Block E in line for a makeover

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November 25, 2013 // UPDATED 10:10 am - November 26, 2013
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie
Owners planning a major transformation for the downtown entertainment complex

WAREHOUSE DISTRICT — Block E is in line for a major makeover — a modern new look designed to make the building more attractive and shed its image as a troubled property.

Block E’s ownership group Camelot LLC is paying for the renovation and will not be seeking public financing to help pay for it, according to a news release sent out earlier today about the renovation project by Provident Real Estate Ventures, the asset manager for Camelot. The cost of the project was not disclosed.

Northeast Minneapolis-based RSP Architects has been tapped to design the building’s new exterior and interior.

“We want to transform Block E into a modern and positive contributor to downtown’s built environment,” said David Serrano, senior associate with RSP Architects. “Our goal with the redesign is to clearly state that Block E has changed. We want it to have an energy and elegance that will allow it to look great day and night.”

The renovations are expected to be complete by late 2014. The design will take cues from other buildings in the city, such as the Guthrie and the newly renovated Millennium Hotel.

Camelot has signed an anchor tenant letter of intent with the Timberwolves and the Lynx for a new training facility in the redesigned Block E at 600 Hennepin Ave. There are also plans for a new restaurant and office tenants.

Block E’s current tenants — the Shout! House, Kieran’s Irish Pub, Starbucks and Jimmy John’s — will remain part of the entertainment complex.

Once the renovation is complete, 120,000 square feet of office and retail space will be available.

“600 Hennepin will offer the only Class A office space in the downtown billboard district. Tenants will benefit from unparalleled 24/7 exterior branding opportunities at the linking block between the [Central Business District] and 5 million annual sports and entertainment visitors,” said Carl Runck, director of real estate development for Alatus and Provident’s development manager.

Phillip Jaffe, a Provident partner, said the renovation project will focus on four fundamentals essential to making an urban property successful: strong security, convenient features that make the property easily navigable, a good tenant mix for the area and a strong design.

The owners of Block E bought the property in 2010 and are on track to pay off the tax-increment financing balance of $13 million to the city by 2019 — seven years ahead of schedule, according to Provident Real Estate Ventures. 

Kessler and Phillip Jaffe founded Provident Real Estate Ventures, a private commercial real estate investment firm, in 2013.

The owners said they have made significant strides in improving the security of Block E — a property that has long suffered from a perception of high crime.

Police calls regarding the entertainment complex have dropped 99 percent since 2009 — from 791 calls to 16 in the last 12 months, according to Provident’s news release.

Hennepin Theatre Trust CEO Tom Hoch, who has been spearheading a plan to create a new Hennepin Cultural District, said he’s planning to meet with the Block E owners and the design team working on the renovation to collaborate on ideas for the property.

“I hope we can get a much better finished project,” he said. “It wasn’t done right last time.”

Hoch said he’d like to see the revitalized Block E feature public art, more pedestrian friendly sidewalks and a better building entrance on Hennepin.

Steve Cramer, who starts his new job as head of the Downtown Council/Downtown Improvement District next week, said the site's challenging history shows "urban development is not for the faint of heart." 

"It has been an often bumpy and controversial road," Cramer said. "But the proposed design appears to better engage the street, and the project overall reinforces the Downtown Council's 2025 Plan goals of creating a compelling and unique downtown experience and developing a concentration of professional sports related activities centered in the Warehouse District."

City Council Member-elect Jacob Frey, who will represent the new Third Ward, which includes Block E, said “anything is an improvement on the present status of Block E.”

“I would, however, like to ensure that locally owned businesses have the opportunity to plant their roots,” he said. “I want all tenants to have skin in the game, and to be invested in the downtown community.” 

Other comments about the new plans for Block E on social media have been less enthusiastic.

Noted Minneapolis artist Aldo Moroni said the site has been in flux for as long as he can remember.

“I have been in Minneapolis 40 years and the only consistent thing about Block E is that it is always under some kind of redesign,” he wrote on the Journal’s Facebook page. “It must have ghosts from the old ball park. Just make it a nice urban park, nothing huge and let it be.”

Block E opened in 2002 with help from a $39.1 million subsidy from city taxpayers, which has been criticized by many people. It has seen many tenants come and go over the years, including GameWorks, Applebee’s, Hard Rock Café and the AMC Block E movie theater.

When the new owners took over the property in 2010 — an ownership group that includes real estate developer Bob Lux of Alatus — a casino was promoted for Block E. The idea lost momentum, however, after the Legislature failed to approve a measure allowing for casinos owned by non-Native Americans in the state.

Target Center — Block E’s neighbor — is also slated to get a major makeover.

The City Council recently approved a nearly $100 million deal to renovate the 23-year-old athletic facility.

Mayor R.T. Rybak said he is excited about the planned renovation at Block E.

“This is a significant development for Block E, for Hennepin Avenue and for our upcoming Target Center renovation," he said. "I’m very pleased that this deal, when approved, is one more anchor for our great partners the Timberwolves and Lynx. It’s the latest sign that downtown Minneapolis is the fastest-growing and most vibrant downtown in America.”