The Potluck

Attention Kmart shoppers: Bulldozers arriving soon

By: - March 5, 2020 3:03 pm

Photo courtesy of Kmart

The Kmart that has been an obstacle in the middle of Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis for nearly half a century will soon be bulldozed, the city announced Thursday.

Buses and cars have travelled four blocks around Kmart since the retailer was built in 1977, which Mayor Jacob Frey called “one of the worst urban planning decisions in the history of our city.”

Minneapolis civic, business and elected leaders have been trying for more than two decades to reconnect the fractured Nicollet Ave. between 29th and Lake streets. Now Minneapolis will spend $9.1 million to buy the big box retailer out of the remainder of its lease, paving the way for the city to rebuild Nicollet Avenue.

“It’s a huge opportunity for the city,” said Minneapolis Council President Lisa Bender, who’s led the effort to reconnect Nicollet.

The store will close by June 30 and the buildings will be demolished later this year, but it could be a few more years until the street is finally rebuilt.

In 1998, the Minneapolis city council began looking at ways to undo that mistake. Since then, the effort to demolish Kmart has spanned the careers of multiple city council members and mayors.

When Bender took office in 2014, she said former Council Member Robert Lilligren told her reconnecting Nicollet was his highest priority.

“I said, ‘I’m going to carry this forward,’” Bender said. “For my entire first term, I had monthly meetings about reopening Nicollet Ave.”

In 2017, the city was able to buy the 10 acres of land surrounding Kmart for $8 million. It was a big step forward, but the city was still contractually obligated to lease the land to Kmart through 2053.

Sears, which owns Kmart, filed for bankruptcy in late 2018, accelerating negotiations.

Bender has pitched the idea of eventually re-building a Nicollet Avenue streetcar. That project could prove harder than getting rid of Kmart, but bus service will improve as soon as Nicollet is reconnected.

“For me, the biggest priority is not necessarily what kind of transit service but that there’s a better, more reliable transit service through the corridor,” Bender said.

City staff say it’s too soon to tell if the city will retain the property it owns around Kmart. Either way, the council will have a large say in what is built in Kmart’s place.

“I think this is a real opportunity to think big,” Bender said.

The agreement goes before a committee on Monday and before the full council next week. It is expected to pass.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.