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Remembering Galleria Developer Warren Beck

30April 2021

Commercial real estate developer Warren Beck, best known for building tony shopping center Galleria in Edina, died Monday after a three-year battle with lung cancer. He was 75.

Beck leaves a legacy of shopping centers and hotels that helped shape the Twin Cities—in particular, the west metro. Key retail projects he spearheaded include Westbrook Mall in Brooklyn Center, Burnside Plaza in Burnsville, Bonaventure in Minnetonka, and Centennial Lakes Plaza in Edina. But Beck’s crowning career achievement—and the project he and his family held closest—was Galleria, the France Avenue mall he built in 1974.

A native of Sioux Rapids, Iowa, Beck attended Gustavus Adolphus College, where he met his future wife Donna Gabbert. The two married and moved to the Twin Cities and Beck went into business with his father-in-law, furniture retailer Don Gabbert. They formed Gabbert & Beck and set about building a shopping center around Gabberts Design Studio and Fine Furniture to draw more traffic to the store. It worked: today Galleria is one of the top retail addresses in the Twin Cities, home to Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co. as well as some of the top and most enduring independent shops in town, including Ampersand, Hobo, and Pumpz.

“He really wanted to come up with the right mix. He always emphasized a good blend of national and locally owned. And it served the center very well,” said daughter Paula Beck, a Twin Cities real estate attorney. Her focus is affordable housing, which she said was inspired by her father, who served on board of the Twin Cities Housing Development Corporation.

“He had a great eye for detail,” said son Peter Beck, president of WP Hotel Partners, the firm founded by his father. “The hallways at Galleria are literally half the width of Southdale’s because he wanted Galleria to feel more comfortable, more residential.”

Beck’s keen eye for retail development extended to fashion—he enjoyed every aspect of the shopping center experience, Peter Beck said. Tenants appreciated his genuine love of all things retail.

“I don’t think I will ever forget his walk throughs of my shop, talking to me about the lighting level or another detail the was so important to making my store a success,” said Michael Druskin, who ran his father’s Len Druskin shop at Galleria for many years and returned in 2020 with his latest concept, Jaxon Grey. “[Warren’s] passion drove Galleria to be one of the most unique and successful shopping destinations in the country. His love of the arts, the community, and creativity seemed to serve as the foundation of the Galleria, and to this day, that legacy lives on.”

Before opening Pumpz shoe store at Galleria, Marlys Badzin worked in leasing at the center with Beck for more than a decade. “It’s a sad loss for the retail and business communities, especially in Edina,” she said. “Warren was a good businessman who found beauty in just about everything, including his creation, Galleria.”

Beck sold Galleria to Houston-based Hines REIT for $127 million in 2012.

“He taught me not to base business decisions on emotion,” Peter Beck said. “Timing is everything, and it’s never good to wait too long to sell. He always said he’d rather get out too early than too late. The first offer is usually the best.”

Beck’s legacy looms large at Galleria even today. “Warren was a visionary in the Twin Cities retail community and we’re honored to continue his legacy at Galleria today, and every day,” Galleria general manager Wendy Eisenberg said.

In the later years of his career, Beck focused on hotel projects like the Westin Edina Galleria, which his company sold in 2019, and Hotel Sofitel Minneapolis, which he acquired in 2013 and rebranded as the Sheraton Bloomington. That property is still owned and operated by WP Hotel partners.

But greater than his contributions to the suburban skyline was Beck’s impact on those who worked with him, and his children, who absorbed his work ethic. “We saw how he conducted himself, how he treated staff, and interacted with tenants,” Paula Beck said. What stood out to her, brother Peter and their sister Amy Strom is the substantial raises Beck would award to employees each year. His championing of women in leadership roles and his penchant for deflecting credit for career accomplishments. Said Paula Beck, “It was a good lesson in how to be a good business person, and a good person at the same time.”

An active volunteer, Beck served more than 25 years as a trustee of Gustavus Adolphus with three stints as board chair. He also served nearly 20 years on the board of Vocal Essence. He sang in the choir at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis for more than 25 years and served as a deacon and moderator of the church.

Beck, who lived part-time in Tuscon, Arizona, is survived by his wife, three children, and five grandchildren. The family plans a private memorial service.

 

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