Fifty years after federal urban renewal programs began converting older blocks of Minneapolis in and around downtown into seas of surface parking, the job of transforming going businesses into parking lots continues — and once again it’s being done in the name of urban revival. On Tuesday, the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners considers whether to expand the city’s Holmes Urban Renewal project area at 721 Second St. SE so that the former home of Frank Plumbing Sales Company can be flattened for parking space.
The site was the second location for Frank Plumbing Sales Company, a bathroom and kitchen fixtures storefront warehouse that seemed to have had the last laugh on urban renewal by surviving for 62 years at 1101 Washington Ave. S. Had it stayed there, Frank’s might have been part of Mayor R.T. Rybak’s vision of a new, grand Washington Boulevard, where “a mix of unique small businesses will be thriving, and Minneapolis’ neighborhoods will have unique identities and character.”
Instead, two and a half years ago, the business bowed to a multi-use renovation (anchored by a fancy restaurant called Spill the Wine) and moved from its historic 19th-century building to a nondescript building across the river. It was a more out-of-the-way location a block from a freeway overpass on a street lined with factories, but the one-story layout suited owner Milt Frank, who’d had enough of heaving bathtubs and radiators up and down flights of stairs. Frank put a special price on pink toilets for Valentine’s Day.
Then the I-35W bridge fell, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation wanted the nearby Frank Plumbing site for offices, vehicle storage and staging during the bridge reconstruction project. (A child care center was demolished for similar use.) “We just moved here, and it’s hard enough to get your business back,” manager Frank Miles told the Star Tribune. “This is unbelievable.” Said customer Sarah Walter: “I know it sounds funny to say this about a store, but it would be a real loss to the city.”
Faced with the property’s condemnation, the business reached a settlement to vacate the building but relocation estimates as high as $90,000 put a question mark on another move. Kirk Schnitker, Frank’s attorney, told the Minnesota Independent for all practical purposes the business is shut down and its stock liquidated. He said some of the inventory had been on hand since the store opened in the 1940s — some new and still in original packaging. “They took a haircut on all that,” Schnitker said. PlumbingSupply.com claims to have bought all 5,600 toilet lids Frank’s had in stock.
Once the bridge is built and MnDOT doesn’t need the property anymore, the new parking lot there will serve Metal-Matic, a manufacturer of metal rods across the street, which lost room for parking to the bridge collapse and rebuild. Metal-Matic, which under an earlier name provided steel for the Golden Gate Bridge, used to park trucks under the old I-35W bridge. Andrea Petersen, project coordinator for Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development, said that in order for the city to serve as an intermediary in the transfer of land between MnDOT and Metal-Matic, it has to expand the old Holmes Urban Renewal project area. The transfer will go before the Minneapolis City Council in mid-July and should be complete by the end of the summer, she said.
Second Street SE, already a truck route, is due to become a more significant thoroughfare for traffic diverted by the closing of Washington Avenue SE for the new Central Corridor light rail line. Under mitigation plans, a new Granary Road will direct downtown-bound traffic off University Avenue SE into a railroad trench that cuts through Dinkytown before linking with Second Street SE. Just don’t expect to pull over to pick up a toilet seat at Frank’s.