Community notebook // Developer emerges for Hollywood Theater in Northeast

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December 17, 2012 // UPDATED 5:48 pm - December 27, 2012
By: The Journal Staff
The Journal Staff

AUDUBON — A local developer has emerged with plans to redevelop the 77-year-old Hollywood Theater at 28th Avenue & Johnson Street NE. 

Andrew Volna, who was born and raised in Northeast, has a vision of turning the theater into a creative office space, much as his Apiary development company did with the old Rayvic auto services building at 1501 E. Hennepin that now houses Clockwork Active Media Systems.  

He said he would target a creative company for a tenant.

“Someone like maybe an ad agency or an interactive firm. Someone who can leverage the building’s unique architectural character, a business that would benefit from a high coolness quotient,” Volna said. 

On Dec. 11 the city’s Community Development Committee granted Volna exclusive development rights to the theater and adjacent vacant lot on the 2800 block of Johnson Avenue NE. Volna would have the rights for one year, with a possible six-month extension. 

“We have to really drill into it to see if this project is even viable, and before I do that and before I commit the time and considerable resources to do that due diligence, I need to know that I can leave the dance with the girl, so to speak,” he said. 

The theater has been vacant since 1987, and the city hasn’t had any luck finding a developer over the years. 

City Council Member Kevin Reich (Ward 1) said the city’s efforts to promote the property have paid off. The city has, in recent years, opened the theater up to a music video by Mason Jennings, a “Vanity Fair” photo shoot, a short film and a couple plays. 

“It really exposed it to some really creative and thoughtful people, and to have someone who is from the creative industry — Mr. Volna, not only does he do property redevelopment, but he also managed recording studios himself — is just the type of person that we wanted to get the attention of,” Reich said. 

Volna envisions a renovation of the building’s interior and exterior. 

“The exterior would be lovingly restored to 1935 splendor. The marquee is re-lit and the outside restored and cleaned and re-tuckpointed. The green tiles on the chimney are replaced. The ticket booth is restored,” he said. 

One estimate from a contractor has the renovation pegged at $1.9 million, Volna said. He’s hired a consultant to explore historic tax credit possibilities for the project. 

“It’s suffered a lot of water damage,” Volna said. “They’ve done some stabilization and remediation over the years, but there’s parts of the ceiling that have fallen in,” he said. “It’s rough. It’s in hospice care.”

Volna, 44, has a historic connection to the theater. Seventy-one years ago on Dec. 7, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, signaling the beginning of World War II. Volna’s father lived a couple blocks from the theater, and he and his older brother — who was of draft age — walked to the theater to escape the doom and gloom of the bombing news.  

Later, when Volna was growing up in the Waite Park neighborhood, he would go see R-rated movies because the Hollywood Theater was liberal about letting underage kids see movies. He recalls seeing “Raging Bull” and “Blues Brothers” at the Hollywood. 

Reich, who went on dates to the Hollywood Theater in high school, said Volna’s community connection and creative eye make him a good fit to redevelop the building. 

“He is very reminiscent of people who have been redeveloping buildings in Northeast Minneapolis and creating our arts district and brew district, and spaces for designers and all types of people who want to make and create and do things in these older buildings that are throughout my ward,” Reich said.  

The theater was built in 1935, the height of the Art Deco period. 

Several attempts to redevelop the theater over the years have failed.

The city sent out a request for proposals in 2009 to redevelop the space into a commercial use, but no respondents met the criteria. Volna’s aware of past failings at the Hollywood. How will this attempt be different? He’s not promising the moon. 

“I don’t know. I never think that I’m better than anyone else necessarily, so a lot of talented people have attempted to do something, so that is sobering,” he said. “I think that most of the ideas were for live venues, entertainment venues, and I think those are pretty challenging to operate. So maybe the plans were overly ambitious.”

NE facing another bridge replacement project 

CENTRAL AVENUE — Northeast business owners and residents are bracing for another bridge replacement project.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) is planning to replace a railroad bridge over Central Avenue. Construction would likely start next fall and impact the street between 14th and 18th avenues northeast, said Ron Rauchle, MnDOT’s west area manager.

The extent of lane closures on Central in the impacted area has not been determined. Northeast community and business leaders are lobbying to keep the area open to some traffic.

Many in the area are suffering from construction fatigue and had hoped work would be wrapped up now that the Lowry and Plymouth Avenue bridges are open.

Lucy Bacon, owner of Diamonds Coffee Shoppe, 1618 Central Ave. NE, said she would prefer to see no traffic obstruction on Central. She depends on the motorists who pass by her shop on Central to keep her business going. She’s heard estimates that 16,000 cars go by her shop each day. 

“I realize that this project needs to be done, and there will be some kind of interruption,” she said. “If they could keep one lane open in each direction, at least I would survive it. If they close it completely, especially for the four to six months that they’re talking about, we’ll be completely isolated, and business will be cut to about a third of what it is now — or more, who knows?”

City Council Member Kevin Reich (1st Ward) said he’s in favor of a partial closure of traffic on Central even if it stretches the construction timeline out a bit.

