AUDUBON — A local developer has emerged with plans to redevelop the 77-year-old Hollywood Theater at 28th & Johnson Street Northeast.
Andrew Volna, who was born and raised in Northeast, has a vision of turning the theater into a creative office space, much as his Apiary development company did with the old Rayvic auto services building at 1501 E. Hennepin that now houses Clockwork Active Media Systems.
He said he would target a creative company for a tenant — perhaps an advertising agency or interactive firm.
“Someone like maybe an ad agency or an interactive firm. Someone who can leverage the building’s unique architectural character, a business that would benefit from a high coolness quotient,” Volna said.
On Dec. 11 the city’s Community Development Committee granted Volna exclusive development rights to the theater and adjacent vacant lot on the 2800 block of Johnson Avenue NE. Volna would have the rights for one year, with a possible six-month extension.
“We have to really drill into it to see if this project is even viable, and before I do that and before I commit the time and considerable resources to do that due diligence, I need to know that I can leave the dance with the girl, so to speak,” he said.
The theater has been vacant since 1987, and the city hasn’t had any luck finding a developer over the years.
City Council Member Kevin Reich (Ward 1) said the city’s efforts to promote the property have paid off. The city has, in recent years, opened the theater up to a music video by Mason Jennings, a Vanity Fair photo shoot, a short film and a couple plays.
“It really exposed it to some really creative and thoughtful people, and to have someone who is from the creative industry — Mr. Volna, not only does he do property redevelopment, but he also managed recording studios himself — is just the type of person that we wanted to get the attention of,” Reich said.
Volna envisions a renovation of the building’s interior and exterior.
“The exterior would be lovingly restored to 1935 splendor. The marquee is re-lit and the outside restored and cleaned and re-tuckpointed. The green tiles on the chimney are replaced. The ticket booth is restored,” he said.
One estimate from a contractor has the renovation pegged at $1.9 million, Volna said. He’s hired a consultant to explore historic tax credit possibilities for the project.
“It’s suffered a lot of water damage,” Volna said. “They’ve done some stabilization and remediation over the years, but there’s part of the ceiling that have fallen in,” he said. “It’s rough. It’s in hospice care.”
Volna, 44, has a historic connection to the theater. Seventy-one years ago today, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, signaling the beginning of World War II. Volna’s father lived a couple blocks from the theater, and he and his older brother – who was of draft age — walked to the theater to escape the doom and gloom of the bombing.
Later, when Volna was growing up in the Waite Park neighborhood, he would go see R-rated movies because the Hollywood Theater was liberal about letting underage kids see movies. He recalls seeing Raging Bull and Blues Brothers at the Hollywood.
Reich, who went on dates to the Hollywood Theater in high school, said Volna’s community connection and creative eye make him a good fit to redevelop the building.
“He is very reminiscent of people who have been redeveloping buildings in Northeast Minneapolis and creating our arts district and brew district, and spaces for designers and all types of people who want to make and create and do things in these older buildings that are throughout my ward,” Reich said.
The theater was built in 1935, the height of the Art Deco period.
Several attempts to redevelop the theater over the years have failed.
The city sent out a request for proposals in 2009 to redevelop the space into a commercial use, but no respondents met the criteria. Volna’s aware of past failings at the Hollywood. How will this attempt be different? He’s not promising the moon.
“I don’t know. I never think that I’m better than anyone else necessarily, so a lot of talented people have attempted to do something, so that is sobering,” he said. “I think that most of the ideas were for live venues, entertainment venues, and I think those are pretty challenging to operate. So maybe the plans were overly ambitious.”