A new vision for the Hollywood Theater

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February 14, 2011
By: Michelle Bruch
Michelle Bruch
// Community leaders would like to see old NE theater turn into a home for jewelers //

A new big idea for the Hollywood Theater is floating around City Hall: renovating the theater into a hub for jewelers, with a gallery, workshops and retail space.

There isn’t any funding tied to the concept, however, and it isn’t determined whether a jewelers’ center would even be feasible there. The city-owned property remains for sale, and city staff are still looking for concrete redevelopment proposals from an outside buyer.

“I would love to see this [idea] go someplace,” said Marty Schirber, a Northeast resident who serves on the neighborhood-based Hollywood Theater Task Force. “It would be a dynamite jewelry store. … I could see 100 or 200 jewelers there. It could be really powerful.”

The concept of a jewelers’ center is Schirber’s brainchild. He envisions converting the theater seats into a workshop with workstations and benches. Seats in the balcony could be devoted to classes on jewelry-making.

In addition, Schirber said, the theater could serve as the base for a new jewelers’ guild, where members could rent equipment and share workspace. The jewelers could also take advantage of the theater’s thick walls to create vaults to store precious metals. The lobby could be converted into a gallery, with guild members taking shifts at a collective retail store.

“It’s my idea, but to say it’s gotten any traction yet would be egotistical,” Schirber said.

Schirber has mulled the idea for about three years, and he’s discussed it with many area jewelers. He recently pitched the proposal to Mike Christenson, director of the city’s Community Planning and Economic Development department, and city staff have since contacted local jewelers to talk about its feasibility.

Senior Project Coordinator Miles Mercer said he would characterize the jewelers’ center “as very much just an idea” at this point. City staff are trying to figure out whether local jewelers want to be organized in this way, and they are trying to decide whether the Hollywood Theater would really be the best place in the city for jewelers to co-locate.

“We have an overabundance of ideas, and a lack of funds to get them going,” Mercer said.

The Hollywood operated at 28th & Johnson as a movie theater from 1935 until it closed in 1987.

The theater has a list price of $275,000. The city has long sought a developer, and issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) several times since purchasing the property in 1993. The most recent request came in the summer of 2009. After receiving three proposals that would reuse the Hollywood as a theater or special-event venue, the city turned down them all, saying the proposals didn’t meet the requirements of the RFP. Older development proposals for entertainment venues were turned down because the city didn’t think they were economically viable.

To make the property more marketable, the city has purchased and torn down a nearby home to provide parking, service access and extra breathing room for the theater.

Soren Priede, a Minneapolis-based designer who specializes in wedding jewelry, said he thinks a jewelry-oriented theater is an interesting idea.

“I would almost like to see a more gallery-oriented space that elevates all of the jewelry up and brings it out of that craft realm,” he said. He noted that jewelry galleries aren’t uncommon in Europe.

“It would be great to have a destination place to go and see that,” he said.

He said a group of jewelers has actually met off-and-on in recent years to kick around the idea of forming a guild. They have discussed ways to learn from each other, share advertising and put on group shows, but the talks haven’t gone far.

“We don’t know what [the guild] would do, what it would be, and what it would accomplish,” Priede said. “It’s a tough one.”

The concept of using the theater as a workspace could be a little tricky, Priede said. Jewelers’ work benches are very personalized, and the expensive tools and tiny gems they use would certainly face security issues, he said.

Schirber said the Hollywood might be most appealing to jewelers who are working out of their basements. He said he always visits the jewelers’ booths at art fairs to chat about the Hollywood, and he’s blown away by the enthusiasm for the idea.

“It will take dedication and time,” Schirber said. “I don’t need another full-time job. Anybody can take it and run with it.”