulge & Bloom, but is taking its time filling the many empty stores in the mall today.

“The scary part is we have a lot of vacancies and a lot of square feet,” Baerkahn said. “The exciting part is we have a lot of vacancies and a lot of square feet.”

The new owners are hoping to divide that square footage among more spaces too. The days of the 20,000-square-foot retailer are dwindling, in Northpond’s view, and smaller stores allow for a larger variety of retailers.

“The barriers for entry are a lot lower when you have smaller spaces,” Baerkahn said.

Many South Uptown residents suggested the new owners consider a food hall element, like at Keg and Case market in St. Paul, or add space for arts organizations. Many encouraged Northpond to attempt to bring back the former U.S. Postal Service substation, which they said brought a lot of daytime traffic to the mall.

Much of the site’s future remains unclear. Baerkahn said Northpond is looking to develop the long-unused empty lot just north of the parking garage, but it currently has no solid plans.

The name Calhoun Square might be a thing of the past, too, though the development group said it would try to solicit more community ideas before redubbing the space.

What Calhoun Square could look like in 2024

Calhoun Square proposal

  1.  A new pedestrian thoroughfare could bisect the building and connect Hennepin Avenue to the parking garage. 
  2. More storefronts along Hennepin Avenue could be oriented out toward the street, improving the pedestrian experience. 
  3. The vacant lot at Lake & Girard could be developed.