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January 3, 2011 // UPDATED 9:21 am - January 3, 2011
By: Journal staff
Journal staff
Old is new at The Music Box

LORING PARK — The Music Box Theater is now going by a new name — or actually, an old name. On Dec. 20, the theater reverted to its former namesake, The Loring Theater, in honor of the 90-year anniversary of the building.

“We’ve been operating under the title for a long time,” said Paul Anderton, marketing manager for a group called the Directors, which operates the theater. “The plan was to change it back to the original name.”

The Music Box, which has been operating since 1920, hasn’t had a very full program list lately, something Anderton noted and said that the group plans to change come January.

“The building has been mostly empty for some reason,” Anderton said. “It had a very long and successful run with Triple Espresso but apart from that and the odd music event, there’s not much going on. We’ve installed a cinema screen, which is what the theater was originally meant for. We plan to have music, comedy and live theater.”

The changes will take place starting this January, when the theater hosts both the Dave King Trucking Company on Jan. 15 and a weekly Mimosa Movies feature that combines classic movies and mimosas on Sundays starting Jan. 16.

The Directors are a group of producers that operate stages throughout the Midwest, and they hope to re-imagine the image of the theater, aiming at a younger generation of theatergoers.

“It’s a new brand,” Anderton said. “We’re going to be a little bit more urban and young professional.”

Along with the name change and a new programming bill, the Directors also have another idea for the theater.

“There will be signature performances once a month,” Anderton explained. These performances, billed Loring Theater Live, will “combine the idea of all these different acts in one night. Really a variety performance.”

“People think of the word ‘variety’ as stuffy,” Anderton said. “This will really be a mix of jugglers, theater and burlesque.”

So the Music Box will have the same building and the same location come January. It’s what you call it and what you see there that will have changed.

— John Grimley


Minneapolis gets federal grant for streetcar study

NICOLLET MALL — Mayor R.T. Rybak announced on Dec. 21 that Minneapolis will get a big piece of the $408 million that the federal government has been dolling out to fund streetcar studies. The $900,000 about to flow into the Twin Cities will help pay for a final study on streetcar feasibility.

The two major corridors in question are Nicollet and Central Avenues, stretching from 46th Street South to Columbia Heights. Both were part of an extensive streetcar system that wound through the Twin Cities up until the 1950s, when their tracks were removed.

The city plans to match the federal money with $300,000 that had been reserved from an earlier streetcar study. And while the $1.2 million investment reflects a commitment to improved public transit, it also means the city might be able to look forward to an improved tax base.

“Modern streetcars improve transportation, but they also build our economy,” Rybak said in a statement. “One of the best ways to lower property taxes is to grow our tax base. We can do that by bringing streetcars to the heart of Minneapolis.”

City Council Member Kevin Reich (1st Ward) considers streetcars a more manageable version of light rail service, promising the same benefits with much less investment.

“There are other corridors where LRT is too large to fit and too costly to pay for,” he said. “Nicollet and Central are great examples where a good, cost-effective alternative to LRT is needed.”

The next step is for the city to choose a consultant. If the study favors bringing back the streetcar line, Minneapolis will be able to apply for further federal funds to build it.

— Gregory J. Scott


New lampposts mean a brighter 13th Avenue NE

SHERIDAN — Thirty-eight lampposts have now been delivered to brighten the galleries and restaurants along 13th Avenue NE.

The project was spearheaded by the Sheridan Neighborhood Organization. Rather than require nearby property owners to help cover the cost of the lights, the neighborhood group is raising all of the money for the project.

The streetlights flare out from the intersection of 13th Avenue and 2nd Street. They span from 6th to Main streets on 13th Avenue, and from 12th to 14th avenues on 2nd Street.

The project is designed to liven up the pedestrian atmosphere and light up poorly lit areas — the neighborhood has noticed a connection between crime incidents and poor lighting.

