After two decades leading the downtown theaters, Tom Hoch says he’s ready for something new.
For Tom Hoch, all the world’s a stage — or least Hennepin Avenue downtown is.
Since its inception 16 years ago, Hoch has led the Hennepin Theatre Trust, the nonprofit that owns and operates Hennepin’s historic theaters in addition to bringing art to the streets and storefronts of downtown Minneapolis. In mid-2017 however, Hoch, 61, will be stepping down from his role of president and CEO of the organization he created in order to pursue the next act of his career.
Under his leadership the trust has expanded from managing Hennepin’s theaters — the Orpheum, Pantages and State, in addition to the New Century Theatre in City Center — into a placemaking and visual arts organization responsible for large-scale art projects like the Bob Dylan mural and regular cultural programming in downtown Minneapolis.
“Art is a great catalyst for development, talent attraction and enabling people to attach to a community. With that belief, it seemed natural to move out into the public realm with arts and culture activities,” he said. “I hope that the takeaway that people have is that art is important on its own merit. And it serves communities very, very well because of what it does to help transform.”
The trust also puts on Made Here, the country’s largest showcase of storefront window art, in order to use under-developed areas and spur interest in vacant commercial spaces. It recently launched the 5 to 10 Hennepin initiative, a weekly rotating set of block parties in collaboration with local artists and performers.
Joan Vorderbruggen, the trust’s director of public art and placemaking who puts on many of its public art programs, said Hoch’s leave is a “painful loss” due to his creative thinking, deep local roots and faith he brings to their work.
“What I love about Tom so much is that he’s totally OK to work in the gray. We start at A and we want to get to Z, but we have no idea what B, C, D, E, F, G looks like. But we’ll figure it out, even if it can be painful to operate that way,” she said.
Hoch began working with the theaters as a city employee overseeing restoration efforts and then transitioned a couple years later to head for-profit management company Historic Theater Group in 1996, before the non-profit trust was created in 2000. His career has led him from teaching to practicing law to working with the City of Minneapolis. Hoch said he’s exploring other opportunities — he’s adamant this is not the time for retirement, he said — but he will continue to serve as board chair of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, Downtown Improvement District (DID) and Animal Humane Society.
“It hasn’t been a very straight path,” Hoch laughed. “Hopefully I can take what I’ve learned and apply it to the next thing I do.”
Hoch said his reason for leaving is to find new opportunities. His successor will need a diffused set of skills, he said, from operating theaters that host touring Broadway shows and concerts to placemaking in large urban environments. The trust’s board of directors will launch a national search for its second executive.
Hoch’s leave comes at a time the trust is planning a move from City Center to the former Solera building at Hennepin & 9th before he steps down next year. The trust announced over the summer plans to turn the 31,000-square-foot building into office, event and education spaces. The organization will also close the 300-seat New Century Theatre and open another performance space in its new home, Hoch said.
“We’re in that ramp up to a tipping point,” he said.
Looking back, Hoch said he’s proud of the trust’s work to make Hennepin Avenue a welcoming place for both locals and people who commute into downtown Minneapolis. There’s also their work in creating the DID, now a group with a roughly $6.5-million annual budget largely supported by private businesses, he added.
“Downtown Minneapolis’ success is in no small measure due to Tom’s leadership,” said Steve Cramer, president and CEO of the Downtown Council and DID, in a statement. “Minneapolis is a better place to live, work and play because of Tom’s work.”