MINNEAPOLIS - If you've ever been driving down Nicollet Avenue, only to find yourself smack dab in the middle of a Kmart parking lot, chances are you've thought this big K was a big mistake.
"This wasn't a mistake," said former Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak. "This was desperation."
Desperation that former Rybak says goes all the way back to when the store first opened in 1977.
"The city wanted to change this area, they cleared the area in hope of development," he said. "It didn't come. They got desperate. ... Kmart said, we'll come but only if we can do the model that worked in a bunch of suburbs."
That model was so controversial that it led to a protest mural in the place where it cut off Nicollet Avenue. But even though it literally split the neighborhood, in other ways it brought it together.
"The Whittier Alliance, at the time, was created as a response to those frustrations and concerns," said Ricardo McCurley, Executive Director of the Whittier Alliance.
Ever since, McCurley says the Alliance has pushed and planned for redevelopment that might better connect and serve the area.
"As you can see when you look around, the parking lot isn't full," he said. "It's never full. And all of that space could be put to such better uses."
The city agrees, which is why it is on the verge of paying $8 million to buy the land from Kmart's current landlord. There's just one problem: Their lease goes until the year 2053.
"Kmart has a lot of control of what happens now," said Minneapolis Economic Development Director David Frank.
Frank says the city made a proposal to Kmart that would include a new store and increased access due to a reconnected Nicollet Avenue. But Kmart is less than thrilled, saying in a statement:
"The City's proposal did not specify the type of development planned on the entire property and potential neighbors, and included a 1,000% increase in rent the first year with a 50 percent increase over the next 20 years. No business would ever agree to these terms."
"In the end they didn't think it was in their best interest," Frank said.
Frank said other options are limited.
"The lease does not allow for their rent to be raised, so as I said before, they are in a great position and they have a fair amount of control."
Thirty-six years of control, to be more specific. But after 40 years of waiting, at least it's a start.
"The step they took now says that the long-term view is that the public owned this thing called Nicollet, and it's going to own it again," Rybak said.
The city council still has to sign off on this purchase, but that does look likely. After that they will try to continue to negotiate with Kmart in hopes of finding a solution.
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