Bill of Goods

Ten years ago Minneapolis officials turned the heart of downtown into a parking lot. Now they've got an even better idea

But Brookfield, says Essen, is looking at the bottom line. "We still don't know if we can amass enough venues to make it more than one block," he says, adding that other mega-entertainment projects have generally been built in milder climates. While working with DDRM on a grander plan, Brookfield is still negotiating with possible tenants for its one-block project, Essen says.

Brookfield's decision to keep moving hints at another problem haunting Block E development: Right now, no one knows how long the entertainment model will continue to make money. Had the city built Harris's development when he first proposed it in 1988, it would have gotten in on the ground floor of a budding industry. Now, putting a entertainment complex on Block E might be a race against time.

Neil Begley, vice president and senior analyst for Moody's Investor Service, says the entertainment-real-estate boom started out slowly, but in the past year has reached a new plateau. Companies entering the industry are expanding conservatively, preferring locations in established malls with strong anchor tenants. "They tend to be doing well," Begley says, "but at some point it will reach the saturation point and then we'll have to worry about overexpansion."

Herb Schnabel

There is, of course, another option--passing on "retail-based entertainment," building a public space, and waiting for new ideas. FORECAST's art park came with a construction price tag of about $30,000--pocket change by city standards. "Personally, I think a park might still be a good option," McDonald muses. "Minneapolis holds a lot of festivals in that part of town. It might be nice to have some place to have them."

But, says Martin, the city has its mind set on getting its investment back, even if it involves spending more first. And that means a mega-complex of some description remains the most likely outcome for Block E. "The best model for getting money out of people is Disney," Martin says, "and as long as the entertainment model is making money, that's what will be planned."

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