Numerous alternatives remain under consideration
Cristian Solis, eating a taco from a nearby taco truck at the former Southside Kmart parking lot, remembers better times during childhood visits to the Kmart with his parents.
“Mom and Dad used to bring me over here when I was little, to come play in front of Kmart,” he said. “I remember when there were a bunch of trees around. I don’t know how to explain it. It was way [more] beautiful than this.” Now most of the parking lot has been fenced off.
The Southside Kmart closed in May 2020, shortly after it was looted during the uprising resulting from George Floyd’s murder. The city planned to tear it down sometime next year and wants to build a park, housing and retail. At the same time, the city wants to reconnect Eat Street with the rest of Nicollet Avenue, which extends in three discontinuous segments as far south as Eureka Township in Dakota County.
But 10 days after Solis reminisced about the Kmart during an October 10 event the city held about the site’s future that drew more than 400 people, the Kmart burned. As a result, the city hopes to clear the entire site by next month.
How Kmart got in the way
The Kmart was built at a time when the city was desperate for tax revenue. Businesses were in the midst of fleeing to the suburbs and the city wanted to compete. Kmart was the only business that responded to the city’s desires to redevelop Nicollet and Lake. The only proposal Kmart presented was to build a big-box chain store like it did in the suburbs.
With no other choice, the city agreed and sold the land to Kmart. Kmart then built a store that stood in the way of South Minneapolis on Nicollet between 29th and Lake Streets. It’s proved controversial ever since its opening in 1977.
Since then, the city has tried to make right at Nicollet and Lake, buying the land back from Kmart and a neighboring grocery store piece by piece. A break came in 2018, when the parent company of Kmart, Transform, went bankrupt. They completed the purchase in 2020, a week before the pandemic began.
During the pandemic, the United States Postal Service used the Kmart site as a temporary post office for its locations on 1st Avenue and Minnehaha Avenue. Both of those stations were destroyed during the uprising. The USPS vacated the Kmart building earlier this year when the 1st Avenue and Minnehaha Avenue stations reopened. The site has been vacant and fenced in ever since.
What are the options?
The city is approaching redevelopment of the site in two phases. The first phase currently in progress involves evaluating how to rebuild the street, as well as what open space they should create.
The city is presenting four options for how Nicollet Avenue should be rebuilt. Three of the options allow for one lane of private vehicle traffic in each direction. Two of the options have medians. Two of the options have parking spaces. A fourth option reopens the street only to buses and delivery vehicles. All options have varying sidewalk widths that could accommodate outdoor seating for any cafes that might open on the new street.
None of the options have bike lanes, something nearby resident and avid bicyclist Amanda Schwartz, who bikes with her children, wants to see. “We bike and walk around the neighborhood, and we love projects that include pedestrian and bike safety. Having protected bikeways through Nicollet would be awesome,” said Schwartz.
A representative from the city said bike lanes aren’t being included on Nicollet because they exist or are being proposed on parallel streets.
People are mixed on how Nicollet Avenue should be reopened. Some nearby residents believe the street should be reopened just to buses and delivery vehicles, while others like Manuel Vega, who lives nearby, believe Nicollet should reopen to all traffic. “There’s too much traffic over there,” said Vega, gesturing toward 1st Avenue and Lake Street while waiting for his taco from Taqueria El Primo during the October 10, 400-person engagement event.
The city is also presenting three options for how a park should be built on the Kmart site. One option calls for a portion of the Kmart site closest to the Midtown Greenway to be converted into a park. Another option calls for a park on a parcel of land immediately to the west of the new Nicollet Avenue. A third option creates a public square on the northeast corner of the site, as well as a diagonal greenway that connects to the southwest corner of the site.
The project also calls for moving a ramp connecting the Midtown Greenway from Nicollet Avenue to 1st Avenue because the existing ramp is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The existing ramp also creates an extremely narrow trail. The city is hoping to take advantage of such a rebuild to connect with their proposed two-way bike lane that will be built when it reconstructs 1st Avenue in 2026.
What about amenities?
