From the start, some neighborhood advocates questioned the wisdom of having a large pawnshop to anchor an empty mall.
Could a second-hand store flanked by a payday lender boost economic development in St. Paul’s East Side?
The answer, it seems, is no.
On February 20, Pawn America will close a 15,000 square foot pawnshop that was the sole primary tenant at 1855 Suburban Ave. over the past four years. An affiliate Payday America check lending and cashing transaction will end with it.
Building owner Peter Remes, director of Minneapolis First & First real estate company, said he could take legal action against Burnsville-based Pawn America for the broken lease. The empty mall, a former car dealership, will go on sale.
“We are exploring all options at this point,” Remes said.
Store officials did not return calls from a reporter, but a public relations agency speaking on their behalf said they blamed First & First for not building the mall and installing additional tenants.
“The little story is that the owner did not deliver the development of the larger retail area that included the Pawn America store,” said Mike Erlandson, a public affairs consultant who returned an email to name of Pawn America.
The pawnshop was once supposed to help attract a series of additional restaurants and small businesses to Suburban Avenue Town Square, a former Chrysler car dealership that had been converted into a potential business center.
Pawn America has 24 outlets in the Midwest and PayDay America partners with 18 of them.
Plans called for a Chipotle, Starbucks, Dairy Queen and Goodyear tire, as well as an independent Cowboy Slims restaurant to fill the vast fleet of cars.
Other than the pawnshop and its associated check-cashing operation, no other tenant has ever moved in. From February 20, the mall will be empty.
What place do I go to? pic.twitter.com/clBfxEji0q
– FredMelo, journalist (@FrederickMelo) February 14, 2017
“They made a lot of promises about all of the wonderful things that they were going to build, and all of the people that would be hired in the process, and how they were going to help with the restaurant garbage collection,” said Rich Kramer, who has served on the St. Paul Planning Commission when two different groups of homeowners received city approval to install the pawnshop despite its objections. “From the start he was in trouble, apparently.”
Kramer, who sits on the Metropolitan Council, recalled that neighborhood district council members were seeking a proposal from the owner of a Cash-N-Pawn / Max It Pawn series of stores – which was later replaced by Pawn America – in as an economic driver. for the empty car dealership.
Rather than attracting business, it keeps store growth blocked. No one, apparently, wanted to share tight quarters with a pawnshop and check cashing operation.
“It has hampered any legitimate development on these sites for six or seven years,” said Kramer, who has repeatedly voted against the project. “Choosing these developers and giving those approvals, it just froze. I think there is a lot of criticism to be made.
BIG AND EMPTY
The one-story structure at 1891 Suburban Ave. has an estimated market value of $ 3 million on Ramsey County property records. The building, which spans nearly 26,000 square feet, was constructed in 1974; its current owners bought it for $ 2.6 million in July 2011.
Betsy Leach, executive director of District 1 Community Council, said optimism at the time of the sale was high. In 2011, Max It Pawn owner Mark Smith told Pioneer Press that his pawnshop would be the anchor of a $ 15 million linear mall project that would do more than occupy the refurbished Suburban Chrysler dealership. More buildings would arrive quickly, he promised.
He spoke about restaurants, cafes and an eco-friendly auto service that would change car oils in an environmentally friendly way, perhaps a pet salon. It didn’t make sense to wait for piecemeal construction, Smith said at the time. It would fill up the massive site all at once.
“They don’t want me to offer a lot of good stuff and a lot of smoke, and when the dust settles there’s (nothing more) than a pawnshop in the car dealership,” Smith said in a statement. April article. 2011 article in Pioneer Press.
That month, the St. Paul Planning Commission voted in favor of his project, despite its proximity to a check cashing and money transfer operation called Piggy Bank Checks Cashed, which was located in the street near White Bear Avenue and a Target department store.
City rules required a separation of 1,320 feet, and the two sites were approximately 1,050 feet apart.
Smith quickly abandoned the project, but Remes and his First & First development team saw an opportunity. The Minneapolis-based company bought the vacant car dealership and moved to Pawn America, which dubbed the store “PA Exchange,” with more of a thrift store feel than a traditional pawnshop.
“People were hopeful when First & First chose him over the guy from Max It Pawn,” Leach said. “Of course, the rest was left vacant there.”
In a 2013 announcement from Rixmann Cos., The parent company of Pawn America, officials said the PA Exchange concept would focus exclusively on retail and not offer loans, in-store purchases or financial services.
Nonetheless, the company has used a payday lender, PayDay America, which offers high-fee check cashing and cash loans of up to $ 1,000. The lender is tucked away next to the retailer, with whom it shares a lobby entrance.
In return, Remes agreed to redeem the cashbox checks cashed, much to the delight of the neighborhood district council, which supported his waiver request. Check tellers and pawn shops are both considered by the city to be lenders and generally cannot be located next to each other. The city made an exception.
“We supported this because it basically consolidated all of these things in one place, and (the piggy bank) was not available for check cashing,” Leach said.
Remes, like Smith before him, had also mentioned the high likelihood of bringing in a series of smaller tenants, including Starbucks and Chipotle. No construction ever took place.
What deterred potential tenants? “Pawn America – their presence on the site,” Remes said Wednesday. “The market response has been the negative connotation of Pawn America and other companies alongside a pawnshop.”
The relation between First and first and Pawn America has since deteriorated, and Remes said he is now planning legal action against the chain store for allegedly violating its lease. Leach said it was clear the company expected First & First to add to the linear mall and create stand-alone structures, which never happened.
“They expected the whole lot to be built, and that would have brought in additional traffic,” Leach said.
She is not optimistic about the immediate future.
“I get calls from neighbors saying ‘Is something going to move in?’ You know what? It’s going to be vacant for a while, ”she said. “Who wants to move in next to a lousy wasteland? It needs a much denser development than even what has been proposed. Less than half of the lot (is occupied).