The city of Minneapolis has reached a $9.1 million deal to buy out the lease for the Kmart store on Lake Street, a move that will allow it to accomplish its longtime goal of reopening Nicollet Avenue.
By doing so, the city would remedy what’s widely seen as a massive mistake in planning more than 40 years ago, when it allowed the retailer to build a big-box store that cut off one of Minneapolis’ most storied thoroughfares. But the coming closure of the Kmart, expected by June 30, also eliminates an affordable shopping destination in a working-class neighborhood, and closes the fading discount chain’s last store in Minnesota.
David Frank, director of the city’s Community Planning & Economic Development Department, said negotiations began again after Sears Holding Company declared bankruptcy.
“We discovered that there was more interest on the part of the company to talk about making a deal like this than there had been in the past,” he said.
City officials and Kmart executives have jockeyed for years over what to do with the store, which remained open even as the discount chain and its parent company Sears stores closed by the dozens. With the closure of St. Paul’s Kmart last year, the Minneapolis location was the only one left in the state.
The store has blocked the intersection at Nicollet Avenue S. and Lake St. for more than 40 years, and city officials who want to put a streetcar down Nicollet have declared it one of their largest planning obstacles.
The city paid $8 million to buy the land underneath the store in hopes that it would increase their chances of reopening Nicollet. But Kmart’s lease was still scheduled to run through 2053.
Minneapolis officials had tried unsuccessfully in the past to convince the retailer to rotate its building on the property or agree to move elsewhere.
The deal still needs final approval from City Council, which is expected to come next week, and from Mayor Jacob Frey. That approval is expected to come.
Frey issued a statement calling it “a momentous day for our entire city.” City Council President Lisa Bender, who has made reopening Nicollet Avenue one of her top priorities, said the deal will “provide critical connections for the surrounding neighborhoods and for residents, businesses and visitors throughout the City.”
After Kmart leaves the property, the city will demolish that building and a nearby former Supervalu store, the site of which the city also purchased as part of its redevelopment costs. The city will cover the cost of the demolition. It’s too early to tell how much that will cost. The city must accept bids for contracts and approve them through a public process.
After that, the city will begin redeveloping the site. Both Frank and Robin Hutcheson, director of the city’s public works department, promised there would be a process for the public to say what it wants there.
Both expressed excitement at the idea of redeveloping the area from scratch.
“You need only look at Google Earth to see what a barrier this superblock has become to the neighborhood,” Hutcheson said. “We will be reconnecting the neighborhoods by reconnecting the grid.”
Few shoppers were in the aisles of the Kmart store Thursday afternoon, and nothing inside indicated it was only months from closing. Shopper Kendra Montgomery was surprised to hear the news. She comes here about once a week, and likes the inexpensive clothing, especially women’s boots, and the layaway option.
“Don’t close our store,” Montgomery said. “We love our store.”
Margarita Carrillo, who was buying a pair of high-heeled boots Thursday, said in Spanish she was sad to see the Kmart go. “But what can we do about it?” she said.
Will Reynolds takes the bus from his home in downtown Minneapolis to shop at Kmart. He said he’s worried about the employees. “The staff here are very diverse. I’m sure they all live in the area. What are they going to do?”
University of Minnesota student Cleo Krejci contributed to this report.
This story is developing and will be updated.