Block E: Remaking AMC mutiplex into Timberwolves facility

Finance and Commerce –

Converting a multi-level movie complex into a spacious hardwood basketball court will be no fast break for the Timberwolves and Lynx teams when they take over the vacant AMC 15 in Block E in downtown Minneapolis.

But changes in theater construction over the years should work in the pro basketball teams’ favor. The Timberwolves ownership has a tentative agreement to relocate the practice facility from the Target Center to the 84,000-square-foot, 15-screen space — just a skyway away.

“Stadium seating is less of a problem (to convert) than a traditional sloped floor,” said Patrick Corcoran, vice president and chief communications officer for the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Theater Owners. “The conversion will depend more on whether the walls are load-bearing and other structural configurations.”

Older movie houses once featured built-in slanted floors that require considerable work and expense to remove. Modern theaters have a flat base with risers of seats built on top. The Block E building in downtown Minneapolis, which opened in 2001, has two main theaters in the AMC space surrounded by 13 smaller theaters.

The Timberwolves organization has yet to finalize the agreement with the building’s owners, Camelot LLC. Camelot representatives say an initial letter of intent has the team taking over the theater space as the anchor tenant for a larger redevelopment of the property.

Light demolition work could start as early as this month, said Carl Runck, real estate development director for Minneapolis-based Alatus LLC, which is managing development for Camelot. Backers also intend to start submitting site plans to the city for approval in December.

“The core and shell will be finished next year,” Runck said. “Realistically, we know the timeline of the actual completion will probably stretch into 2015,” to tweak the space for individual tenants’ needs.

In addition to occupying the main theater space on the third floor, the teams will make use of rooms that housed the theaters’ projectors and other equipment on the fourth level, referred to as the mezzanine. The teams will also have a “small presence,” Runck said, on the skyway level where Cold Stone Creamery, Mrs. Fields Cookies and the movie theaters’ box office once did business.

The Timberwolves organization, which declined to comment for this story, is working out details of how the space will be configured. Runck did not disclose the name of the general contractor yet because the deal isn’t finalized.

The Timberwolves’ involvement and a future rebranding effort will help “erase the memory of Block E’s name,” as the vexed parcel at 600 Hennepin Ave., Runck said. “We have an anchor tenant that has cachet and brings excitement” to the project.

As currently envisioned, the project does not require any variances or special permits. Runck expects the city process to be complete by the end of January if all goes as planned.

One of the larger challenges is altering the original space built for disparate uses to make some sort of cohesive whole. Minneapolis-based RSP Architects has drawn up renderings showing an airy street-level corridor creating a pathway and sight line between Hennepin and First avenues. The designers also envision a visual connection between the skyway and the ground level, something that doesn’t exist now.

The current tenants — Kieran’s Irish Pub, Starbucks, the Shout House dueling piano bar and a Jimmy John’s franchise — will stay put. Together they take up less than 30,000 of the 220,000 square feet available. The 120,000 square feet of space left over after the Timberwolves’ conversion project is slated for retail, restaurant and Class A office space.

Veteran real estate broker Dick Grones does not see many obstacles for the new retail and restaurant plan. “The size of the site offers some flexibility” for prospective tenants, said Grones of Edina-based Cambridge Commercial Realty. In addition, the zoning and parking are already in place.

The plan is the latest reinvention for the property that by the late 1970s was known for a troubling mix of rowdy bars and bawdy retail outlets creating a magnet for prostitution and other crime. The city seized the property, removed the buildings and eventually started over.

With nearly $40 million of city backing, the new Block E opened in 2001 with national retail chains like Hard Rock Café, GameWorks, Applebee’s, Borders Books and the 15-screen theater.

The exodus of tenants began in 2002 when Snyder’s Drugs left barely a year after the complex opened its doors. All of the major original tenants had pulled out by the time the AMC screens went dark in 2012.

Alatus purchased the complex in 2010.

Runck blames the failure of Block E on a misguided notion that a retail and entertainment complex could work downtown even though potential customers could find the same establishments — with free parking — “in any suburb.”

By Art Hughes
Date: December 3, 2013, 7:05am

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