What's next for retail in downtown Minneapolis?

MINNEAPOLIS – The announcement that Ann Taylor is closing its outlet in downtown Minneapolis is another blow to retail in the once-heralded Gaviidae shopping development.

Gaviidae opened two decades ago as Minneapolis' upscale downtown mall, but retail beat a hasty retreat from the upper floors of the four-story building.

Nicollet Mall was once a vibrant shopping destination with multiple department stores; however, Donaldson's, Carson Pirie Scott, Montgomery Ward, Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus have all disappeared. Only Dayton's-Marshall Fields-Macy's survives, accompanied by the Target Headquarters store.

"Probably it was about 20 years ago when downtown Minneapolis retailing really peaked," said Dave Brennan, professor and retailing expert at the University of St. Thomas. "And that was about the time that Neiman Marcus opened up in Gaviidae 2. Since that time it slid and slid down. More upscale retailers continue to leave as with Ann Taylor now, but what we find is the ones that are left are more either the mid-level or the discount, like a Target, like a Marshalls, like the Gap."

Brennan has doubts that Minneapolis downtown retail can rebound.

"I think retailing in any downtown is struggling these days, but particularly, we have seen it in St. Paul," said Brennan. "Now we see it with Minneapolis."

Minneapolis is investing in the Nicollet Mall corridor with a major redesign of the pedestrian-only street.

"We are dumping $50 million into that street," said Jacob Frey, Minneapolis City Council member whose ward includes downtown. "The increased clientele that are coming down to shop, it is only a matter of time before these spaces are filled."

"Whether or not downtown can come back remains to be seen," said Brennan. "I think that the initiative of the Downtown Council in terms of trying to beautify Nicollet Avenue is a real positive influence, but I do not think it is going to bring back retailing."

Frey said he is not discouraged by the Ann Taylor closing.

"Ah, well, it is unfortunate that Ann Taylor's leaving, but I can tell you there are five that are calling me every day that are excited to take their place," said Frey. "Which one it will be, ultimately, I do not know."

Frey agrees with Brennan that expecting large department stores to return is unlikely.

"While you may not see some of the vast, dramatic spaces like a whole lot of Macy's, you will see a lot of small local businesses coming in, setting up shop on smaller units."


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