He said it’s important for the project to move forward because it will result in a better Central Avenue for drivers, bikers and pedestrians. He plans to continue having meetings with business owners and others in the area that would be immediately impacted by construction. 

State Rep. Diane Loeffler (DFL-59A) said the neighborhoods have felt cut off by recent bridge projects. She said there’s also been a push from the community to take a look at other bridges in the area to see if they are in need of repairs so they could take place at the same time. 

“The worst thing would be to close off traffic for a long time and then find another bridge has issues,” she said. 

— Sarah McKenzie 

Developer proposes apartments for old NE warehouse 

Master, a Minneapolis-based developer, has a proposal to transform a long-vacant and dilapidated three-story building next to the Calumet Lofts in Northeast into a new 21-unit apartment building. 

The new building would be called Bon Quartier Apartments, which is French for “good neighbor.” 

The Nicollet Island-East Bank Neighborhood Association (NIEBNA) recently endorsed Master’s plan for the 1920s-era warehouse at 115 5th St. NE — a property that has been vacant for more than 10 years. 

Master has proposed a total reconstruction of the 18,000-square-foot building to make way for 21 apartments, ranging from 500 to 650 square feet. The rents would range from $870 to $1,125 a month, according to Master’s proposal.

The City of Minneapolis issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the tax-forfeited property earlier this year. Clare Housing, an organization that provides housing for people living with HIV/AIDS, also submitted a proposal for the building. Its plan calls for 23 efficiency apartments.

Ultimately, neighborhood leaders gave Master’s plan the nod over Clare Housing because the developer could move ahead with construction faster than the nonprofit, said Victor Grambsch, chair of NIEBNA.

Pending city approvals, Master told neighborhood leaders they could start construction in March and have the building ready for tenants in September.  

— Sarah McKenzie

A new vision for the former MPS headquarters 

LOGAN PARK — The future of the former Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) headquarters at 807 Broadway St. will begin to come into focus starting Dec. 17, when the site is officially put up for sale.

Originally the 186,000 square-foot building — square footage grows to over 250,000 counting three auxiliary buildings — cranked out 20,000 light bulbs per day as Minnesota Mazda Lamp Works, a subdivision of General Electric. It was purchased by MPS in 1930, and moved into in 1948.

MPS moved to a brand-new headquarters two miles down the road in August, and neighbors are anxious to see what becomes of the newly-vacant building. The Logan Park Neighborhood Association formed the 807 Broadway Task Force to ensure neighborhood residents had a voice in finding a developer for the site.

“We’re just the people who live in the neighborhood, who have, we feel, the most vested interest in the outcome because it’s literally in many people’s backyards,” said Pat Vogel, co-chair of the 807 Broadway Task Force.

The task force is strongly opposed to both high-density housing and big-box retail being developed at the site. 

“Our fear all along is that there is a developer waiting in the wings that they’re not being open about. … We don’t want somebody to come in, tear down the building and put in a Wal-Mart,” said Vogel.

That’s not the case, according to Mark Garner, senior project coordinator for the City of Minneapolis.

“We want people who are proposing on the property to be aware of the community vision for this property,” said Garner. “We want a transparent, broad process. We’re reaching out to as many potential developers as possible.”

A unique, hierarchical partnership has been forged to find a suitor for the 807 Broadway building. The 807 Broadway Task Force meets periodically with Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) to air their concerns and preferences. CPED has been contracted by MPS to market the property, field offers and weed out developers that are not a good fit. 

Purchase offers will be accepted until Feb. 22, then CPED will present its short-list of candidates to the MPS Board of Education, which will ultimately decide on a developer. 

“I’m treating this as a neighbor, as well school board representative,” said Jenny Arneson, vice chair of the MPS Board of Education. “I hope that we get somebody that serves the neighborhood well, and I hope that it comes at a price that School District can manage.”

The 807 Broadway site has flexible zoning requirements, which diversifies its appeal. 

It could be developed as light industrial, office, or residential mixed-use, which is part of the reason CPED has not listed an asking price.

Vogel mentioned a community center, a full service medical clinic and a small business incubator as possibilities for the property. At a recent Audubon Park neighborhood meeting City Council Member Kevin Reich pointed out successful multi-tenant, adaptive reuse projects like the California, Casket Arts and Waterbury buildings as recent models of successful redevelopment in northeast Minneapolis.

— Ben Johnson 

A new life for a historic Loring Park building 

LORING PARK — The historic Loring Park building that formerly housed Northwestern National Life Insurance began its new life on Dec. 15, when its first tenants moved into their the brand new luxury apartments.

The four-story, 90,000 square-foot renovation project has transformed the former insurance headquarters — and later office building — into 72 one and two-bedroom apartment rental units. The two-year project was overseen by Kraus-Anderson, the same company (called J.L. Robinson back then) that built the massive limestone building in 1924.

