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March 28, 2011
By: Gregory J. Scott and Sarah McKenzie
Gregory J. Scott and Sarah McKenzie

Applebee’s closes Block E doors

DOWNTOWN CORE — The Applebee’s on the skyway level of Block E has closed, adding yet another large vacancy in the Downtown entertainment complex.

A small sign posted on the restaurant’s entrance announced that its last day of business was Sunday, March 13. Crews then spent the morning of March 14 dismantling the décor, removing framed photographs from the walls and stacking them in a corner. Workers also lifted wood tabletops from booths. All of the bric-a-brac will be placed in storage, one crewmember explained, to be later distributed to other Applebee’s locations.

The former owners had completely moved out by March 17. The space is currently walled off from the complex by a white plaster barrier. Applebee’s first debuted in Block E in April of 2003.

According to Applebee’s Director of Franchise Operations Randy Carmody, the closure was the result of a mutual agreement between the restaurant and Block E owners. Neither Carmody nor the former owners would discuss the terms of the restaurant’s lease.

The Block E location’s 55 employees have also been transferred to other locations, Carmody said.

The Applebee’s closure creates the fifth major vacancy for the decade-old Block E, following the shuttering of Hooters, GameWorks, Borders, Snyder Drug and Bellanotte. Kieran’s Irish Pub moved into the former Bellanotte space in March of 2010, but the other spaces remain empty.

— Gregory J. Scott

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Hive Salon opens in former Stella spot

HOLLAND — The empty building at 4th Street NE and Lowry Avenue with the giant pink billy goat finally has a new tenant. And just like the old one, it’s a hair salon.

Hive Salon opened on March 22. Owners Jen Cortez and Becca Bighley describe their new business as being “green without the granola.” The salon uses products, hair color and texture treatments that are as free of potentially toxic ingredients and as natural as possible.  

Cortez and Bighley, Cortez’s younger sister, also recycle all of their hair foils, waste and paper, and they send their hair clippings to Matter of Trust, a charity that gathers human hair to help clean up oil spills.

“We don’t want to call ourselves an “organic” salon, said Cortez. “It’s not truly organic, because you are using hair color, and even though you can get rid of the really harmful stuff, some lines still have artificial fragrance, things that I would never call organic.  What we’re going for is to be completely up front about what you’re putting on your body and what you’re putting in your body. It’s more like conscious beauty, I guess.”

Cortez said the five-chair salon was planning a grand opening celebration for the first week of May. Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m.–7 p.m., and Saturdays, 11 a.m.–6 p.m.

— Gregory J. Scott


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Vacant Jaguar dealership poised for new life

WAREHOUSE DISTRICT — Downtown real estate watchers are hinting that the long vacant Jaguar dealership, a 2.4-acre site at 222 Hennepin Ave. S., has finally attracted a buyer.

In late March, rumors began swirling that big-time developer Ryan Cos. had plans to build a new apartment building with retail space on the site. A purchase agreement is expected any day now.

Canadian company Milliken Development Group originally paid $14 million for the block in 2005, with the hopes of building a condo tower with a Whole Foods grocery                                                                                                                                          store on its first level. Those plans soured when the recession hit, and the property went back to HSBC Bank USA about a year ago. Property records show that the site’s assessed market value for tax purposes is around $6 million.

Both Ryan Cos. and CB Richard Ellis, the company marketing the real estate, are keeping very mum on the project. In addition, neither Downtown neighborhood groups nor the city’s department of Community Planning and Economic Development said they had heard about any development plans.

— Gregory J. Scott

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Talks of another Lunds revived

DOWNTOWN WEST — Lund Food Holdings Inc. is again making noise about putting a grocery store on the west end of Downtown, and this time it appears to be serious.

The company announced on March 22 that it was ramping up its interest in the corner of 12th Street and Hennepin Avenue, a block which it mostly owns. Over a decade ago, Lunds paid $8 million for the parcel and currently controls all sites except for Buca di Beppo, 1204 Harmon Place, and the Espresso Royale building, 1227 Hennepin Ave. S.

According to company spokesman Aaron Sorenson, Lunds has already developed a site plan for a new store at the location, which the grocery chain will present to neighbors at a series of upcoming meetings.

The first public meeting happened on March 22, in the Kenosha Building, which houses Buca di Beppo. On March 30, Lunds will present to Citizens for a Loring Park Community. That meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Loring Park Office Building, 430 Oak Grove St. Then, on March 31, also at 6:30 p.m., Lunds will  present the site plans at Espresso Royale.

Lunds’ plans for the 12th and Hennepin site have been in limbo for years, placed on the back burner while the company built its East Hennepin location, on University Avenue SE, and then later pursued a development at 11th Street and Hennepin Avenue with current Block E owners Alatus.

Alatus never succeeded in raising funds, and the company says it no longer has a financial obligation to the project.

Sorenson declined to discuss specific details for the new site, but he has indicated that a Downtown store would resemble the University Avenue location, particularly in its emphasis on deli meals to go for an urban population.

It is largely believed that the grocery chain will not tear down any of the current buildings on the block.

Lunds Food Holdings has 3,200 employees and operates 10 Lunds and 11 Byerly’s grocery stores, all but one of which are in the Twin Cities.

— Gregory J. Scott

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Block E movie theater forced to renegotiate lease


DOWNTOWN CORE — The movie theater located in Block E will have to renegotiate its lease if it wants to stay in the Downtown entertainment complex, a judge ruled in mid-March.

Block E owners Alatus filed a complaint last October, alleging that the language in AMC Showplace Theaters, Inc.’s lease was unclear, meaning that Block E was not obligated to continue its relationship with the theater as is.

The theater’s current five-year lease is up in September 2012. AMC had argued that its contract should include the option to renew for two additional five-year periods.

Under its current lease, the theater’s rent is based on a percentage of annual gross sales: it pays 15 percent above $3 million, 20 percent above $5 million, or 25 percent above $7 million. According to the lawsuit, AMC currently “is not paying any rent” to occupy the 84,000-square-foot, stadium-seating movie theater, implying that the tenant’s revenue has been below $3 million.

The judge ruled that the theater can choose to renegotiate its lease. The decision allows Block E owners, freed of their commitment to the theater, much more leeway in their plans to redevelop the site.

— Gregory J. Scott

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Yoga for Smiles

Mats on a Mission is launching Yoga for Smiles in the North Loop — yoga classes benefiting the Smile Network International.

The classes will be held at the Smile Network’s offices at 211 N. 1st St., suite 150, beginning the week of April 4.

The Smile Network, founded by Kim Valentini, provides reconstructive surgeries for children and young adults born with cleft lips or palettes.

There will be a Mats on a Mission open house on April 1, 5:30–8 p.m., and Saturday, April 2, 9–11 a.m.

All of the fees collected for classes April 4–9 will go directly to the Smile Network. After the first week, 50 percent of proceeds will benefit the organization.

For more information visit, matsonamission.com.

— Sarah McKenzie