Franklin Avenue is losing Smiley’s Clinic after 15 years. The clinic is moving at year’s end because they need to expand, said Nancy Martin, spokesperson for University of Minnesota Physicians, which owns Smiley’s Clinic.
The family practice clinic, located on E. Franklin Avenue between 26th and 27th avenues, serves a diverse population of families, including East African immigrants and seniors living in Seward Towers.
Expansion was the reason Smiley’s Clinic moved to the building that Seward Redesign purchased in 1991—likely the first building Redesign bought, according to Rich Thomasgaard, Redesign’s project manager at the time.
Karen Dewar, who was then Redesign’s executive director, said the building was mixed use. “We convinced the owner to sell it. She moved from an unmotivated seller to a motivated one.
“We found a group of doctors and designed the building to suit their needs,” Dewar recalled. “[Architects] Close Associates created a very entrepreneurial and creative building, with windows on the street. It had a lot of deferred maintenance—it was completely redone to accommodate the clinic.”
Thomasgaard said it was likely the first commercial building Seward Redesign purchased. “The building was half empty. The roof leaked, there were lots of broken windows, only window air-conditioning, and basic systems such as the electrical, plumbing, and heating didn’t work. There was a dirt parking lot.”
Thomasgaard recalled the parking lot was filled with stuff people had dropped off—at one point there was a Salvation Army and Goodwill there, so people just kept dumping stuff even after those businesses were gone. “It changed when we did a comprehensive renovation—paved parking lot, landscaping, renovating the building.”
The Franklin Avenue Task Force declared the site, known as the Ross Drug Building at the time, the community’s “highest priority” in 1986. They directed Seward Redesign to focus on that building, Thomasgaard said; when Redesign bought it, Ross Drug, an old-fashioned drug store with a soda fountain and booths along 27th Avenue, had just gone out of business.
“Prestige Carpets was there, Jim’s Barbershop was there and it stayed there, and on the second floor was Metro Accounting and Rolling Pin Bakery, which relocated to North Minneapolis. Seward Redesign had offices on the second floor at one point. Golden Bamboo Restaurant had just opened when we purchased the building. It was the first restaurant operator there. True Thai is the fourth restaurant operator leasing the space.” The building goes back to the early 1900s, and has probably housed 50–100 uses prior to Seward Redesign’s purchase, Thomasgaard said.
Fairview Hospital told Seward Redesign they were connected with a clinic on Riverside called Smiley’s Point that wanted to expand. “Smiley’s Point moved over from Riverside Avenue. It was in a building that was too small. This was a big step up for them,” Thomasgaard recalled.
Once Seward Redesign found this credit-worthy, viable tenant, the funding for the purchase came pouring in. Besides Seward Redesign’s $275,000 owner’s equity, Thomasgaard said $675,000 was loaned by the bank that is now Wells Fargo, $240,000 in Neighborhood Revitalization Program funds went toward renovation, and the University of Minnesota contributed “a big amount of money — $900,000 toward renovation including buildouts specifically for a family practice, such as carving it into exam rooms.”
Thomasgaard noted, “It was a great partnership between Seward Redesign, Smiley’s Clinic, Fairview Hospital, Wells Fargo and the city.” He added, “Smiley’s would maintain their mission as an urban-based family practice and residency program.”
The building formerly had a North/South orientation and now has an East/West orientation, which required reconfiguring the floor plan, Thomasgaard said. Close Associates garnered a Committee on Urban Environment award for their renovation of the building.
Thomasgaard has good memories of working with Smiley’s Clinic over 15 years. “They’re extremely hard working, dedicated staff there, from top to bottom. In the past few years, they’ve served a large number of East African clients and senior clients, and a number of their staff are East African. They’re very sensitive to East African clients and their needs. I always thought that Smiley’s was a great neighborhood addition.”
Brian Miller, executive director of Seward Redesign, expressed concerns about Smiley’s decision to move, possibly to a new building on Hiawatha Avenue and 28th Street. “This is a tough issue for the clinic and the community. They provide critical service to the community. They were serving new immigrant families and seniors. They have an interpreter. It’s a great location as it’s near the U and Fairview [hospital].” Miller predicted some of the clinic’s clientele will follow Smiley’s to its new location, while others will go to CUHCC Clinic, part to the university, part to Fairview, and maybe part to Hennepin County Medical Center, “though that’s often emergency.”
Miller would like Smiley’s Clinic to stick around the neighborhood. “I would’ve liked to try to meet their needs at the Riverside Market site. But they made the decision to move before I knew about it, and we didn’t have control.”
What will happen next in the Smiley’s Clinic space after they leave, probably by the end of the year? “We’re trying to lease the space to a new clinic operator. We hope over the next two months to find someone, do construction over the winter, and get them in by spring,” Miller said, adding that they’re seeking a neighborhood-serving business. Miller added, “It’s a great building, in a great neighborhood—a great resource.”