North downtown shows signs of life

Photos by Clint Riese Workers remove the old facade of 143 N. Lake St. last month. The building was recently purchased by Chance Norby and Chris Hoyt. Photos by Clint Riese.
Workers remove the old facade of 143 N. Lake St. last month. The building was recently purchased by Chance Norby and Chris Hoyt. Photos by Clint Riese.

Activity follows time of struggle

In the midst of the multiyear reconstruction of Broadway Avenue, commercial development west of the freeway and additions like the library, sports center and residential neighborhoods in the Headwaters Development, Forest Lake’s downtown has been lost in the shuffle in recent years.

Throw in the economic downturn of the prior decade and the impending relocation of City Hall and the Police Department to the Forest Lake City Center, and the north end of downtown has been a convenient area to avoid.

However, North Lake Street has been abuzz with change in recent months, and the downtown district seems to be on the road to recovery.

A six-property strip on the east side of Lake Street (US-61) has been particularly bustling. Each property is either for sale or lease or has been sold or rented out recently.

At the north end of the row, the building at 167 N. Lake St. has changed the most of the six.

Forest Lake residents Jim Harley and Bill Bergeson bought the property a year and a half ago and have been rehabbing the building for months.

Bergeson expects a “for lease” sign to be up in weeks. There are three main-level units, each with basement storage space, and a fourth unit on the back.

The building, last occupied by Dewey’s Vacuum Sales and Repair, sports a new roof, windows and doors, and a stucco exterior is being applied. New heating, air conditioning and electrical systems are in place.

The owners are seeking a variance to add a large deck on the back of the building. It will access each unit. Bergeson envisions the deck as the centerpiece of a grand, main entrance to the building.

“The back side is more appealing than the front, because the lake is really the draw there,” he said.

He said a sandwich or coffee shop would be an ideal tenant, and the units would also be good for retail businesses or offices.

Bergeson and Harley own a professional building in Little Canada and several local residential properties. They see the purchase as a smart business investment in an area with potential.

“We love the location, and really thought that if we can get it looking nice, we can help that whole strip there coming in from the north,” Bergeson said.

South of an alley, Tim Menne has seen his two-suite building at 155 N. Lake St. filled up with businesses. Valerie Miller opened Vintage Junky in the main unit in the spring of 2013. The business features rehabbed and repurposed furniture, as well as knickknacks and wall art.

This summer, Tom Borsch opened The Lakeside Nook and Cranny in the building’s other unit, which had been empty for years. Borsch left a career as a correctional officer to open the store, which offers roasted coffee beans and locally sourced, natural, handmade items ranging from art to cooking supplies.

The original home of Stewie’s Subs still featured a commercial-grade kitchen build-out and was recently brought up to date, said Julie Nash Smith of Re/Max Synergy, who represented Menne in the lease for The Lakeside Nook and Cranny.

Like at 167 N. Lake St., a pair of local businessmen recently purchased 143 N. Lake St. and are taking on a significant renovation.

Chance Norby and Chris Hoyt purchased the building from First Resource Bank on May 30, adding to their portfolio of business ventures, which includes downtown diner Carly’s Cafe on the south end of Lake Street.

They had the old chalet-style facade removed, revealing original brick. Upgrades include a new roof, air conditioner, furnace and paint throughout the interior.

The building is home to a grooming shop and martial arts studio. Three other units, including one facing Lake Street, are available for lease to small commercial businesses.

“It would be a great place for someone to have a small business,” Norby said.

Next door at 131 N. Lake St., the building that formerly housed The Forest Laker sits empty for now. The bar and restaurant closed shortly after longtime owner Pete Paidar sold it last year. Since closing, the interior was damaged by flooding. The building is for sale.

Also for sale is 119 N. Lake St., owned by Dwayne and Jackie Fladland. The former Forest Theatre Building has one tenant, Intimate Treasurers, but is mostly empty.

The structure dates to 1920 and is in need of extensive repair to everything but the street-facing end, said Steve Hursh, who is marketing it for LaBelle Real Estate Group.

The foundation and lot could support a small commercial building, Hursh said, or someone could buy it and neighboring lots for a large-scale development.

“In a perfect world, in my opinion, it would be best for the downtown if a new structure was put up,” Hursh said.

An empty building sits to the south at 115 N. Lake St. The 1,500-square-foot office or retail space is owned by Mike Muske, owner of Re/Max Synergy. The former pawn store and bait shop is up for sale or lease.

“It’s getting a lot of interest as far as inquirers,” Nash Smith said. “There is a lot of movement in people looking to find space in Forest Lake.”

Indeed, other downtown buildings have also seen activity.

Sienna Cole Bridal and Something Blue Boutique now occupy 55 N. Lake St.

The Towers building, at 146 N. Lake St., has lost the Courage Center and Lakes Counseling in recent months, but gained Dance Tech Studios and the Forest Lake Times.

Though space remains on the north side of downtown, the situation is a far cry from a few years ago.

“When the economy was so bad, it was just hard to see all these businesses go under, change hands, and go in and out,” Nash Smith said.

Those involved along the strip feel better times are at hand.

“I always hoped that downtown was going to take off with the new park and all that, and I still hope it will,” Norby said. “More and more things are getting cleaned up downtown, and really on that north end, where it needed some things.”

The developers are counting on their improvements spurring on others.

“Part of the plan is that people would follow suit,” Bergeson said.

Every property on a six-building strip on the east side of North Lake Street is either for sale or lease, or has recently sold or been leased.
Every property on a six-building strip on the east side of North Lake Street is either for sale or lease, or has recently sold or been leased.