Calhoun Square Turnaround

How Stuart Ackerberg plans to de-mall the mall.

Stuart Ackerberg and Jackie Knight in Calhoun Square
Photo by Caitlin Abrams
Stuart Ackerberg enlisted Calhoun Square’s former leasing manager Jackie Knight to help him reinvent the center.

When I met Stuart Ackerberg at Calhoun Square in early April, the Minneapolis real estate developer was still a few days away from receiving the keys to Calhoun Square, or else he might have taken a sledgehammer to the center’s bland Sheetrock pillars right then and there.

Ackerberg purchased Calhoun Square—his third time trying—for a reported $69.5 million from a New York development group that tried to turn the lagging center into a regional mall and in the process made it feel more like a doctor’s office. If Calhoun Square is to come back to life, Ackerberg believes it needs an urban appearance and attitude. He intends to start by peeling back the boring beige tile, swirls of carpet, and sterile white walls to reveal concrete and metal.

Ackerberg sees Calhoun Square as vital to the success of Uptown, of which his company, Ackerberg Group, has developed a sizable chunk, including Mozaic (which he owns), Lumen on Lagoon, and Lake Calhoun City Apartments (sold last fall). While some would argue Calhoun Square was always awkward in its urban environs, Ackerberg remembers the glory days: when Hollywood High and Mainstream Outfitters were cooler than any stores at the ’Dales and Figlio always had an hour-plus wait. When punkers loitered and Uptown was the place Prince wanted to be.

Calhoun Square might never be that cool again, Ackerberg admits. But he’ll go down trying.

One of the more unusual challenges is combatting the quiet, despite the fact that 88 percent of the center is actually leased. Sure, there’s a steady stream of people with gym bags heading to LA Fitness on the second floor, but as Ackerberg points out, there’s no reason for them to linger—no salads or smoothies to pick up, no fitness gear to buy.

H&M is another tenant Ackerberg admits he wouldn’t have picked for Calhoun Square, but there it is—the bright, bouncy antagonist to the indie boutiques that once made Calhoun Square special. And it’s doing decent business. So Ackerberg needs to figure out what types of stores complement the current mix—which includes local veterans such as Kitchen Window and Bay Street Shoes—and who can afford the rent that’s been driven up by the coming of The North Face and Apple. “We need things that are unique,” he says. “They could be national but the only one in the market.”

The Ackerberg Group is talking to potential tenants, but much of this summer will be spent on improving the space itself. Art for the walls. Better lighting. Possibly a farmers’ market or street performers for the dead space between the center and the parking ramp. Ackerberg wants to create a passageway from cb2 into Calhoun Square (how did it ever get built without one?). He’d like to be able to buy a cup of tea that doesn’t take 10 minutes to brew.

Ackerberg’s ultimate dream for Calhoun Square is something similar to Chelsea Market in New York, the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco, or Pike Place Market in Seattle. Calhoun Square should be more about the place itself than things to buy—a meeting spot for lunch, or a stroll, or to pick up flowers, appetizers, and a hostess gift on the way to a party. Doesn’t that sound dreamy?

Give the man a sledgehammer.