— Michelle Bruch


Edison High School gets in on ‘Minnesota Beatle Project’

HOLLAND — The Edison High School concert band has shared billing with Soul Asylum and Mason Jennings on a new Beatles cover album that was released shortly before the holidays.

Edison contributed the track “I Want to Hold your Hand,” joining 15 other bands with ties to Minnesota. The Meat Puppets performed “Tomorrow Never Knows,” Pert Near Sandstone did “I am the Walrus,” and Soul Asylum covered “Good Morning Good Morning.”

The “Minnesota Beatle Project” was produced by Vega Productions, an organization that throws concerts, hosts a year-round instrument drive, and creates albums in which all of the proceeds bolster arts programs in Minnesota public schools. Back in January, Vega gave Edison High School more than 50 instruments, including clarinets, electric pianos, a seven-piece drum kit and several guitars.

This is the second Beatles cover album that Vega Productions has put out. Proceeds from the first record benefited more than 6,000 students last year, and the company is hoping that sales from the second album will benefit 10,000 students. The CD is available through Target, Electric Fetus, iTunes and Amazon.

— Michelle Bruch


Low-income housing tower poised for $16 million renovation

LORING PARK — A 306-unit residential tower reserved for low-income housing is about to get a sweeping renovation thanks to a unique public-private funding partnership.

The Nicollet Towers, 1350 Nicollet Ave., is getting a badly needed makeover. Opened in the late 1970s, the Towers has only been renovated once, in the early 1990s, but improvements were mostly limited to an exterior courtyard, said Jim Bettendorf, director of housing development and management for Volunteers of America Minnesota, the group organizing the project.

What’s more, the usual source of funding for such affordable-housing renovations, the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, has been hit hard during the recession, so many spruce ups at the Towers — and many sites like it all around the country — have been piecemeal and makeshift.

But this new renovation will be massive.

“We’re talking roofs, we’re talking all new windows, we’re talking all new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, elevators are going to be redone,” said Bettendorf. “We’re talking about $16 million in renovations. I think this is our biggest refinance that [Volunteers of America] are doing nationally.”

In addition, 19 units will be reserved for individuals and families that have been prone to long-term homelessness. The change allows Volunteers of America to secure additional funding from the state of Minnesota, as part of a plan to end long-term homelessness.

This money will be combined with a $20 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which will be distributed across similar renovation projects in five states.

In addition, Connecticut-based Cornerstone Real Estate Advisers partnered with the National Affordable Housing Trust to manage an investment fund that will also provide financing.

The Minnesota Housing Finance Agency has also helped out financially.

“The way it was funded is a pretty big deal,” said Bettendorf. “It’s being done through tax credits, as well as by soft financing, and also the Putting America Back to Work funding.”

Construction is scheduled to begin in January, with locally based Kraus-Anderson as a general contractor and St. Paul’s Pope Architects handling design. The project is expected to take 18 months to complete.

— Gregory J. Scott


Roof repairs continue at the Metrodome

DOWNTOWN EAST — By the morning of Dec. 23, the Metrodome roof was mostly cleared of snow and ice, but the timeline for the repair work still remained a mystery.

Though the month of January has been cited as a target finish date for repair work, Metrodome officials are avoiding discussing specifics.

“Our focus is on assessing the damage to the whole roof and making a decision on the best way to proceed to get it back up and operating in a safe manner,” said Bill Lester, executive director of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission (MSFC), the group the operates the Dome.

Over Christmas, replacement panels were being prepared in a facility in Tijuana, Mexico.  

Five of the roof’s 106 panels so far are ruptured, but this number includes a panel deliberately punctured by a shotgun slug on Dec. 20, so as to relieve pressure from ice and snow. Additional panels may need to be replaced, and the final count is not yet known.

The MSFC had set aside $1.5 million to repair the Dome’s roof. A total cost has yet to be estimated, but most of it will be covered by insurance.

— Gregory J. Scott