The long-vacant Burger King at the corner of Nicollet Avenue and E 34th Street is about to get a new owner.

According to David Daly, a senior vice president in the Minneapolis-St. Paul office of Texas-based commercial real estate company CBRE, the property is currently under contract to be sold. The deal is expected to close in late November, he said.

That’s welcome news for neighbors tired of looking out on or walking past the boarded-up restaurant, the weed-choked parking lot, and the controversial drive-thru that drew multiple lawsuits from a concerned neighbor. But nothing is for sure until the deal closes, and there’s still a lot of uncertainty about what comes next.

What We Know

Here’s what we do know about the past, present, and (possible) future of the Burger King lot.

There’s been more activity on the site recently

Adam Wysopal, the concerned neighbor (and lawyer) who sued the city to enforce its own drive-thru regulations on the Burger King site, has seen an uptick in activity there since late summer.

First came a survey crew in mid-August, Wysopal said. A few weeks later, a three-truck crew — “not the usual maintenance team” — came by and put new boards on the windows, along with two “well-dressed” people snapping photos. In early October, Wysopal saw a locksmith onsite.

This is all consistent with “what you’d expect to see if someone had bought the property or put an offer on it,” he said.

The drive-thru won’t reopen

Whatever happens, the site’s much-maligned drive-thru is gone for good. After years of legal wrangling, the city canceled permits related to the drive-thru in late 2021.

That settled the question of whether the drive-thru could reopen as a nonconforming use, which Burger King and its franchisee spent years lobbying for.

The buyer could (maybe) reuse the building, but not as a freestanding fast food restaurant

Current Minneapolis zoning ordinances prohibit new freestanding fast food restaurants in most of the city, including the 3300 block of Nicollet. Because the property is considered abandoned, the city would consider any fast food restaurant that opens there as “new,” even if it happened to be a Burger King.

“In theory, the building could be reused,” said Meg McMahon, Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development director. “Just not as a drive-thru or fast food restaurant.”

The site itself could still host a fast food restaurant. But it would have to be in a sidewalk-hugging storefront, likely incorporated into a larger retail or mixed-use development, and without a towering sign out front.

The city could approve up to 10 stories

The Burger King site is zoned CM2, which stands for Corridor Mixed-Use District. CM2 zoning typically allows mixed-use developments up to six stories.

According to McMahon, a future development could go even higher — up to 10 stories — if it meets certain “premiums” for sustainability and affordability.  

Minneapolis 2040 Plan uncertainty won’t directly affect redevelopment plans

Since last year, legal wrangling over the Minneapolis 2040 Plan has been a big question mark for housing advocates and others who want to see the Burger King site put to good use.

Last month, a Minneapolis judge, once again, put portions of the 2040 plan on hold and ordered the city to revert to its previous land-use plan when evaluating development proposals in lower-density residential areas. The City appealed the ruling, but a higher court could eventually force it to amend the plan.

In any case, McMahon has good news: The judge’s ruling pertains to higher-density residential development in areas formerly zoned for single-family use only. It won’t directly impact commercial corridors like Nicollet, she said.

What We Don’t Know

Key questions about the Burger King lot’s fate remain unresolved. Here’s what we don’t yet know.

The site’s selling price

We don’t know how much the property is selling for. The listing isn’t visible on CBRE’s website, and Daly declined to disclose specifics about the pending sale.
Hennepin County currently values the property at $776,500 for tax purposes, but tax-assessment values aren’t always reliable indicators of market value. A buyer with ambitious redevelopment plans could be willing to pay a premium.

The site might look totally abandoned, but we do know that the current owner, Arjun Investments Inc, is paying its tax bill. Hennepin County tax records show a 2023 tax liability of $40,210.32. The owner paid the first half, $20,105.16, by the May 15 deadline. The remaining balance is due on October 16.

Who’s buying?

Daly wouldn’t say who’s buying the site or what they plan to do with it. Their name will become public after the deal closes, though commercial property buyers often use blandly-named, single-purpose LLCs that obscure their true identities.

For example, the site’s current owner is Arjun Investments Inc.  which has virtually no digital presence. The taxpayer is listed as BK 139, another cipher whose sole point of contact is a P.O. Box in Miami. Their legal relationship to one another is unclear.

Whether the buyer plans to reuse the building

According to McMahon, it’s possible that the buyer could reuse the building without the drive-thru or a fast food tenant.

Though less likely than a mixed-use development, adaptive reuse would be the fastest way to reactivate the lot. “You could see activity [on the site] soon in that case,” she said.

What could get built there?

If the new owner doesn’t reuse the existing building, the Burger King lot is basically a blank slate.

CM2 zoning allows for relatively high-density development, with a minimum of two stories, and there are several newish four-to-six-story housing-over-retail buildings in the immediate area. But the developer isn’t bound to incorporate housing.

“While the site lends itself to mixed-use development, it’s not required [by zoning],” said McMahon.

And according to McMahon, CPED hasn’t been in contact with the buyer or potential site developers about their plans. Those conversations generally come early in the planning process, months before the city council votes to approve or deny project plans.

“It’s typical for developers to reach out to us before closing [a property sale] or submitting an application for development,” she said.

So unless the buyer plans to reuse the existing structure, we’re probably at least six months out from groundbreaking, said McMahon — “and that would be a pretty aggressive timeframe.”