Creatives to get kicked

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March 5, 2007 // UPDATED 11:03 am - April 26, 2007
By: Michelle Bruch
Michelle Bruch

The sale of Nate’s Clothing building could end a colorful era

Artists, publishers and photographers who populate the Nate’s Clothing building on 1st Avenue said they may need to leave Downtown when the building is sold in order to find another affordable space.

Nancy Frykman, senior vice president of Colliers Turley Martin Tucker, said potential buyers walking through the building at 401 1st Ave. N. have expressed interest in either taking the entire building for a single office tenant or installing a restaurant downstairs with office tenants upstairs.

Though any buyer’s plans for the building is only speculation, tenants said their rent at Nate’s is the best deal they have found and there are not many buildings like this one left Downtown.

Scott Seekins, a distinctive artist who has worked in the Manufacturers building since the early 1990s, said the building has a colorful history.

“It used to be a little more wild, more people running in and out, more artists,” he said.

The building, however, has not changed since the day he moved in, Seekins said. Many of the tenants are the same as well. The newest tenants have occupied the building for four years, the oldest have been here more than 20 years.

The building was constructed in 1914, and ownership once passed through the hands of the Walker family, the first patrons of the Walker Art Center.

Alan Witebsky, whose family has owned the building for 30 years and operated Nate’s Clothing out of the ground floor for the past 20, said there are many reasons they decided to sell the building.

“Over the years, we’ve had people interested [in buying the building], but until this year, we’ve always rebuffed them,” Witebsky said. He said the decision to sell now is partly due to family dynamics and partly due to the “opportune time” to sell, given the large investments in other nearby buildings.

“It’s an underutilization of the building for what it is,” he said. “Our choices are either to invest or sell.”

The property has an asking price of $4.5 million and is advertised as an “excellent redevelopment opportunity.” According to the listing agent, the building is situated on the busiest corner of Minneapolis’ Central Business District with traffic counts of 12,400 vehicles per day on 4th Street and 29,400 vehicles per day passing on 1st Avenue. The building as advertised offers an “excellent first-floor restaurant site” and enjoys wide-ranging zoning for hotels, nightclubs or residential units.

Frykman said a buyer might be interested in encouraging the Chicago-style “mini-Rush Street” that some developers envision for 1st Avenue.

One developer has undertaken an extensive renovation of the Wyman building across the street from Nate’s Clothing. New tenants include Envy Night Club and Aqua Night Club on the ground floor.

Coffee House Press has worked out of the Manufacturers building for about seven years. The company is scouting for new locations throughout the metro area, but staff said they love it here.

“It is way more casual than a corporate office,” said Linda Koutsky, a graphic designer at Coffee House Press. She hears dogs barking throughout the building, watches models involved in photo shoots traipse in and out, and gets the daily dose of gossip from the mail carrier.

“It’s like a small town,” Koutsky said.

Dan Ibarra of Aesthetic Apparatus, a tenant that has “only” occupied their space for four years, called the building a “lighthouse among the clubs.” He and business partner Michael Byzewski said they don’t expect a new building owner to allow them to remain here.

“Looking around, I can’t assume it will stay what it is now,” Ibarra said.

The building features bare concrete stairwells that lead to scuffed wooden hallways, restrooms labeled by taped-up paper signs, and units with massive white columns and huge windows that overlook the Warehouse District.

Photographer Leo Tushaus said he’s worked in the building for about eight years.

“It’s on the corner, on the third floor, right above Nate’s,” he said of his studio. “It’s a great view, great window light; it’s the perfect size and price.” He said the space is more affordable than others he had considered, but he thinks he might be able to find something comparable elsewhere.

“I’m trying not to think about it,” he said. “I would think there would have to be so many options. If the rent goes up significantly, I’ll have to look around.”

Chad Holder has located his photography studio in the building for the past five years.

“I love to be Downtown,” he said, wondering whether he will find something available that will suit his needs.

A comment echoed by all interviewed tenants was an appreciation for the landlord, the Witebsky family that owns Nate’s Clothing.

“Being a landlord myself, I know that sometimes it’s not the easiest thing to do to be a nice guy and make a profit, Tushaus said. “When I moved in here, I knew someone who had the top floor who said that as nice as [the Witebskys] seem, once you get to know them, they are even nicer.”

Nate’s Clothing has passed through three generations of the Witebsky family. Alan and his brother Steve run the store; their grandfather Nate founded the business in 1916. Alan said Nate’s Clothing could relocate to another building or stay in place, depending on the wishes of the buyer.

Seekins said he may move out of Downtown altogether when the building is sold. He said he views his potential exodus in terms of the continuing trend of artist displacement in the Warehouse District, noting the noisier night crowd and the increasing difficulty for vehicles to access his building. Seekins said he is all that remains of the 250 artists who once worked in the area.

Seekins said a move out of Downtown would have nothing to do with the landlord, who has been very supportive of tenants over the years.

“It’s more about the times; it’s more about the change here,” he said.

Cheap spaces getting harder to find

Cheap office space Downtown is disappearing, and a sale of the Nate’s Clothing building at 27 N. 4th St. could further that trend.

Wendy Holmes, vice president of Artspace, said Nate’s might be one of the last buildings Downtown that offers affordable space to creative tenants.

“It’s really kind of the end of an era,” Holmes said.

Artspace works to preserve affordable space for artists, and artist displacement in the Warehouse District led to the creation of Artspace in 1979.

Brian Ginkel, an advisor at United Properties, said office space in the Warehouse District is filling up quickly, particularly in the rehabilitated Wyman buildings.

“There are no really Class C rates along 1st Avenue any more,” Ginkel said. “There are not a ton of options.”

Class C refers to rentable space in older buildings of any size, according to Colliers Turley Martin Tucker, and the buildings have the least expensive rental rates Downtown. Ginkel said there is not much Class C office space in the Central Business District.

United Properties reported at the end of 2006 that Downtown’s Class C gross rental rates, including the net rental rate and operating expenses, were $16-$17 per square foot. Less expensive rates are available in Northeast Minneapolis for $10-$12 gross, or along Lake Street for about $14-$18 gross. A close third for the cheapest space in Minneapolis is still in the Warehouse District, said Paul Donovan, senior advisor.