In the 1970s, the City, desperate for revenue, allowed Kmart to plop a suburban-style big-box store just north of Lake and Nicollet, in the heart of south Minneapolis. The City has kicked itself for that decision ever since and many lobbied for the big box store’s removal.

After years of dealmaking, City officials, including current and former electeds, gathered in front of the Kmart on Sunday morning for a ceremonial sledging-of-the-walls. They all took turns driving their sledgehammers on three wood panels temporarily erected in front of the Kmart.

Mayor Jacob Frey took a sledgehammer to a concrete bollard at the former Kmart building, at 10 E. Lake St., on Oct. 22. Photo by H. Jiahong Pan

The imminent demolition of the Kmart, which was to take place next year, is now expedited because of a two-alarm fire that occurred on Oct. 20. City Council is expected to approve a contract for the building's demolition this week.

At the press conference on Sunday, City officials said the cause of the fire was undermined.

Once demolition is complete, City officials anticipate the site will be an empty lot for all of 2024. They said they may host events on the site as part of their ongoing community engagement for reconnecting Nicollet Avenue and redeveloping the site. The City plans to reconnect the two discontinuous segments of Nicollet Avenue by 2025, with development to follow.

Mayor Jacob Frey said the City did not consider using the Kmart building as a temporary respite for the unhoused because “it’s unsafe.” Housing advocates contend the fire at the Kmart could have been avoided had the City used the building as a respite for the unhoused, who are subject to relatively-frequent sweeps by City officials.

“I’m upset seeing this structure going up in flames,” the leader of an East Phillips encampment, Camp Nenookaasi, Nicole Mason said at a press conference on Oct. 20. “This could have been tiny homes, this could have been a solution a long time ago.”

Public Works Director Margaret Anderson Kelliher said they do not have plans to turn the site into a City-sanctioned encampment to address its homelessness crisis because it is not an ideal location.

Additional reporting by Melody Hoffmann