The high profile corner of Seven Points shopping center at Lake and Hennepin in Minneapolis will be transformed into Arts & Rec, an experiential mini-golf, arts, and restaurant concept being developed by a local group of arts-focused entrepreneurs that includes the co-founders of Can Can Wonderland.
The 13,500-square-foot concept announced Wednesday for the space most recently occupied by Fig + Farro will feature an arts performance area, a rooftop sculpture garden, and artist-designed mini-golf—the same type of attraction that Jennifer and Chris Pennington brought to a new level at the St. Paul entertainment venue that opened to rave reviews and big crowds in 2017. The Penningtons left Can Can Wonderland in 2019 and formed Arts & Rec with partners Esther Callahan, a former Mia curatorial fellow and board member of Franconia Sculpture Park, and Joel Hernandez, leader of an education tech company, and CEO of Arts & Rec. The collaborators are working on other public arts installations in South Minneapolis and Northeast, but Seven Points will be Arts & Rec’s first venture to open in the spring of 2022.
“Arts & Rec was founded to bring art, food, and fun together, and to launch our first location at Seven Points is a unique opportunity,” Hernandez said in a statement. “We believe that Uptown has all the possibilities for art and community to come together in celebration.”
Uptown’s retail exodus
Uptown is in need of a win. Businesses in the area were hard hit by civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd in May of 2020 and then again this past summer following the fatal shooting of Winston Smith by law enforcement in the Seven Points parking ramp. In June, Juut Salonspa gave up its corner spot across from Seven Points after a 35-year run in the neighborhood. In October, Canadian shoe seller John Fluevog—one of the last retailers standing at Hennepin and 31st—pulled out.
But high profile exits were a problem in Uptown long before the pandemic. Since 2018, Lake and Hennepin has lost Victoria’s Secret, Columbia Sportswear, North Face, and Apple. Within Seven Points, the departures, including Famous Dave’s, Libertine, and Arc’teryx, have become so frequent that Sephora closing in January barely made news. The street-facing anchor spot at Seven Points—best remembered as Figlio from the heyday of the center formerly known as Calhoun Square—has been vacant since Fig + Farro closed in May 2020.
Chicago real estate firm Northpond Partners bought Calhoun Square in fall of 2019 for $34.5 million, about half the price it sold for just five years earlier. The company quickly changed the name to Seven Points and promised to reinvent the struggling center. But between Uptown’s challenging retail environment and the pandemic, promised renovations have been slow to take shape. But things are starting to happen.
In addition to Arts & Rec, Northpond signed Chase Bank. Curioso Coffee recently replaced the old Dogwood counter at Seven Points. The center is hosting a holiday popup shopping market called True North Collaborative. These additions bring Seven Points to 72% occupancy, a spokesperson said. However, just last week 35-year tenant Kitchen Window announced it will close.
Seven Points is focused on its “future vision.” Boards recently came down from the long-shuttered mall entrance at Lake and Hennepin—a sign of new energy to come, developers said in a statement.
It’s enough to give commercial real estate brokers hope. “The entertainment concept is the beginning of the evolution” for Seven Points, said Stefanie Meyer, principal and senior vice president with Mid-America Real Estate-Minnesota. “I believe restaurants will continue to flourish and entertainment uses will find a home in and around Uptown.”
For Jennifer Pennington, Arts & Rec’s chief financial officer and chief impact officer, being part of the Uptown landmark’s revitalization feels like a full circle moment. “I worked at Calhoun Square when I was 19,” she said. Pennington was a sales associate at Heartbreaker boutique. “I remember when Uptown was thriving, and we think it can again.”