The 1400 block of Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis is a hodgepodge of one-story buildings from the early 1900s — home to three restaurants, a bar, a barber shop, a day care, a theater and a chiropractor’s office.
All of that will likely be gone by October, when developer Reuter Walton plans to break ground on six stories of metal and glass apartments in their place.
The project is another sign of a changing Minneapolis, where demand for market-rate apartments drives development, tenants of older buildings face the constant possibility of eviction, and the City Council considers sweeping changes that would allow denser construction of apartments everywhere.
In Loring Park, a southwest pocket of downtown Minneapolis marked by three- or four-story red brick apartment buildings, neighborhood leaders fret over the displacement of long-tenured businesses.
“That is just an astonishing loss,” said John Van Heel, an architect and former president of Citizens for a Loring Park Community. “What it will do is take a little bit of the soul out of the neighborhood.”
On Wednesday, earthmovers carved away at a pit in the 1500 block of Nicollet where Dominium is building a massive affordable apartment complex. Across the street, workers attached flagstones to the outer wall of a new six-story apartment building next to the Nicollet Diner.
Subject to City Council approval this summer, Reuter Walton plans to break ground on the 1400 Loring complex in October. It will include more than 230 units, with rents ranging from $1,100 to $2,000 per month for a one-bedroom apartment.
More construction could be on the way. Under the draft form of the city’s comprehensive plan, the entire Loring Park neighborhood will be zoned for buildings no less than six stories and up to 20 stories tall.
“It kind of feels like I’m in a virtual game of Sim City,” said Sam Turner, the owner of Nicollet Diner and the Muffin Top Cafe.
Turner said the disruption from construction hurts his business and the loss of establishments like Salsa a la Salsa, Market Bar-B-Que and the Red Eye Theater will be felt in the neighborhood, but he’s glad for the investment.
“You always lose character. That’s just one of the prices of development. But in my opinion, the benefits outweigh the cost,” Turner said. “I truly believe it will be a lot more vibrant neighborhood at the end of this exercise.”
Turner said he is more disappointed in the Dominium project because it includes little retail along Nicollet Avenue. A convenience store, sambusa joint, Middle Eastern restaurant and vacant army surplus store were demolished to make way for the 183-unit building.
Lorenzo Ariza, the owner of Salsa a la Salsa, said the developer planning to demolish his restaurant, Reuter Walton, has made a reasonable offer for him to occupy a storefront in the new building. But it’s too much of a risk for him to pay an estimated $300,000 to outfit a new restaurant. He’s looking for other locations, and will focus for now on his operation at the Midtown Global Market.
“We won’t be back here,” Ariza said.
A day care tucked into the block that serves 160 families and employs 36 people must move.
“Our employees are going to be unemployed because we obviously cannot pay them while we are reconstructing,” said Nasro Abshir, who owns and runs First Choice Child Care with her mother. “We lose our business, basically. We have to start from scratch.”
Abshir didn’t want to move, but the day care’s lease included a termination clause in case of redevelopment. She sees the new project as gentrification.
“This entire block that has so much cultural diversity, a lot of the neighborhood feels it’s just turning into Uptown — very generic, the buildings all looking the same, not affordable at all,” she said.
The developer, Nick Walton, disagrees. He’s been trying to persuade three of the businesses on the block — Salsa a la Salsa, Market Bar-B-Que and Upper Cuts Barbershop — to occupy smaller storefronts in the new building once it’s complete, he said. And even though commercial space will be lost, Walton said he was careful to make sure that Nicollet Avenue is still lined with businesses.
“All the frontage on Nicollet will be true retail but for our lobby,” he said.
Monell Castellan, the owner of the barbershop, said he hasn’t decided whether to stay, but conversations with Walton have been productive. “We’re still talking about it,” Castellan said. “Nothing’s in stone.”
Steve Polski, who co-owns Market Bar-B-Que with his son Anthony, had to move to the spot on Nicollet in 1987 when his building at 2nd Avenue and Glenwood was condemned to make room for a Target Center parking ramp. The Polskis are opening a new spot in Northeast, and, depending on how well it does, may decide to occupy space in the new building on Nicollet.
“If we can and the deal is right, we’d like to have a presence in this space,” Polski said.
In the dining rooms behind the antique mahogany bar, the walls are covered with pictures of famous people who ate at the 73-year-old barbecue joint, which, according to Polski, is the oldest family-owned and family-operated restaurant in Minneapolis.
Roger Maris. Bob Hope. Lena Horne. Jay Leno. Levar Burton. Sugar Ray Leonard. Willie Mays. Nat King Cole.
“I’m going to miss this neighborhood,” Polski said. “They must feel that there’s big demand for more apartments downtown.”
Staff writer Eric Roper contributed to this report.
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