Volna gets development rights for Hollywood Theater in Northeast Minneapolis

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Northeast developer Andrew Volna has exclusive development rights for the Hollywood Theater property at 2815 and 2819 Johnson Street NE.

The Minneapolis City Council granted the status for the city-owned theater at its Dec. 14 meeting. City staff is also authorized to give Volna another six months of exclusive development rights if he requests it.

Volna renovated the former Rayvic gas station at 1501 East Hennepin Ave., which is the home of Clockwork Active Media Systems; and the Hawkinson Building at 1325 Winter St. NE, which houses his business, Noiseland Industries, an audio media production company, and other businesses.

He is working with structural engineer Meghan Elliot, a former member of the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission, and founder and head of Preservation Design Works, a Minneapolis real estate firm focused on redeveloping historic buildings.

Volna has been talking with area residents and businesses for several months about the project. The new development would probably not involve a theater, at least at first. According to a Dec. 11 memo from Miles Mercer, business development lead for the City of Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development Department, “The development team will consider a range of commercial uses for the property. The goal is to reactivate the building. The user/tenant must be economically viable and able to pay the rent. The development team’s current direction is to find and renovate the building for a creative office/commercial space user similar to the tenants in Volna’s other buildings. However, consistent with guidance from the Heritage Preservation Commission in March 2009, improvements to the building will be done in such a way that it could be used for a theater use in the future, if such a use became viable.”

Mercer said that based upon city-commissioned appraisals and “the extraordinary conditions of the property (e.g. capping a well) not accounted for in the appraisals and given that the the property has not attracted a viable redevelopment in over two decades, the development team believes that the fair reuse value of the property is negative and should have a purchase price of $1 and may need a $1 purchase price to make the project viable.”

Mercer said the city is commissioning another appraisal of the Hollywood property.

In August, Volna told the Northeaster he’s unfamiliar with dealing with city politics or neighborhood process. His other projects have all been business deals without any city involvement or subsidy. But here, the city is the seller, the keeper of a damaged property in danger of deteriorating further.

The neighborhood and city have suffered so many evaporated proposals, that “we’re all worried about getting expectations up. If it doesn’t work, it won’t be a personal embarrassment, it will be because it doesn’t pencil out. It’s a business decision,” Volna said.

The theater “went dark” in 1987, and the city bought it in 1993. Mercer’s memo said the Minneapolis Community Development Agency (MCDA) “stepped in to prevent the certain loss of this this historic structure, and MCDA and the City have invested significant resources to stabilize the property, including fixing the roof, remediating asbestos and lead, and heating the building to prevent freeze-thaw damage.”

Over the years, several redevelopment plans were proposed, but none were implemented. More recently, the building has hosted live theater performances and film and video shoots.

Mercer said Volna’s approach “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.”

Margo Ashmore contributed information for this article. To see the Northeaster’s September article on Volna’s plans, go to MyNortheaster.com, click on News Archive and download the September 5, 2012 edition.