Aside from reconnecting Nicollet Avenue, the city also plans to develop the two empty lots left in the wake of the Kmart invasion. They plan to start those conversations next year, when the site is a clean slate.
“Look at this huge parking lot. This is wasted space,” said Samuel Ero-Phillips, who grew up in Minneapolis and lives nearby. “We’re in the middle of the city. This is a major commercial corridor. We don’t need surface-level parking.”
Samira Iid wants to see a development that makes people feel like they’re home, given the events that happened over the past several years. “I want to see this town have more cute[ness], beauty, people together, [where] you know you can go somewhere to relax, enjoy eating food.
“I don’t want to go to another place for a vacation. I can have everything here,” said Iid at the event as she envisioned the site looking something like 50th and France. “If I want to feel like I’m in Italy, I go [to 50th and France]. I want it, really. It’s not going to happen, but that’s what I want.”
Many people who attended the city’s event earlier this month said they wanted to see an affordable grocery store. “We don’t have one, first of all,” said Valerie Mack, a nearby resident. “We have to go so far to get to a store. And you have to think about gas, mileage, or wheelchairs when on the bus. You gotta bring groceries back.”
Emma Grisanzio, another nearby resident, agrees. “Like, as affordable as possible. So, like, not Whole Foods, but something like Aldi-level.”
Others want something similar to a Kmart to return to the Kmart site, people like Fosiya Hussein. “We used to like shopping here for everything we need, furniture, TVs, food sometimes,” said Hussein, who now makes those shopping trips to the Wal-Mart in Bloomington.
Tate Straub, who works nearby, wants to see the site continue to be a strip mall. “[Add] a movie theater. [Have a] Foot Locker, tobacco store, clothing store, office supply store, like Michael’s or…Jo-Ann Fabrics. A couple stores [where] we go grab your everyday essentials,” said Straub.
What about housing?
People also want to see housing on the Kmart site. “I want to see apartments how they’re doing the designs now when you have the apartments up and the stores on the bottom. It’s all convenient, therefore you don’t have far to go,” said Thomas Conway, a nearby resident, as he reviewed the city’s proposals with a neighbor at the Kmart open house.
The city may do just that. The city, through its comprehensive plan developed in 2018, allows developers to build as high as 15 stories on the Kmart site.
Nicole Mason, who has organized the unhoused, lamented the city could have used the Kmart site to host tiny homes for the unhoused so they can get back on their feet and solve homelessness once and for all. Mason believes the Kmart fire would not have happened had the city allowed the unhoused to live in the Kmart, in part because the fire followed one day after the city swept a homeless encampment across the street where Atlas Staffing used to be.
“This could have been a solution a long time ago. I’m upset to see the structure going up in flames. [The Kmart burning] seems like a waste when eviction after eviction has happened,” said Mason at a press conference the morning of the Kmart fire.
Assistant Minneapolis Fire Chief Melanie Rucker said they could not find that anyone broke into the Kmart to start the fire. Mason doesn’t believe her. “It was getting cold. I truly can’t believe that there wasn’t one single soul inside there.”
The city council’s policy and government oversight committee plans to vote on hiring a contractor to demolish the site on October 30. If approved, the full city council will consider the item on November 2. If the full city council approves, demolition could happen sometime next month.
Until that happens, the city continues to seek feedback from people about how they should design Nicollet Avenue to reconnect the segments within Minneapolis, as well as what the open space should look like. They have a survey that closes on November 15.
As the city and area residents decide what to do with the Kmart, the site remains surrounded by a fence. A taller one was installed over the weekend to guard entry to the back part of the Kmart. That part, which was charred in last week’s fire, is partially demolished. A city regulatory services worker patrols the site, warding off potential trespassers.
The Taqueria El Primo taco truck, located at the southwest corner, continues to serve its customers. Surrounding traffic, as well as Metro Transit’s Route 18 bus, dutifully continues dodging the Kmart site as it has been doing for the past 45 years.
Visit www.surveymonkey.com/r/NewNicolletPart2 to take the New Nicollet Redevelopment survey.