After housing tanks, artillery and other weapons of war off and on for five decades, the Minneapolis Armory offered a friendlier kind of explosion just before noon Tuesday.
“There’s the pyro now,” Jack Murphy, president of Nomadic Entertainment, said as his crew set off fireworks on stage inside the high-arched, 83-year-old building. Testing pyrotechnics, adjusting stage lights, wiping construction dust off bars and moving couches into the VIP areas were among the many jobs underway at the armory, whose rebirth as a concert and events venue is coming to a head just in time to welcome big names for Super Bowl parties — and hopefully to make a big dent in the pricey renovation costs.
The historic structure, located at 500 S. 6th St. in the shadow of U.S. Bank Stadium, was in a crumbling state when Minneapolis developer Ned Abdul bought it for $6 million in 2015. He has invested at least $1 million more to patch it up and convert it into an event space with room for 8,400 people. It’s a coveted size for a concert venue, halfway between auditoriums and arenas.
Abdul found an ally for the renovations in Nomadic Entertainment, which specializes in organizing swank VIP parties around the Super Bowl.
Starting with Thursday night’s EA Sports bash featuring Imagine Dragons, Nomadic will help re-christen the armory with a series of concerts that also includes Pink on Friday, Jennifer Lopez on Saturday and Sean “Diddy” Combs’ Players Ball on Sunday.
Nomadic crashed into a roadblock three weeks ago at Mystic Lake Casino Hotel, which abruptly canceled the company’s plans to co-host Super Bowl week concerts in a pop-up venue at the casino billed as Club Nomadic — now the subject of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit. However, Nomadic’s plans to get the armory up and rocking are moving along full steam (and boom) ahead. About 200 crew members were working in the building Tuesday.
“We’re about 48 to 60 hours away from completion,” said Murphy, who claimed one of the things that attracted him to the armory “was a chance to be a part of the restoration of this beautiful building.”
With plans to host more events at the armory over the next year and a half when the ESPN X Games and NCAA men’s basketball Final Four return to Minneapolis, Nomadic invested in the armory the way it would one of its pop-up venues — but in this case the company helped fund permanent features, including baffling and other acoustical treatments intended to fine-tune what many believe could be troublesome acoustics in the cavernous space.
“It’s going to sound amazing,” Murphy promised after a sound test Monday night. “You never know until you turn the knobs up to 9 or 10.”
Plenty of the armory’s indisputably nice features already come through loud and clear, though.
Impressively large, lit-up bars extend along the two sides of the general-admission floor, which will hold about 4,000 people. Overhead, two levels of tiered, VIP-style booths and balcony space offer excellent sight lines to the stage. And the building’s art-deco facade and historic Federal Art Project murals are polished and brightly displayed.
While Nomadic representatives proudly showed off the remade venue to media on Tuesday, Abdul and his full-time armory crew were nowhere to be found. They have repeatedly declined to answer questions about long-term plans for the venue, where their only shows so far were two electronic dance parties in December.
After the Super Bowl, the armory staff has announced six more concerts with help from outside promoters including Live Nation, First Avenue and Jam Productions: Electronic dance guru Steve Aoki (Feb. 24), the ’90s Block Party with Jagged Edge and Ginuwine (March 29), metal giants Judas Priest (April 2) and Slayer (May 24), rapper Tech N9ne (April 21) and indie-rock hero Jack White (Aug. 6).