Construction Begins on New Theater in City Center

Hennepin Theatre Trust has moved into new offices in downtown Minneapolis, and construction of the New Century Theatre begins in full force on Friday.

Hennepin Theatre Trust has moved into its new headquarters offices and will officially begin construction on a new 300-seat theater in downtown Minneapolis' City Center on Friday.

The organization moved into its new offices, located in the City Center building at 615 Hennepin Avenue, on July 1, according to spokeswoman Karen Nelson. The building houses an administration staff of about 30. The previous offices were located in the La Salle Plaza building in Minneapolis.

Nelson told Twin Cities Business that construction on the theater, which is called the New Century Theatre, is “still in the early stages” and preparatory work began last week. Official construction will begin on Friday, and the Hennepin Theatre Trust is aiming for an official opening on September 6.

Both the space now occupied by the administrative offices and that which will hold the theater have been vacant for about a decade, Nelson said. They're located on the ground level of City Center and are adjacent from one another.

Construction was previously slated to start in June. “It took longer than we had anticipated to agree on some very basic parameters” and finalize the design details, Nelson said, adding that there are a lot of factors to consider when opening a theater in a building that didn't previously include one. “But this is going to come together very quickly.”

Hennepin Theatre Trust intends to host events for its donors at the home of the new theater even prior to construction. There will be a toast held for VIP Trust donors on Wednesday, and other “soft launches” will follow, Nelson said. The space will also hold the Ivey awards reception on September 19.

Hennepin Theatre Trust in early June announced its plans to build the New Century Theatre, named in homage to the Century Theatre, which was formerly located on the block of Hennepin Avenue and South Seventh Street. It opened in 1908 as a 2,000-seat vaudeville house, was rebuilt several times, burned down in 1964, and was bulldozed the following year.

The new theater will host shows that are similar to what were held at Hennepin Stages, including long-run comedies like Girls Only: The Secret Comedy of Women and Don't Hug Me Christmas Carol. (The City of Minneapolis sold the Hennepin Stages building-located at 824 Hennepin Avenue-earlier this year to the Brave New Workshop for $725,000.) The New Century Theatre will also look to attract other local and touring performances and host educational initiatives.

In its June announcement of the theater plans, Hennepin Theatre Trust said that the New Century Theatre is “a key part of the Trust's work in continuing to revitalize Hennepin Avenue and increase its arts education and presenting activities.”

The organization announced in mid-July that it received a $200,000 “Our Town” grant from the National Endowment of the Arts-which will be used to “reinvent Hennepin Avenue as an arts-inspired cultural corridor stretching from the Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Sculpture Garden to the Mississippi River.” The City of Minneapolis approved a $50,000 matching grant, and Hennepin Theatre Trust said it will partner with the Walker Art Center and Artspace on the effort, which will involve converting vacant and underdeveloped public and private spaces along Hennepin Avenue to uses that “inspire an arts-centered community cultural experience.”

Many of the buildings on Hennepin Avenue have struggled in recent years to maintain tenants. Many tenants of the Block E development, for example-including GameWorks, Borders, Bellanotte, Hooters, Snyders Drug, Applebee's, and Panchero's-have left. And this May article from Twin Cities Business looks at downtown buildings, including City Center, and asks whether retail can be restored in Minneapolis.

While the “Our Town” grant won't fund the construction of the New Century Theatre, Nelson pointed out that the project is aligned with the cultural corridor initiative: “Moving into a vacant space and launching a theater is a great example of creating cultural corridor.”