Target misses in downtown demolition

Don’t you just love it when you can shop for toothpaste and tampons and feel all warm and fuzzy at the same time? That’s the sensation you’re supposed to get when you visit Target — after all, its company officials care about you and the world in which you live.
The proof is that they give millions of dollars to charities every year. But God forbid they should just give away the money and shut up about it; they have to milk it for all it’s worth. We keep hearing how they “target the family” and are “committed to the community.” But which community, and what aspect of it?
The fact that a bunch of buildings in downtown Minneapolis are about to be bulldozed for the sake of a new Target store makes me wonder just how much the corporation really loves us.
As you’ve likely heard, several new office towers are planned for Nicollet Mall. Minneapolis-based Ryan Companies wants to demolish the Conservatory on the 800 block and replace it with offices. It also has a contract to build a Target store on the 900 block and top it off with an office building, not affiliated with Target, once the city gives the go-ahead.
Target, which is owned by Dayton Hudson, announced it will also build its own office tower on the mall between 10th and 11th streets. In its path are more than 25 shops and art galleries in older buildings that will have to be demolished. The tower is expected to open by November 1998.
Target already owns most of the property on its future office-tower block, so legally all it has to do is kick out the people leasing the buildings (Happy New Year!). But that’s not the case concerning the land where the store will be built.
The Physicians and Surgeons Building, erected in 1910, has the misfortune of sitting on the future Target store plot. Tommy Scallen, who owns it, said he likes his building and doesn’t want to sell. But he may not have a choice.
Ryan Companies went to city officials and said Minneapolis absolutely needs this store and office tower and urged the city council to use its power of eminent domain to kick out Scallen and his neighbors in the name of progress. It’s democracy at its finest.
For its part, Target has distanced itself from the construction of its own store.
“It’s really a Ryan project …” Susan Eich, a spokeswoman for Dayton Hudson, repeated several times. As if Target has nothing to do with it.
Does she or other company officials have any qualms about tearing down some of the few remaining older, charming buildings on the mall?
“I’m probably not the best person to answer that question. My understanding is that this development is very much in keeping with the city’s desires for the kind of retail and office make up downtown,” she said. “I think that that’s probably a better question for the city.”
But wait, I thought you cared about the community!
As for those city officials, Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton is all for the Target store and office tower downtown. And the Minneapolis Community Development Agency also supports it.
The agency’s Phil Handy pointed out that it is not fact, but merely opinion, that charming historic buildings are more attractive than bland concrete and metal. (Well, that might be true, but it’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it.)
There may be some glimmer of light in the city council, though.
Council member Lisa McDonald said she can’t understand why Target doesn’t just build a store on the ground level of its own office tower instead of tearing down, among other things, an 87-year-old building on Nicollet Mall.
“We’ve got our own version of urban sprawl right here in downtown Minneapolis, and we’re complaining about the suburbs,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong — I want a Target store on the mall and I think it will be successful. I personally will shop there. I just question why we’re putting it where we are.”
Jim Niland, another council member, voiced similar concerns.
“I think it would be nice to have a Target store downtown but you have to weigh the pros and cons of that particular site and if there’s an alternative site that doesn’t demolish historic structures, I think that’s one we have to seriously look at,” he said, adding that although the Physicians and Surgeons Building isn’t officially designated as “historic,” it is nevertheless important.
“It adds to the charm and character of downtown and there’s plenty of buildings that aren’t designated but are still part of the fabric of the city,” he said. “And I think, unfortunately, the city’s been on a demolition spree.”
That spree led to the wonderful but heartbreaking book “Twin Cities Then and Now” by Larry Millett, a reporter at the St. Paul Pioneer Press and my new hero. The work features historic photos of the cities juxtaposed against modern-day shots. The shift from beautiful stone and brick to hideous concrete makes you throw down the book in a rage, screaming about the morons who created these loathsome structures.
Not surprisingly, Millett is not pleased with the Target store proposal.
“About the last thing downtown Minneapolis needs is another skyscraper. It’s sort of a continuation of what’s been going on in downtown Minneapolis for a long time, which is sort of a hyperthyroid condition — they’re going towards gigantism wherever they can,” he said.
“Both the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul might benefit from declaring a moratorium on the destruction of old buildings, because what they have left is an ever-dwindling stock. But wishing it so and making it so are two different things. And when you have the amount of corporate power and money that often goes into these high-rise projects they’re very difficult to stop.”
But if you want to try, call the city council at 673-2200 or Dayton Hudson at 375-2200. If that doesn’t do it, you might want to think about buying your detergent and light bulbs somewhere else.
Kris Henry’s column appears in the Daily every Thursday. Her e-mail address is [email protected]