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High hopes for Hollywood Theater

  • Blog Post by: Eric Roper
  • December 7, 2012 - 2:55 PM

Updated at 2:54 p.m.

The historic Hollywood Theater in northeast has sat vacant for a quarter century, but city officials think they may finally have a taker.

The City Council will vote next week on whether to give local developer Andrew Volna exclusive development rights to the art deco, city-owned landmark near Audubon Park. The city bought the 77-year-old building in 1993 and hasn't been able to find a private use for it, despite hundreds of thousands of dollars spent fixing the place up.

Volna hasn't bought the property yet, though the city is considering giving it to him for $1 because of the costs associated with retrofitting a historic building. The initial plan is to convert the space into an "office/commercial use," but not in a way that would prevent restoration back into a theater (a use that has so far "not proven to be viable," according to city staffers).

"In the meantime, the development team’s approach, if shown to be viable, would be a way to stabilize the building, get it into private ownership, reactivate it with more consistent activity, and have it contribute to the commercial node on this block of Johnson Street," said the staff report on the project.

Volna, who lives a short walk from the theater, said in an interview that while he doesn't have an exact tenant in mind, it would likely be someone in the creative industry. There were proposals in 1999 to turn it into a comedy club or housing.

Here's what Star Tribune writer Jeff Strickler wrote when the building closed in 1988.

"We hoped some angel would come along and rescue us," said owner Bev Johnson, who was renovating the theater when the decision was made to close it. "The marquee says `Closed for repairs,' but that's not true. What the marquee really should say is `Closed by popular demand.' "

Like many single-screen, independently owned, in-town theaters, the Hollywood had been struggling since the early 1970s, its business eroding as audiences shifted to chain-owned suburban multiplexes.

As we wrote about earlier this week, the Hollywood Theater isn't the only historic movie house in Minneapolis that's sitting empty.

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