City gets three proposals to manage Hennepin theaters

Share this:
October 25, 2004 // UPDATED 4:28 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

The Historic Theatre Group, which manages the State, Orpheum and Pantages theaters, is competing with two theater-management groups for control of the city-owned marquees.

The fate of the theaters rests with the City Council, which is expected to vote on the proposals in November.

Besides the Hennepin Theatre Group, St. Paul's Ordway Center for the Performing Arts and Chicago's TheatreDreams, Inc. have submitted proposals to the city.

The city owns the theaters and has issued more than $30 million in revenue bonds to pay for improvements to the Hennepin Avenue theaters in the past 15 years.

The Historic Theatre Group, a for-profit company co-owned by Fred Krohn and Lee Lynch, CEO of the advertising agency Carmichael Lynch, 800 Hennepin Ave. S., manages the theaters and books musical, dance and entertainment acts. It consults with Clear Channel Entertainment on booking Broadway acts.

Meanwhile, the Hennepin Theatre Trust, a nonprofit, presents and produces shows at the theaters. A 17-member board governs the trust.

Under the Historic Theatre Group's proposal, the Hennepin Theatre Trust would buy the theaters at the end of a long-term lease with the city and convert the theater debt from tax-exempt revenue bonds to taxable bonds.

"We've come up with a win-win solution," Lynch said, adding that the proposal gets the "city out of the theater business."

Trust President Tom Hoch said the proposal meets the city's goals for the theaters, including keeping them actively booked and reducing the city's day-to-day role and financial involvement.

It ensures "the theaters continue to be available to future generations and that the Hennepin Theatre District will continue to thrive and grow," he said.

Meanwhile, the Ordway advocates a regional theater-management approach. It would establish the Twin Cities Theatre Alliance in Minneapolis, which would book shows for theaters in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Chicago's TheatreDreams touts itself as the group with a solid track record in reviving downtown theater districts. The group bought the historic Chicago Theatre in 2004, located in the Loop's theater district.

TheatreDreams' President Larry Wilker was involved in restoring the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, Del., and reviving Cleveland's theater district, which has been credited with sparking a wave of new development in the Ohio city.

"I think we're uniquely qualified to do this," Wilker said. "We are experts in programming theaters in downtown locations and using the arts as a catalyst for urban renewal."

Wilker said TheatreDreams would attract more self-produced shows to the Minneapolis theater scene and a more eclectic range of performances.

"People would notice more variety," Wilker said.

TheatreDreams would lease the theaters from the city and ultimately pursue an option to buy the historic venues, he said.

A committee reviewing the proposals, made up of city staff and City Councilmembers Scott Benson (11th Ward) and Barbara Johnson (4th Ward), is expected to make a recommendation to the City Council's Community Development Committee Nov. 9.

Johnson said the committee plans to meet with the three groups individually to go over the proposals.

She said the committee wants to hand the theaters over to the group that can best book the theaters, preserve the venues for future generations, collaborate with community groups, reach out to schools and make the theaters economically viable without taxpayer dollars.

The full Council is expected to vote on the matter Nov. 19.