This year, Minneapolis leaders hope the stage is set to move forward with the city’s first amphitheater, the centerpiece in a large-scale transformation of 48 acres of riverfront in the North Side.
With an estimated cost of $49 million and capacity for 10,000 concertgoers, the amphitheater would host some of the world’s biggest artists and become a national destination, say city officials and First Avenue Productions, which would run the venue.
To make it happen, the city is lobbying the Legislature for $20 million in bonds, arguing that it would be an asset to all of Minnesota.
“This is just a really critical investment to north Minneapolis,” Council Member Phillipe Cunningham, who represents the area, said last week. “For us to really get the economic, catalytic effect of Upper Harbor, we need to see that investment in this concert venue.”
City leaders have called the Upper Harbor Terminal redevelopment their top capital priority, and the amphitheater their top bonding priority, for this session. The venue was not listed in DFL Gov. Tim Walz’s $2 billion state bonding package this month, which was focused on state infrastructure and public safety projects and which Republicans already criticized as being too costly.
Now, the city’s lobbyists and representatives are relying on the House and Senate to approve their bonding request. They need to walk a fine line, pitching the benefits the venue could bring not only to the North Side but to the state as a whole, said Gene Ranieri, the city’s chief lobbyist.
“It would provide for the region an outdoor music venue that we don’t have now and other places do,” Ranieri said. “Hopefully it would be a draw to help the North Side, the whole neighborhood, see some development.”
Meanwhile, community leaders continue to express skepticism of the amphitheater’s benefits. Members of an advisory committee shared concerns following a presentation last week from First Avenue, including who would own the venue and whether sound barriers would need to be installed.
Some community groups testified against a bonding request at the Capitol last year. Colleen O’Connor Toberman of the nonprofit Friends of the Mississippi River said that asking for millions of dollars is premature, given that the city and First Avenue have yet to settle on an ownership structure for the venue.
“We have a lot of outstanding questions about the project, and we’d really like to see them answered before any kind of taxpayer funds are committed to the concert venue,” O’Connor Toberman said.
The House Capital Investment Committee has heard testimony and took a tour of the Upper Harbor Terminal site in November. Committee Vice Chairman Rep. Fue Lee, DFL-Minneapolis, said he was hopeful the amphitheater proposal would gain support from across the aisle.
First Avenue has suggested naming the venue after legendary Minneapolis musician Prince, something the city’s advisory committee debated last year and will bring up again in February.
“Prince is an icon for the state of Minnesota, and it’d be certainly something special for the residents of north Minneapolis,” Lee said.
Senate Capital Investment Chairman Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said the venue would have to compete against hundreds of other local projects looking for funding. He said it has the potential to attract visitors from across the country.
“It’s really too early to make any sort of conclusive comments on whether or not this project gets in the final bill,” he said. “It’s not over and above any other project.”
The bonding would also serve as leverage to raise the remaining $29 million for the venue, Ranieri said.
Project developers are relying on the bonding to create a “really first-class, world-class music and cultural destination for north Minneapolis,” First Avenue CEO Dayna Frank said, including enclosing the stage so it can be open throughout the year.
“With the full funds, it would be a fully built-out facility and could really serve any number of purposes,” Frank said. “Without that, we can put on concerts there, but it might look like a different venue.”
Developers hope to begin construction next year. Despite the urgency, Ranieri said this is likely not the final opportunity for the city to ask for state support for the amphitheater.
“I don’t think there’s ever a last chance,” he said.