Since we’ve been on the subject of food lately, I’m wondering whether you’ve been to Block E in downtown Minneapolis recently? If you’re reading this and wondering about Block E, check the Wiki page on Block E. If you don’t want all those details suffice it to say that in the 50’s Block E became the city center of squalor, flophouses, prostitution, seedy bars and porn. All that changed in 1988 when the City Council voted to tear it down and replace it.
This year I’ve been there several times now that Kieran’s Bar took over the old Bellanotte space. Kieran’s is drawing in steady clientele and they clearly have found a nice niche a block away from Target Field with great outdoor seating and an upbeat interior and friendly staff. In July The Minneapolis -St. Paul Business Journal reported that the local investment group Alatus purchased Block E from ULLICO the lender that had temporarily taken it over from McCaffery Interests Inc.
On my last visit to Kieran’s with co-workers last week, everyone concurred with the findings from the Mpls-St. Paul Journal reporting that the entire complex really lacks an identity. Looking at the list of “anchor” establishments you get the point:
1. Hooters – Do we even need to comment on this one? Why did someone think that one of the top, central destinations of our city center should be anchored by…..Hooters? Besides, Hooters owes more than $350,000 in rent, utilities, taxes and penalties. No one chooses to go there and you’re not going to bring your family there before a Twins game.
2. Applebees – Ask anyone with a modicum of taste where to go get a good steak and Applebees won’t be near the top of the list. End of story. Leave these guys out in the suburbs of America. If you’re going downtown for a steak before a Twins game, aren’t you more likely to choose Manny’s or Ike’s or Chris Ruth’s or the Capital Grille? If you’re going to offer a steak restaurant, it better be something that’s on par with what you can get only 1/2 a block further east.
3. The Hardrock Cafe – Isn’t the Hardrock someplace you MIGHT visit in some other city? You know what I mean? It happens when you’re with that friend who is trying to visit every Hardrock in the world so they can post it on FB and become the foursquare mayor of the HardRock fan page and tweet it out to their friends via their phone. But for the rest of us in the Twin Cities, the Hardrock is not the destination you choose in your own hometown. Maybe at the Mall of America….that’s probably the right place for it.
4. The failed GameWorks – It failed. It’s closed. Do we need to say more? The bowling alley there was a fun work group lunch spot once a year. Lunch and line. What else do you do for fun in January when it’s -20 below for a week? Now we’ll just complain about the weather until the new Block E owners figure out what they’re going to do.
To be fair, there’s one bar that has received some good recommendations: The Shout House: Rock & Roll Dueling Pianos. I give this one points for being a unique destination in the Cities and according to co-workers who’ve been there, they had a good time. Honestly, I haven’t had a reason to organize a group to go yet. But it’s on my list. However, having one unique and entertaining place to go doesn’t provide a complete identity for the entire complex and the new Alatus owners know it.
Some questions are: will the proximity to the Twins new stadium and the excitement generated by Target Field spill over one block to the east and help supply an identity to a vital city centerpiece?
Or will the entire complex continue to be a barren wasteland of national chain joints that don’t offer anything truly Minnesotan and unique to the Twin Cities?
In ’88 when re-construction began, developers aimed to shape Block E as “Block Entertainment” with a desire to bring back retail that had fled the city’s mainstay avenue for skyway level shopping 1 block away on Nicollet. Borders was one of those original tenants and they closed in 2008 and Bellanote went down a year ago in July.
Now we are all waiting for what the geniuses at Alatus bring in and apparently we have to wait until the end of the year as they “explore all their options.” The Journal also said they were going to hire a real estate broker by September to market the space. But I haven’t heard any movement on that front. Have you?
Assuming that if you build it, people will come – then what would YOU like to see in that space? What would entice YOU to eagerly plunk your hard-earned dough downtown on Block E? What would you want before a game or before a show at one of the live theatres (Hennepin Center for the Performing Arts, State, Orpheum, Pantages)?
Send us your comments and suggestions!