Concertgoers may one day be able to catch a show alongside the Mississippi River — at what is now the city’s decaying port — if First Avenue and others move forward with a proposal sent to Minneapolis officials last week.
First Avenue is part of the only development team to submit plans to transform the city’s Upper Harbor Terminal in north Minneapolis. Other partners include United Properties and Thor Construction. The site, the largest city-owned redevelopment opportunity in Minneapolis, spans 48 acres.
Details beyond an amphitheater remained hazy on Tuesday — the city refused to release the submitted plan — but Council President Barb Johnson said it would include housing and light industrial uses. The city’s general plans for the area also call for a new park that would run parallel to the river.
The plan will be released at a public meeting Nov. 3 at Folwell Recreation Center.
Built in the 1960s to bring barges upriver to Minneapolis, the port struggled for many years to attract sufficient traffic. Operations ceased in 2014, though it was recently used for concrete storage, and its tattered domes remain a prominent feature of the upper riverfront.
First Avenue General Manager Nate Kranz said they are pitching an 8,000- to 10,000-seat amphitheater for the site.
“We’re really hoping that we can get an amphitheater concert venue out there,” Kranz said. “It’s something we think the city really needs.”
The Twin Cities is the largest U.S. concert market without an amphitheater at least the size of the one being proposed. First Ave’s proposed venue would be about half the size of Milwaukee’s popular Marcus Amphitheater and similar in capacity to the Starlight Theatre in Kansas City, Mo.
Over the past two summers, First Avenue has staged concerts on the publicly owned Scherer Bros. Lumber site, sometimes called Hall’s Island, across the river and a little downstream from the proposed amphitheater site, including last month’s Festival Palomino and prior headlining sets by Wilco and Alabama Shakes. Each of those drew close to what the amphitheater would hold, about 8,000 fans.
“It’s a real challenge to do in the city,” Kranz said, “even though there is obviously a huge desire for the people that live here to be able to go and see outdoor entertainment without having to drive to Shakopee or way out of town somewhere.”
The project will have significant public costs for demolition and infrastructure improvements, which could exceed $30 million over three decades based on preliminary estimates developed in 2014. The city is pursuing special tax increment financing legislation at the State Capitol as one option to pay for it.
Johnson said there has been discussion of saving some of the existing port structures, similar to what was done at Seattle’s Gas Works Park.
“The things that have been successful on the riverfront are funky,” Johnson said, noting a popular water skiing show.
Connecting the river with north Minneapolis will pose some additional hurdles, since the site is severed from neighborhoods by Interstate 94.
“[The proposal] would respond to some of the things that we’ve heard over the years that people would like to see there, including a destination,” Johnson said.
Smaller outdoor venues
United Properties declined to comment Tuesday. Ravi Norman, CEO of Thor Construction, issued a statement saying they were working with the city, Minneapolis Park Board and community “to revive and increase accessibility to the valuable asset that is riverfront property.”
Other amphitheaters in the area are smaller. The Minnesota Zoo’s Weesner Family Amphitheater, which hosts the Music in the Zoo series every summer, holds about 1,500 people. Plymouth’s Hilde Amphitheater holds about 5,000 people, but has been used only sporadically for rock concerts and does not have permanent seats or restrooms.
The city of Burnsville drew up plans to build a full-scale, 15,000-capacity amphitheater in 2000 on former quarry land along the Minnesota River — dubbed the Black Dog Amphitheater — but the idea stalled when residents and officials across the river in Bloomington raised concerns over noise.
Twelve years since it was temporarily shut down in a bankruptcy court battle, First Avenue is rapidly expanding its foothold on the Twin Cities concert market. The club’s other areas of expansion in recent years include buying the Turf Club in St. Paul, managing the historic Palace Theatre (currently under renovation) in downtown St. Paul, organizing the aforementioned outdoor concerts with help from Chicago promoter Jam Productions, and opening the Depot Tavern restaurant next door to the club’s main room and its smaller sister venue, 7th Street Entry.
All of this development has happened under the watch of Kranz, who started at the club in 1998 and has been its general manager since 2009, and co-owner Dayna Frank, whose dad, Byron Frank, took over the club after the 2004 bankruptcy fight but handed the reins to Dayna Frank around 2009.