Is Reuse of Branded Building Design More Difficult?

Taco Bell on E Lake Street
East Lake St Taco Bell building. Closed. Will it be reused?

Hey city planner geeks, has anyone done any research on the difficulty of reusing buildings built for specific businesses such as the former East Lake Taco Bell building shown above?

It seems like finding a new tenant for a building with a Taco Bell branded design would be more difficult to find a tenant for than a vacant restaurant location of similar size.

I’ve found some people kicking this idea around at Cyburbia. They’ve suggested that proprietary fast food building designs, churches, and big box stores are among the most difficult buildings for reuse.

Are any public efforts being made in Minneapolis or other MN cities to take this into consideration?

16 thoughts on “Is Reuse of Branded Building Design More Difficult?”

  1. I know of at least one architectural firm in town that makes good money converting buildings like this one. In fact, I think they turned at least one local building into a Taco Bell.

    This is only an issue for chains. Drive through any run down part of town and you’ll see indie restaurants operating out of buildings that obviously used to belong to a franchise operation. In every case I’m aware of, the local owners were an upgrade to the franchise, food-wise at least.

  2. @Mark, that’s good to hear. It seems like a fast food spot along East Lake would do just fine without a drive-thru. The taco shops between 35W and Hiawatha seem to be doing just fine without them.

    @The Commissioner, nice!

  3. I know this Taco Bell well, I used to live just down the street from there and ate many dinners there!

    East Lake is tough retail stretch, it lacks the traffic retail needs – which is what it makes it such a nice place to live. Catch 22.

    Given the lot size – I would say the most likely tenant would be a local tavern/bar restaurant or coffee shop. (major renovation would be needed..)

    The Longellow NRP used to have funds available for fixing up the outside of these buildings, as their goal was to dress up East Lake and Minnehaha. Not sure if those funds still exist or not..
    Is East Lake Liquor right next door? If you could get a couple of these parcels together, you could have a very nice site for an Apartment Building. (and the demand for apartments is there).
    I like that part of town, I think it is Minneapolis’s best kept secret.

  4. @Craig, good points about East Lake’s traffic. Coffee shops and pubs have done well in the neighborhood (I live on 46th Ave S near M’haha Academy). In fact, we’re about to get a Blue Door Pub on 42nd Ave S at 35th.

    A decent family restaurant could likely survive just on the people who don’t want to wait in line at Longfellow Grill.

    The Taco Bell site is on the same block as El Norteno. The East Lake Liquors block is shared by the old SuperAmerica that’s sat vacant for around 6 years. That would be a good home for a Brasa or something.

    East Lake could use a donut shop.

    Good point about apartments. I think there is a demand for more mid-range apartments near the river.

  5. I don’t know that a branded architectural style is a huge drawback to reuse in a properly managed community or that efforts to restrict them would be possible in Minneapolis. (Actually most people would be thrilled to see corporate architecture sprouting up around NoMi).

    Major corporations put a lot of research and marketing into developing recognizable architectural styles. When a community has the economic conditions to attract these majors players, the design reinforces the message of a strong healthy economy to the consumer.

    When a community can not maintain it’s ability to attract consumers and these branded corporate establishments start to go under, this also is reflective of the economic conditions. Generally it is a lack of public planning on the cities part that causes this decline.

    New start-up businesses with a similar product mix and market are glad to acquire these locations because the recognizable corporate image attracts established consumers. Also, the physical layout reliefs the entrepreneur of re-inventing the wheel concerning the customer service and equipment placement.

    The problem arises when the economic conditions of a community fall so low that a good match for these structures can not be found and you end up with nail salons and pawn shops using recognizable architectural marketing forms.

    Many communities who have planned communities require national firms to meet design requirements when applying for a building permit. But nobody thinks that far ahead around here and politicians are more likely to throw huge tax deferments at any national firms willing invest in the community.

