The Minneapolis Armory's 50,000-square-foot first floor may soon host special events for up to 1,700 people, said owner Doug Hoskin.
Hoskin said he recently got city permits to host special events at the Armory, 5th Street South and Portland Avenue. He needs to make $30,000 in safety code improvements, expected by mid-May.
Hoskin doesn't have a marketing plan, and hasn't set rental prices. He admits he is unfamiliar with the events business and that "this is not a traditional business venture."
"The reason I am doing it is to get more exposure for the building," he said. "With more exposure, I believe it will hasten the ultimate redevelopment of the building."
Built in 1935, the Armory was the most important building constructed in the Twin Cities during the Depression, according to a Hennepin County website. It is now a 340-stall, two-floor parking garage.
The Art Moderne-style building has some advantages as as an events venue: a unique historic character, proximity to the Metrodome and the future LRT line, and a large, open space.
Problems include its rustic character, no permanent toilets (requiring portable toilets) and the orange parking-stall stripes painted on the floor.
Event rental cost would depend on the size and nature of the event, he said. He estimated a low-end rental of $1,500 for a charitable event. He said he had been offered $5,000 to rent the space for a special event when the Metrodome hosted the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament.
Events would be limited to evenings and weekends, he said, to assure the parking customers they would have a space available. During evenings and weekends, the basement parking level could accommodate demand.
Christine Watt of SDL Business Consulting helped Hoskin negotiate the city permitting process and is helping him coordinate events, she said. Events could range from Vikings tailgating to fundraisers for nonprofits.
"We don't want it to stay a parking space," Watt said. "It has so much more potential."
Hoskin bought the Armory from the county for $2.6 million in 1999 and converted it to a parking garage in 2000 to pay for acquisition costs and an added $1.2 million in restoration, he said. It had sat empty for years.
At its peak, more than 20 units of the Minnesota National Guard and Naval Militia used the Armory for training, the county's website said. From the late 1930s through '70s, it hosted civic events and Minneapolis Lakers basketball games. The Guard suspended operations there in 1980.
Parts of the Armory remain off limits because they do not meet code, including the bleacher areas on either side of the main floor and the headroom along the south end of the building. The headroom has two well-preserved murals done by local artists Lucia Wiley and Elsa Jemne, some of the few remaining examples of Federal Arts Project murals, according to the county.
Hoskin has been in the parking business since 1982, he said. He is interested in making a transition into commercial and residential development.
For leasing information, call Watt at 226-2767 or Hoskin at 940-0686.