Developer emerges for Hollywood Theater in Northeast


December 7, 2012 by Sarah M

Correction: The lot adjacent to the theater is a vacant lot, not a parking lot.

By Nick Halter

A local developer has emerged with plans to redevelop the 77-year-old Hollywood Theater in the Audubon Park neighborhood of Northeast Minneapolis.

Andrew Volna, who was born and raised in Northeast, has a vision of turning the theater into a creative office space, much as his Apiary development company did with the old Rayvic auto services building at 1501 East Hennepin that now houses Clockwork Active Media Systems.

He said he would target a creative company for a tenant — perhaps an advertising agency or interactive firm.

“Someone like maybe an ad agency or an interactive firm. Someone who can leverage the building’s unique architectural character, a business that would benefit from a high coolness quotient,” Volna said.

On Dec. 11 the city’s Community Development Committee will consider granting Volna exclusive development rights to the theater and adjacent vacant lot on the 2800 block of Johnson Avenue NE. Volna would have the rights for one year, with a possible six-month extension.

“We have to really drill into it to see if this project is even viable, and before I do that and before I commit the time and considerable resources to do that due diligence, I need to know that I can leave the dance with the girl, so to speak,” he said.


Hollywood Theater. Photo courtesy of the city of Minneapolis

The theater has been vacant since 1987, and the city hasn’t had any luck finding a developer over the years.

Volna envisions a renovation of the building’s interior and exterior.

“The exterior would be lovingly restored to 1935 splendor. The marquee is re-lit and the outside restored and cleaned and re-tuckpointed. The green tiles on the chimney are replaced. The ticket booth is restored,” he said.

One estimate from a contractor has the renovation pegged at $1.9 million, Volna said. He’s hired a consultant to explore historic tax credit possibilities for the project.

“It’s suffered a lot of water damage. They’ve done some stabilization and remediation over the years, but there’s part of the ceiling that have fallen in,” he said. “It’s rough. It’s in hospice care.”

Volna, 44, has a historic connection to the theater. Seventy-one years ago today, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, signaling the beginning of World War II. Volna’s father lived a couple blocks from the theater, and he and his older brother – who was of draft age — walked to the theater to escape the doom and gloom of the bombing.

Later, when Volna was growing up in the Waite Park neighborhood, he would go see R-rated movies because the Hollywood Theater was liberal about letting underage kids see movies. He recalls seeing Raging Bull and Blues Brothers at the Hollywood.

The theater was built in 1935, the height of the Art Deco period.

Several attempts to redevelop the theater over the years have failed.

The city sent out a request for proposals in 2009 to redevelop the space into a commercial use, but no respondents met the criteria. The city has continued to market the property since.

Volna’s aware of past failings at the Hollwood. How will this attempt be different? He’s not promising the moon.

“I don’t know. I never think that I’m better than anyone else necessarily, so a lot of talented people have attempted to do something, so that is sobering,” he said. “I think that most of the ideas were for live venues, entertainment venues, and I think those are pretty challenging to operate. So maybe the plans were overly ambitious.”


One thought on “Developer emerges for Hollywood Theater in Northeast

  1. Scott Simon says:

    Obviously the requirements that the city places on ANY developer results in such an onerous burden that it becomes impossible to move forward. That should be clear to anyone who has followed this building’s history over the years. Meanwhile I know from talking to some of those who have tried to bring this building back to life that city personnel and departments have “feasted” on fees and red tape and giggled with glee while watching the poor bastards prepare their proposals, make their presentations and jump through the hoops that they’ve delighted in placing in front of them. It has been the most sadistic exhibit of government abuse of power that I have witnessed in my life.

    And when I see venues like The Heights, The Varsity, The Highland, The Ritz, The Parkway, The Suburban World and especially, The Riverview, I KNOW that The Hollywood can be restored to some form of a successful entertainment facility. But you have to ask yourself, what is the one key element that is different about all of these venues and The Hollywood? Why do they succeed and the Hollywood doesn’t? And common sense will tell you that there is one easy answer? GOVERNMENT OWNERSHIP.

    Put the Hollywood up for auction with NO RESERVE and promise the buyer they can purchase the building, the lot next door, the lot across the street; wave some of the existing parking restrictions if they agree to open within one year and show films. Don’t promise a liquor license –let the neighborhood and Councilmember deal with that issue at a later time (if they want to). BUT –if the DFL-run city and all their rules and unions step away from the Hollywood and sell the building at an OPEN, FAIR and above ground AUCTION, it will be up and running and showing movies in less than 12 months. And the business community on Johnson Street will be thriving and the former hustle and bustle will return. I guarantee it.

    Finally, to turn it into ANYTHING other than an entertainment venue is more than a waste, it is a crying shame. And the amount of time, money and resources that have been spent on this building and project by government types is both a sin and a crime.

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