Dennis Spears could hardly contain himself. Giddy like a kid in the proverbial candy store, he toyed with the remote control in one of the new dressing rooms at the Capri Theater, turning the lights up and down, then up again, all the while emitting his own beams.

"It's been a long time coming but this is a dream come true," the Twin Cities actor and singer said.

Who can blame Spears for his effusive joy? For the past dozen years, he has booked the Legends concert series at the Capri, sometimes having to apologize to guests for shortcomings in the building. Now he gets to show off the snazzy, ultramodern features of the Capri, which has been transformed in a $12.5 million state-of-the-art makeover. That renovation has doubled the square footage of the venue where Prince had his first solo professional concert in 1979.

The Capri, for decades a hub of culture, arts and youth training, reopens Sunday after having been closed for nearly two years for construction. There will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony and self-guided tours of the facility that includes a renovated 256-seat auditorium with proper backstage space.

The venue has a new flexible "black box" performance space, a dance studio, a rehearsal room, a scene shop and the Best Buy teen tech center where young people have already started working on recording albums, editing movies and using the 3-D printer.

Perhaps more important, the Capri embodies the dreams of the revitalization of north Minneapolis along with such organizations as Juxtaposition Arts and the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum & Gallery in building critical cultural mass. Other North Side developments include the planned V3 Center sports complex.

"I'm excited about the Capri and the new building that Juxtaposition is doing," said Tina Burnside, co-founder of the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum & Gallery. "There's a lot of great stuff happening on the North Side, and this is more evidence of that."

Nods to history and Prince

The renovation was designed by Baker Associates of Minneapolis with construction carried out by Plymouth-based D.J. Kranz Co. In updating the old Capri, its exterior western walls have been preserved and 20,000 square feet of space has been added. Other nods to the history include a frieze as well as a small gallery of Prince images by Greg Helgeson, who shot the original concert.

On Aug. 28, Akehaila Davis and Tracy Davis, who got married at nearby Kingdom Life Church, held their reception in the Paradise Community Hall, the flexible "black box." It was the venue's first wedding reception and the Davises hosted 120 guests, some from Birmingham, Ala.

"Everybody was excited to be in Prince's hometown and see the Prince display with such rare photos of him when he was much younger and had all that beautiful hair," Akehaila Davis said. "We had open bar, a photo booth and they put our names on the marquee — amazing and beautiful."

Outside the building, to the south, is a rain garden. And just beyond that, an amphitheater for presentations and concerts. To the west, an expansive plaza is perfect for a lunch hangout. On weekends, the space hosts a farmers market.

Food desert

"It's a food desert around here," said Capri director James Scott, noting some of the work that remains. Still, he, too, is proud. "The Capri has been here for 94 years — that's a lot of memories. And we want to be here for the community for the next 94."

The Capri is owned by the Plymouth Christian Youth Center (PCYC), a service agency founded in 1954 by social justice advocates and students at Luther Seminary. Former executive director Anne Long, who retired in 2020 after 47 years at the center, has been planning and raising money for this venue for decades. Now, she is gratified that all that work with her board, staff and community partners is paying off.

"This is greater than we ever could have imagined," Long said. "The reaction of the kids and community is just mind-boggling. We planned for this for so many years, and now that it's here, we're giddy. It's humbling to be a part of something so magical. Hallelujah."

Long credits Scott, Spears and the other staff for the results. Scott spent 14 years at the Guthrie Theater, rising to general manager and helping to oversee the building of the theater's $125 million riverfront complex before being lured to the Capri.

He was instrumental in making sure that the renovation would be done with the needs of both artists and community in mind. So the rehearsal room has the same dimensions as the stage. And the sound and lighting boards can all be controlled with an iPad, and one connected remotely, so that engineers and stage managers, if they choose, can be anywhere in the venue or even outside it, doing their work.

The theater known as the Capri opened in 1927. It was one of 13 theaters that flourished on the North Side, showing movies and hosting recitals. All the others faded away. Known for many years as the Paradise Theater, it was renamed the Capri in 1967. The PCYC acquired it in 1987, using it for arts education and cultural programs for youth, adults and community members.

The youth programs have included Camp Capri, a free summer performing arts camp for middle school students; Capri After-School Theater (CAST) and Remix, where teens get to build skills through creativity. In addition to Spears' Legends series, the venue has hosted spoken-word open mics, an adult glee choir, classical concerts by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and screenings by the MSP Film Society.

'Beacon on the curve of West Broadway'

General manager Kevin West describes the new Capri as "a beacon of hope on the curve of West Broadway. People can come in and realize the dreams."

West recalled a woman renting the space for her son's 10th birthday some years ago.

"The kid wanted to put on a Michael Jackson concert for his 12 friends, and we turned the lights on, turned the music up and he had the greatest time moonwalking for his 12 friends," West said. "This place is for the people of the North Side, yes, but it's for everybody in the seven-county metro area. We're open to everyone, and we intend to host weddings, gift sales, repasts, whatever. We're here to serve the community."

Scott, the director, echoed that thought. The Capri will schedule plays, and next week hosts Stage North's production of Joe Minjares' "King of the Kosher Grocers." But it will not have a resident company that might tie up the calendar.

"We want to be available to the community when it needs us," Scott said. If the theater is a dream, the folks at the Capri want everyone to be able to share in it.