Possible result? A bigger, cheaper grocery store near Downtown, but fewer area artists
While the Riverplace-area neighborhood known as East Bank spawns new construction, high-priced condos and trendy eateries, one site has remained frozen in time: the Eastgate Shopping Center at University and Central avenues. The dated strip mall and the neighboring Delmac Building on University Avenue have languished for too long, say some neighbors.
New ownership may finally remake the buildings in the area's new image -- minus some artists who've populated the Delmac Building since before the East Bank got "hot."
"Eastgate has been a thorn in our sides because it is a ratty-looking place," said Nicollet Island East Bank board member Victor Grambsch. "I think the new landlord will make something a bit more upscale."
Three weeks ago, Hillcrest Development purchased the strip mall and Delmac building from Elliot Saliterman. Rumors on the buildings' fate have circulated through the neighborhood -- including that the Delmac's many artists will be kicked out and that Rick's Market grocery store will get a lot bigger.
However, according to Scott Tankenoff, Hillcrest's managing partner, nobody is getting kicked out yet and it is too soon to say much more.
"The buildings in their current condition need re-investment," Tankenoff said. "The question is what form of re-investment should they have and how far should we go? There are so many possible options at this point for the site. The idea of condominiums, of rental housing is a definite possibility. The idea of building something else in the parking lot -- that's a possibility. There's a possibility of not being able to do any of that, too."
The Eastgate Shopping Center is a low-rise building with one of the neighborhood's few large surface parking lots. It is home to tenants such as Mac's Sports Bar and Grill, Rick's Market, Cost Cutters, The Best Steak House, Happy Garden and Snyder Drug.
The length of leases in the complex varies, but Tankenoff said Hillcrest will honor them all. "If someone has a lease that goes through 2005 we're going to honor that lease. How couldn't we? Even if legally there's a way around it, we're going to honor that lease," he said.
Although neighborhood board members have not yet met with Hillcrest, already they are glad to have a new landlord in the neighborhood.
According to Grambsch, former Eastgate owner Saliterman didn't aggressively maintain his buildings. "Now that Elliot (Saliterman) is gone, I think it will bode well for us," he said.
Bob McNamara, owner of Mac's Sports Bar and Grill in the Eastgate building and Mac's Shoe Outlet in the Delmac Building, is also glad to see a new property owner.
"The other landlord really didn't do much for the area. He collected the rent and that was about it," McNamara said. "[Hillcrest is] aggressive in a sense where at least they told me they want to keep the building up and dress it up and make it look a little bit better."
Saliterman could not be reached for comment.
Rick's Market owner Rick Bloomquist also thinks Hillcrest will improve the neighborhood. "I think we have a landlord who wants to better the area, and I'm looking forward to it," he said.
Although both Bloomquist and Hillcrest's Tankenoff emphasize that it is too soon to say what will happen to Rick's Market, an expansion may be in the cards.
"Personally speaking, I guess the opportunity to expand is there," Bloomquist said. "When it's going to happen I don't know. I guess that's strictly up to my landlord.
"I could do a very nice job if I could double my space," he said of the current 11,000-square-foot grocery. "If I get the space, it would be an upgraded store."
And with that bigger store could come smaller prices.
"Will there be more deals? Yeah, because you have more product and more space," Bloomquist said. "There's always going to be lowering of stuff because of how I can buy for a larger store."
Grambsch said an expanded grocery store is something neighbors want.
"We would like to see a bigger, higher-volume store, which I think will get prices down and have a bigger variety of things," he said. "Right now, it's sort of like a large convenience store. The problem with that is that the prices are relatively high."
The neighboring Delmac Building is the less-noticeable and quirkier piece of this redevelopment plan. This four-story former high school is home to many artists, such as glass blowers from Clown Glass, but also telemarketers and a fitness venture. Most tenants had month-to-month verbal leases before Hillcrest bought the building.
According to Tankenoff, he offered all of the tenants written six-month leases. Not everyone accepted, so those tenants are no longer in the building. However, Tankenoff insisted that no one was kicked out.
"We've offered them a lease term that's not month-to-month which essentially gives [the tenants] a little bit of certainty and shows them we're trying to make a commitment," Tankenoff said. "We're not trying to push anyone out of the building, but we need to know that people will make a commitment back."
Tankenoff said that Hillcrest has not asked for rent increases. "We're trying to be respectful to the people who are there," he said.
Still, tenants like writer and director Dennis LeFebvre worry about what will happen at the end of his six-month agreement. LeFebvre has written plays and held theater rehearsals in the Delmac building off and on for 10 years.
Said LeFebvre, "It's harder and harder to find a place to work in this neighborhood. Finding affordable rent and places to do art that's convenient is getting harder and harder."