  6. @JBaird, it seems like communities would benefit from having architecture that is interchangeable for businesses that come and go over time, and built on a scale there it doesn’t squeeze out potential local business owners. For example, how many local business owners need a big box’s footprint for a store?

    That said, I hear you on the endorsement a recognized brand provides. A Starbucks on W Broadway or Lowry & Penn would be a very optimistic signal for those neighborhoods.

  7. Delete that last post then – I don’t want to see El Norteno to go! I love their food!

    35th and 42nd – the old grocery store or the old tavern? (I can’t believe I forgot the old names..) I lived on 43rd and 36th, it has been a while – maybe 15 years ago..

    The restaurant that I was surprised didn’t make it was Molly Quinns –

    BTW – There is an old Taco Bell or Taco Johns on Lyndale in Bloomington that is now a Pawn Shop. Some slight alterations they made to the exterior gave it a completely different feel. I think it is around 85th and Lyndale. So a tenant could, relatively speaking, easily turn that into a different use.

  8. @Craig, agreed on El Norteno. They’re great.

    The Pizza, Pie & I location went out of biz around 2006, and reopened as a Turtle Bread this year. The grocery store across 34th is no Riverstone Salon on the corner with a software company and pottery business further back.

    Molly Quinns’ original location is now the Craftsman, which is a great restaurant. While MQ is gone, Merlin’s Rest at 36th & Lake (old Popeye’s location) does very well with a similar vibe.

  9. I haven’t tried the Craftsman – will have to eat there sometime.
    Pizza Pie & I – was a nice neighborhood 3.2 place. Couldn’t remember the name- thanks!
    Norm’s was the corner grocery right? Reidy’s is still open right? (42nd and 42nd ish).

    That’s the nice thing about the old neighborhoods in Mpls – there are local establishments and not the big chains.

  10. Businesses plan for success. Corporate image is crucial to the market differentiation that allows good companies to succeed. The footprint of a stores structure generally relates directly to the efficient use of costs for their particular product mix.

    By limiting these aspects of corporate image and performance, companies will be a disadvantage in attracting consumers to the successful goods and services with the high standards these firms provide.

    The caveat to this, is those communities that actually invest in community image in it’s planning process. This is a costly and involved process that few communities pursue. Most corporations would gladly supplant part of it’s corporate image if they feel that a community is involved in positioning itself for long range success.

    Limiting architectural design on the basis that investing businesses may fail is not a tact which will attract any successful businesses.

  11. @Jbaird, businesses in malls seem to do just fine. Or, say, businesses along 50th & France or Victoria’s Crossing. In both of those locations, businesses have come and gone over time, but storefronts tend to stay full. Do they get reused faster due to their non-branded facade? Perhaps.

  12. Ed,

    Actually the vacancy rates are way up in the malls I have visited. What malls are you referring to?

    The examples you are choosing are specific instances where design standards encompass a full range of zoning applications meant to preserve the unique character and identity that those communities have established. It is certainly no coincidence that both the Grand Ave. and Edina locations have clientele with significantly higher disposable incomes than most Minneapolis locations and the business communities have invested considerable effort and political capitol to maintain a wide range of parameters to promote a cohesive image, not just mandate architectural style.

    These two communities are exceptional examples of how to go about commercial planning. But, take a look at how many empty strip malls there are where corporations can not utilize their branded image. Most firms find it more profitable to spare the expense and buy stand alone property along side a mall where they can make use of easily recognizable signage and architecture and utilize the footprint that best suits their business model.

    The ability to utilize and maintain these branded images is so important to successful companies that in many cases they may not even consider establishing a storefront in marginal markets that force them into standardized architecture. I think it might be foolish for most communities to try and impose these restrictions.

  13. I wouldn’t brag about getting a Blue Door Pub in your neighborhood, but that’s just me.

  14. @Kevin, I’m a big fan of the BDP’s burgers and beer selection. Add greater convenience and reusing a vacant building. What’s not to like?

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