At the turn of the 21st century, there were zero (0) grocery stores in Downtown Minneapolis. Today, there are three. A couple months ago, Ryan Companies completed 222 Hennepin, a full-block development at the corner of Hennepin and Washington Avenues, previously home to a Jaguar dealership. The property had been sitting vacant since the mid-aughts when a proposal for a condo tower with a Whole Foods fell through after the housing market went bust. It was picked back up in the latest boom, retooled as a six story apartment project which luckily kept the Whole Foods. Some construction and one enormous water main break later, we have this:
Those are people. Walking outside. On Hennepin Avenue! In the late evening!
There’s been a lot written about the so-called “Whole Foods effect” and whether the natural foods retailer is either a neighborhood revitalizer in itself, or just good at getting a store in right as a neighborhood is about to take off anyway. In this case, it’s probably the latter–the North Loop and the rest of Downtown Minneapolis have been sprouting tower cranes like gangbusters for well over a year now. But 222 Hennepin’s grocery store will fill a major gap.
For almost a decade, downtown grocery shoppers were limited to the improving but still incomplete selection at the Target on Nicollet Mall. More recently, a Lund’s opened along the Loring Park stretch of Hennepin Avenue, but its location isn’t particularly convenient for the thousands of new residents on the north end of downtown. Crucially, it’s within walking distance of those thousands and the thousands more who will be moving in in the next year or so, making it possible for more Minneapolitans to go car-free. It’s worth taking a second to point out that a couple decades ago, there was almost no one living in the either the North Loop or the Mill District, and today, and taken together, that square mile or so has more residents than many entire Minnesota counties.
As noted above, there are people! walking outside! along Hennepin! before 10 PM! It seems silly, but this is pretty huge. Obviously, it’s not hard to beat “abandoned Jaguar dealership” when you’re improving a streetscape. The big glass box entryway to the Whole Foods right at the corner of the two major streets is important. There are lots of ground-level windows along all four sides, including ones where you can look into the deli, etc. Some of the ground-level apartment units on the north side have those sliding doors that open to a false balcony. There are real balconies along all sides on the second through sixth floors, and the rooftop patio above the Whole Foods will certainly be hoppin’ during next year’s Pride Parade. The building itself is, honestly, a little disjointed, but given a few years it’ll start to settle into the cityscape, hopefully behind more buildings–not long after this development broke ground, Opus started construction on a new apartment building directly across First Avenue.
There was some initial hesitation about approving a six story, stick frame apartment building at Hennepin and Washington Avenue, which, in theory, is supposed to be one of the main gateways to the city. Back in the day, pre-freeway and pre-urban renewal, Gateway Park (I have that large version of that postcard framed in my living room) sat across Hennepin Avenue from this site. Today, other than the addition of 222 Hennepin on the right, it looks like this. Plenty of room for future skyscrapers all around. Projects like this are concrete signs that a Downtown Minneapolis built for people is coming back.