Loring Park restaurateurs are raving about new landlord Kamran Talebi, who plans to make Nicollet Avenue look appetizing
Technically, the L-shaped building that fronts Nicollet Avenue at 14th Street is part of Eat Street -- but despite vibrant restaurants such as Market Bar-B-Que, New Delhi and Salsa a la Salsa, it doesn't look very appetizing.
The building front looks neglected. Its veneer is crumbling. The once-intricate brickwork is lost in the slouching facade. It's a door, not a window, to the bevy of Eat Street eateries just a few blocks further down Nicollet.
But now that the restaurants and the nearby Red Eye Theater have a new landlord, their tired building will get a privately-financed facelift.
"The overall perception is that the businesses here are fantastic. But the outside [of the building] is sloppy and choppy," said Kamran Talebi, lead investor for 14th Street Ventures, the development company that bought the 14th and Nicollet building a few months ago.
Since the purchase -- his first real-estate venture -- the 34-year-old Talebi has managed to attract three new tenants and plunk down about a quarter of a million dollars for improvements. (A partner, Payman Massaghi, will handle construction.) Talebi says passersby will see a change by the end of this summer.
If it's dramatic enough, residents and conventioneers might start believing Eat Street stretches from Downtown, instead of beginning around Franklin Avenue.
Talebi knows that when convention goers leave the Convention Center and walk down 14th Street, they have a choice to turn right onto Nicollet Mall or left onto Nicollet Avenue.
"The Mall looks fantastic and up-to-date. These buildings [on the Avenue] look run down," Talebi said. "This is not what buildings on Nicollet should look like."
When Talebi -- who grew up in Burnsville and lives in Eden Prairie -- looks at this 60,000-square-foot piece of property he sees "a fantastic building."
Said Talebi, "To be honest, what caught my eye was the central location on Nicollet Avenue and the fact that this is not what a building should look like on Nicollet. Given the proximity to the Convention Center, I thought this was an opportunity to make an immediate impact."
By the end of this summer, Talebi said that instead of a beat-up building, patrons on Nicollet would see "a vibrant and exciting building with fantastic outdoor seating."
Said Talebi, "It's important for me to see the renovation happen in the summer months, so tenants will use the sidewalks during the warm weather to promote themselves."
Talebi comes well versed in business. He has a Master's degree from the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management. He was the Chief Financial Officer for Prometric, a company he says grew in four years from $2 million in annual revenue to $50 million before being sold to Sylvan. Talebi helped the purchaser boost annual revenue from $50 million to $250 million, until it was sold for $900 million. Then he started a third company, which he says he sold to Microsoft.
Then he moved back to the Twin Cities. He speaks with a convincing enthusiasm, with the air of someone gunning to make a profit but excited to do something cool in the area. "I wanted to take a more aggressive stake in real estate. We would definitely like to expand our presence and get involved in a similar sort of building turn around," Talebi said.
According to Steve Polski, owner of Market Bar-B-Que, "Kam (Talebi) seems to have a vision. When you look in his eyes you can see the twinkle of rejuvenating this block."
His project starts at the Red Eye Theater on 14th Street. Here, Talebi points out the potential he sees in the patterned brick detail that is marred by a "beat-up" appearance and an unfinished entrance.
Talebi plans to put up new awnings here. The old awnings were ripped, and Talebi tore them down soon after he bought the property. "Those awnings were an embarrassment," he said.
He also plans to replace the trim work and fix up the stucco on this part of the building.
Other than Red Eye, the storefronts on 14th Street sit empty except for a makeshift office Talebi has set up.
In the middle of this side, Talebi will put a large new entrance that will lead to eventual tenants who lack street frontage. "We will put signs outside of the building here. This side will be called 14th Street Place," he said.
Around the corner on Nicollet Avenue, Talebi said he would break up the awnings with more lighting. He said the giant fork in front of New Dehli would stay. Said Talebi, "We can't throw away the fork."
Talebi said Market Bar-B-Que would get more windows and a more uniform look. Salsa a la Salsa will have their entrance moved and their windows opened up.
Perhaps some of the most dramatic changes will be in the spaces that currently sit empty. Between New Delhi and Market Bar-B-Que, a restaurant called the Eat Street Caf will be moving in. Talebi would like to install a garage door here so that customers sitting inside could feel like they're sitting outside when the door is open.
Next to Salsa a la Salsa, where a discount beauty supply store used to reside, a business called Hair by Agatha is moving in. This space looks like a flat one-story business front with a house plunked on top of it. Where a false window adorns the "house" part of the space, Talebi plans on a real window to go with new awnings, more windows and new lighting fixtures.
If it weren't for the building improvements Talebi is making, Lynn Smith probably would not be locating her Eat Street Cafe there.
"I had heard wonderful things about Kam (Talebi) as a landlord. And obviously it's important for restaurants and cafs to be somewhere that people are comfortable going to," Smith said. "I don't think I would have located there otherwise."
Current tenants say they think the facelift will improve business.
Market Bar-B-Que owner Polski has been here since 1988. "I think what Kam's doing will rejuvenate the area. I think it's something that's been needed in this part of town for quite some time," Polski said. "I believe when people drive down Nicollet or walk down here from the hotels or from the Convention Center that they're going to see an exciting block, whereas before it had been kind of rundown."
Lorenzo Ariza has only owned his Salsa a la Salsa restaurant on Nicollet for a few months, but he thinks Talebi's plans will spur business.
"It's a great idea. Everyone will benefit -- especially us the tenants," Ariza said. "Our clients will have a nicer place to come to. It will give us more exposure."
New Delhi owner Sayyad Hussain said, "The new landlord is exciting. Due to convention visitors, he wants to do something attractive for this area. Convention people see 14th Street when they walk out of their convention. They see a dead street and they won't come over here. This will bring more business to us."
Some public support
Richard Anderson, president of Citizens for a Loring Park Community, said his group supports Talebi's project.
"For years we've always thought Nicollet Avenue looks a little run down," Anderson said. "We were supportive of the project. It's going to improve the facades."
Michael McLaughlin, executive director of the Loring Business Association, said his group also supports the project -- so much so that they recently approved the project for up to a $50,000 loan at approximately 2 percent interest rate.
McLaughlin said. "It's a very exciting project. I think it will be a great addition to that part of Nicollet."
Talebi said he still has approximately 10-12,000 square feet of space to lease. He said that he hopes to attract more professional services to the building. Already, he has signed an acupuncture business to locate on 14th Street.
Said Talebi, "Un-leased space does not make money. But we're going to be choosy in who we get to lease this space. We have a really fantastic piece of property in the heart of Loring Park."