City will negotiate theaters' sale with current managers

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April 25, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

The Minneapolis City Council voted Nov. 19 to give the Hennepin Theatre Trust, the Historic Theatre Group and Clear Channel Entertainment 120 days to cut a deal to manage and perhaps own the Pantages, State and Orpheum theaters. The city currently owns the theaters.

The 7-4 Council vote came after a heated debate over how to best manage the theaters and relieve the city of financial obligation.

The winning group includes the theaters' current managers. The Council's other option was St. Paul's Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, who fought for a regional theater-management approach through a new Downtown nonprofit.

The winners' plan calls for a 30-year agreement that would relieve the city of $22 million in debt service payments on the theaters plus capital improvement costs.

The theater debate turned decidedly bitter in the days before the final negotiating-right vote. Several councilmembers said they received many inaccurate e-mails claiming that Clear Channel would own the theaters under the Historic Theater Group's proposal. Under the proposal, the nonprofit Hennepin Theater Trust would own the theaters at the end of a long-term lease. Clear Channel would own part of the Historic Theater Group (the managers) but have no theater ownership.

The City Council passed the measure after defeating a proposal by City Council President Paul Ostrow (1st Ward) for a three-week delay on the vote.

Ostrow beseeched colleagues for more time to examine the Ordway's regional management approach.

"This decision is a legacy decision," he said. "[The theaters] are a central amenity in our city."

Historic Theater Group supporters argued that the theater management issue has been analyzed for more than a year.

Voting to exclusively negotiate with Historic Theater Group were Downtown's Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) and Don Samuels (3rd Ward), Barb Johnson (4th Ward), Robert Lilligren (8th Ward), Gary Schiff (9th Ward), Scott Benson (11th Ward) and Sandra Colvin Roy (12th Ward).

No votes came from Ostrow (1st Ward) Paul Zerby (2nd Ward), Dean Zimmermann (6th Ward) and Barret Lane (13th Ward).

Dan Nizolek (10th Ward) abstained and Natalie Johnson Lee, whose 5th Ward includes the Pantages and Orpheum, was absent.