Customers have flocked to Peking Garden since spring, happy that the Midway Center mainstay has reopened at University and Western avenues. Owners the Lau family were pleased to find a new location.
But they and three other owners of former Midway Center businesses still question why they were evicted from Midway Center in July 2020, weeks after civil unrest, looting and fire damaged part of Midway Center.
“We think we could have reopened at Midway Center,” Lau said.
The owners of Golden Gate Café, Mimi’s Beauty Salon, Sweet Cajun doing business as Thein’s Cajun Boiling Seaford, and Hung Tu doing business as Peking Garden filed a civil lawsuit in Ramsey County District Court in June. Each business is seeking damages in excess of $50,000. The businesses also want an injunction preventing the demolition of the remaining east section of the shopping center.
The remaining section of the shopping center is currently in a city “remove or repair” legislative hearing process. Big Top Wine and Spirits’ demolition was ordered in the spring.
Civil unrest in the wake of the killing of George Floyd roiled the Twin Cities in late May 2020. Midway Center had its Big Top and Foot Locker stores looted and set ablaze. Other stores near Foot Locker sustained smoke and water damage; some were also vandalized and looted. Stores in the center of the strip mall’s east wing sustained the heaviest damage. Big Top was in a stand-alone building.
Businesses that escaped significant damage had hoped to reopen. But in July 2020, the shopping center ownership invoked a lease clause allowing them to evict tenants.
Court documents indicate that the four business owners believe their storefronts sustained little damage and could have reopened. They are claiming wrongful eviction and unlawful exclusion, breach of contract and breach of duty in good faith.
Defendants in the case are RK Midway Shopping Center, Snelling Midway Redevelopment LLC and RD Management. Attorney Timothy Kelly declined comment on behalf of his clients.
Peking Garden is now in a building that was built several years ago for Mai Village. The most recent occupant, the Tapestry restaurant, closed about two years ago.
Lau said that his family has spent about $1 million in relocation costs and has about $200,000 to $300,000 in additional expenses pending for the new location’s kitchen.
“We’ve had good traffic at the new location but as we get into working there, we find we need to make further changes,” Lau said. Business owners at Midway Center were given $10,000 by the owners, but Lau said that was not nearly enough for businesses wishing to relocate.
Peking Garden is one of two businesses that has reopened. Thein’s has reopened as King Cajun, at 712 University Ave.
Golden Gate has permanently closed, and the restaurant website is gone. Mimi’s voicemail indicates the salon is still temporarily closed. All four businesses are BIPOC-owned.
Lau said Peking Garden’s Midway Center lease was to expire in 2028. That is the same year for the Cajun restaurant.
Mimi’s Beauty Salon had a lease extending into 2024. Golden Gate’s lease was to expire at the end of 2022. Golden Gate was owned by the Hui family for 40 years and was the longest-tenured shopping center tenant.
The restaurant had operated at Midway Center since 2005, moving there after its previous space near the University of Minnesota was taken to build a new football stadium.
The Laus had put more than $350,000 into their Midway Center space just a few years before being forced out.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs contend that only about 10 percent of the shopping center sustained heavy damage. Other areas, including their leased premises, sustained little to no damage and the city has not revoked any of their individual certificates of occupancy.
“If it were not for [Snelling-Midway Redevelopment’s] closure of Midway Center, the plaintiffs individually and collectively would be able to continue their business operations,” the lawsuit stated.
“We walked through each business with the fire marshal,” Lau said. “We were not told we couldn’t reopen.”
Court documents spell out the former tenants’ claim that their leases were terminated in a bid to speed up redevelopment of the Midway Center property around the Allianz Field soccer stadium. The property bounded by Pascal Street and St. Anthony, Snelling and University avenues is under lease to Snelling Midway Redevelopment LLC. That entity is led by Bill McGuire, who is also lead owner for the Minnesota MLS soccer team.
A city-approved master plan for redevelopment was put into place for five years. It include apartments, a hotel and commercial development. More than one year ago plans were unveiled to build two mixed-use buildings on the western part of the site, but those plans haven’t materialized.
The business owners are represented by Christopher Knapp of the law firm Barnes and Thornburg of Minneapolis. Knapp declined comment.
Updates on businesses
The four Midway Center businesses involved in the lawsuit are just some impacted by the civil unrest and evictions. What has happened to the other businesses?
Chain businesses such as Family Dollar, Great Clips, Sally’s Beauty Supply, H & R Block, Foot Locker and Rainbow clothing have other stores in the Twin Cities, and haven’t opened new stores in Midway area.
To New York has a sister store in Brooklyn Center.
Bank of American opened a new branch at University and Fry Street. That building was in the works before the civil unrest.
MidPointe Event Center, which hosted an array of banquets, receptions, conference and meets, has closed permanently.
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