On the rooftop deck of the new Arts & Rec restaurant in Minneapolis' Uptown neighborhood, two servers-in-training sampled burgers and "chipped fish" battered in Doritos.
Across the street, diners lunched on Stella's rooftop. Three other places nearby — Sooki & Mimi, Black Walnut Bakery and La La Ice Cream — are newly in-vogue destinations for foodies.
"People are coming to Uptown if you give them somewhere to go," said Sam Ankin, co-founder of Northpond Partners, the Chicago developer that placed a big bet on the Uptown neighborhood by purchasing the shopping center formerly known as Calhoun Square.
Before 2020, Uptown struggled with a broader shift in retail and lost several national retail chains. Then came the pandemic, damage in the riots after George Floyd's murder by police and the police shooting of Winston Smith in an Uptown parking garage. More businesses left, and parts of the neighborhood stayed boarded-up longer.
But this weekend, the Uptown Art Fair resumes for the first time since 2019, and there are other signs that the neighborhood is reviving.
At the heart of Uptown's Hennepin and Lake intersection, Calhoun Square is now called Seven Points and is moving in a new direction with more independent businesses such as Arts & Rec and construction of a seven-story apartment building.
Ankin and other developers envision a more eclectic and residential Uptown, shaped by locally owned shops and restaurants rather than national ones. And they aim for art spaces that will be unique.
A concert venue planned for the Uptown Theatre space also is expected to be a draw.
Developer Ned Abdul, who was behind turning the Armory downtown into an event space, said construction is underway and the location with a capacity of 2,500 should be open by next March. The city's Heritage Preservation Commission will review the plans Wednesday.
The theater's landmark 60-foot sign that says "UPTOWN" will stay.
"We're definitely excited to bring more people and vibrancy to that neighborhood with 50 to 75 events a year," Abdul said.
Landlords have worked with the community and police to address public safety. Since the riots in 2020, Uptown has also been the site of repeated "intersection takeovers" by street racers. Business and property owners partnered with the We Push for Peace organization to put ambassadors on the street and defuse potential conflicts.
"Activity and people are the greatest solution to public safety, a lot of people on the street, a lot of activity," Ankin said.
Real estate observers point to strong occupancy data, the proximity of affluent neighborhoods and the Chain of Lakes as drivers of demand for Uptown businesses.
The average apartment vacancy rate was 4% during the first quarter, down from 4.5% a year earlier in the Minneapolis sub-district that includes Uptown, according to Marquette Advisors. The average rent was $1,479 during the first quarter, up 8.4% from last year.
"Hopefully that's the opportunity for fresh new retail and fresh new restaurants to come in because you have the occupancy," said Stefanie Meyer, a vice president/principal of Mid-America Real Estate.
Construction is expected to start in October of 272 apartments at Seven Points, an effort that will cost $150 million for Northpond and its partner, Minneapolis-based Doran Cos. Plans also are in the works for 130 affordable apartments at the vacant lot east of Seven Points, Ankin said.
James Beard-award winning chef Ann Kim from nearby Sooki & Mimi is consulting with Seven Points on the search for a 10,000-square-foot market, with everyday items as well as unique options. A larger format was nixed because of the logistics involved, such as loading challenges, and because of the presence of Cub Foods and Lunds & Byerlys within blocks.
Ben Graves, whose Uptown-based Graves Hospitality is behind Arts & Rec as well as Moxy hotel and the Tasting Room in Uptown, says activity in the neighborhood is similar to Manhattan's Chelsea.
"Chelsea was artsy, a little gritty and all of a sudden all the big boxes moved in and the H&Ms and then those didn't really work as well," Graves said. "Now you see a lot of unique stuff opening up in Chelsea. And I think Uptown is akin to that."
While the Arts & Rec rooftop opens Friday, a much larger art-themed restaurant will be unveiled in fall that takes up space on the Lake Street side of Seven Points. The concept came together after a group of artists approached Graves to collaborate.
He describes Arts & Rec as an "art-forward entertainment venue with everything from a rooftop bar, black box theater, speakeasy and artist-designed immersive mini-golf course."
"Now property owners are looking for creative unique options that will be successful in the community, more akin to what people thought of Uptown over the years," Graves said.