Kraus-Anderson worked with historical consulting firm Hess Roise for over a year to get the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They were able to preserve most of its Beaux Arts limestone exterior, a five-panel mural in the lobby, which depicts various historical scenes from early Minneapolis, and its original 12-foot tall bay windows, which offer impressive views of Loring Park, the Minneapolis skyline and the surrounding neighborhood.

“This building was a sign of [Northwestern National Life Insurance’s] coming of age,” said Charlene Roise, president of Hess Roise. She also noted its unique architectural design also qualified it for historic designation. 

The 430 Oak Grove building sits on a wedge-shaped lot, which resulted in its uncommon shape. “It kind of looks like a ship sailing at you as you stand in front of it,” said Roise.

That shape also contributed to the fact that there are 32 different floor plans used in the 72-unit building. “It’s one of a kind,” said Mike Engel, the architect in charge of the building’s new design. “It definitely was a different challenge to work with its original design and maintain the historical aspects of it … but every building has its own challenges and uniqueness to it.”

A bar/lounge area, yoga room and fitness center are among the amenities offered, and a rooftop lounge is planned to be built soon. So far six units have been rented, and tours are available every day.

The opening of 430 Oak Grove is yet another in a long line of new apartment buildings that seem to be sprouting up all over Minneapolis. Across the street at 415 Oak Grove, the six-story, 119-unit Loring Vue apartment complex is set to open soon. 

— Ben Johnson 

Superintendent’s contract renewed

Citing her strong and stable leadership, the School Board on Nov. 27 unanimously approved a new three-year contract for Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson.

Johnson, who took over the district’s top job in 2010, will not see a raise in her base salary of $190,000, which is just slightly below what her predecessor, former Superintendent Bill Green, earned. But Johnson’s previous contract was also the first to include performance-pay incentives for a Minneapolis superintendent, and the School Board raised the ceiling on her annual bonus to $40,000 from $30,000.

School Board Chair Alberto Monserrate called the new contract a “fair and balanced agreement,” one that protects the interests of taxpayers and increases accountability for the district’s top administrator.

“Stability” may have been the buzzword of the evening. The new contract could keep Johnson in the superintendent’s position through the 2015–2016 school year, making her the longest-serving Minneapolis superintendent in a decade.

“The stability does mean a lot,” said Board Member Rebecca Gagnon, noting it has “made the difference” in other school districts.

Reading from a prepared statement, Johnson said the district was “making progress in some of the most critical areas” but also acknowledged “too many of our students are achieving at levels far below their potential.” She emphasized the importance of relationships and a district culture focused on student success, repeating a favorite phrase: “Culture eats strategy for lunch.”

Johnson’s new contract takes effect after the end of the current school year.

The contract terms also include 28 paid vacation days in addition to 11 paid holidays and a $400-per-month automobile allowance. Johnson must contribute the same amount as other district employees to her health care plan, but the district will deposit $2,000 annually into her health savings account.

Following 2010–2011 school year, the first year under her current contract, the School Board awarded Johnson an annual bonus of $12,184, just more than 40 percent of the maximum bonus. Her bonus for the 2011–2012 has not yet been determined.

— Dylan Thomas

Coalition aims to close achievement gap

The Generation Next Partnership launched on Nov. 29 unites a broad array of local organizations around one goal: eliminating the achievement and graduation gaps in Twin Cities schools.

The public-private coalition includes leaders from area businesses, philanthropic organizations, government, K–12 schools and higher education and promotes a “cradle-to-career” strategy for ensuring local students are prepared for school, graduate on time and move on to college and careers.

The model is based on the Cincinnati Strive Partnership, where a similar collaboration has made progress in boosting kindergarten readiness, improving student reading and math scores and raising retention and graduation rates in area colleges and universities. Cities around the country, including Boston, San Francisco and Portland, Ore., are following Cincinnati’s lead.

The Generation Next Partnership set five goals and aims to eliminate in each area the gaps that have students of color lagging behind their white peers. Those goals are: making sure each child is prepared for kindergarten; meeting third-grade reading benchmarks; meeting eighth-grade math benchmarks; achieving a four-year graduation rate of 100 percent; and ensuring every high school graduate earns a college diploma or post-secondary certificate within six years.

The partnership launched with a two-year, $2-million federal Social Innovation Fund Grant, funds that will be matched by the partner organizations to raise $4 million.

The partnership’s leadership council is co-chaired by University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler and General Mills Foundation President Kim Nelson. To learn more about the partnership, go to tcgennext.org. 

— Dylan Thomas

NE food shelf seeing spike in need 

SHERIDAN — The Little Kitchen Food Shelf has had to cut back its services as demand has risen 300 percent over the last year.

The food shelf operates out of the Grace Center for Community Life at 1500 6th St. NE and accepts donations of non-perishable goods Monday–Friday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Cash donations are preferable however. For every dollar donated, Little Kitchen can buy $9 worth of food by purchasing through the Emergency Food Shelf Network and Second Harvest, according to Craig Pederson, pastor at Northeast Community Luthern. 

You can make a donation by visiting necommunity.net/donations-needed.

— Ben Johnson