The words “Lake Street Kmart” have been a surefire way to elicit groans from Minneapolis residents for decades. The big box store was moved to Nicollet Ave in 1977, separating the north end of a major Minneapolis artery from the south end, and breaking open the nearby neighborhoods. Last Friday, the city council presented plans to convert the 10 hectare property of the controversial landmark into a mixed-use neighborhood called “New Nicollet”.
Shortly after Kmart filed for bankruptcy, the city bought the property in 2020, prematurely ending the 75-year lease. But demolition discussions stagnated following the assassination of George Floyd when the USPS sites in Minnehaha and Lake Street burned down and the Kmart building assumed its newest form as a makeshift post office.
Due to this USPS lease, demolition is unlikely to begin until March 2024 at the earliest. But at some point, bicycles, buses, cars, and pedestrians will move smoothly along an interconnected Nicollet Ave and through a “high-density, mixed-use walkway” that looks like 4 to 15 story buildings (possibly higher) with storefronts on top Bottom floor of some, interspersed with public spaces.
The project expectations and framework conditions outlined last week are not a detailed construction plan, but a basis for getting started. This major overhaul requires a tremendous amount of planning to prioritize the needs of the surrounding residents, many of whom, prior to the closure, relied on the Kmart and the adjoining grocery stores to purchase affordable items and who may be at risk of eviction due to shiny novelties are developments.
Phase I, which will begin in early 2022, aims to collect feedback from people who live, work, or are frequently in the vicinity of the location. The multi-pronged approach described as part of the city’s public engagement will stimulate discussion and research on issues such as affordable housing and climate justice.
Phase II, sometime towards the end of 2022, involves developing a network of public spaces around and through the former Kmart site that will benefit pedestrians, bicycles and local public transport commuters. Phase III focuses on the future development of buildings on site. Ultimately, the final decisions are made by the city council and then approved by the mayor.
During the 6-8 months of Phase I, the city plans to collect input through focus groups, virtual meetings, online surveys, interviews and more. Be sure to keep an eye out for a project website on the city’s website for sharing project documents, conducting surveys, and posting progress updates.
The “New Nicollet” project framework indicates that BIPOC tenants and low-income residents have been severely underrepresented in civic processes and urban development efforts in the past. While many would be happy to see the old Kmart building and surface parking spaces tip over tomorrow, it is necessary to take the time to thoughtfully implement feedback from community members to ensure that the reconnection of Nicollet Ave does not cause new breaks.