The Uptown Theatre’s Next Chapter
The Uptown Theatre has been shuttered since March 2020. Joe Ferrer /

The Uptown Theatre’s Next Chapter

Developer Ned Abdul has submitted plans to transform the iconic theater into a performance venue. Uptown boosters hailed the news.

Does Minneapolis need another performance venue? Local developer Ned Abdul certainly thinks so, and he appears to have won the confidence of Uptown promoters.

For months, rumors swirled about the fate of Abdul’s Uptown Theatre, which has been shuttered since March 2020. Last week, City Pages successor Racket reported that the developer has submitted plans to the city to transform the space into a performance venue that could fit up to 2,500 fans.

Abdul, who owns the property through Lagoon Partners LLC, seems to have started preparing for the switch back in May 2021, when his LLC filed an eviction complaint against the theater’s then-tenant, Landmark Theatres. At the time, Lagoon Partners said that Landmark had fallen behind on rent to the tune of over $340,000. A month later, Landmark Theatres agreed to leave on its own accord, leaving the space open for new development.

It wasn’t until October 2021 that Lagoon Partners submitted formal plans to the city for the renovations. According to city spokesman Casper Hill, Lagoon Partners filed a request for a permit to renovate the interior of the theatre and add 10,000 square feet from the building immediately south of the property. That neighboring building has been mostly empty since the departure of ReVamp Salon Spa.

Minneapolis real estate firm Element Inc. had been attempting to lease space in that nearby property, known as the Legeros Building. Element had been advertising up to 6,400 square feet of salon space in that building, along with just under 2,000 square feet of retail space next door. Roam Furniture & Lighting is directly south of those two spaces. KARE 11 reported that the Uptown Theatre renovations could spill over into Roam, too. A representative for Element declined to comment on the news.

Abdul’s plan temporarily hit a snag in November, when the city issued a zoning enforcement violation “for some exterior work that did not go through the appropriate Historic Preservation review,” city spokesman Hill said. But the developer has since submitted a follow-up document known as a “certificate of no change,” which essentially shows that the alterations are compatible with the historic nature of the building. The city is currently reviewing that document, Hill said. “Once that review is completed/approved, they will be able to continue work on the primary permit.”

Jeff Herman, president of Urban Anthology Commercial Real Estate and longtime Uptown leasing pro, had nothing but positive things to say about the redevelopment plans. In his view, the addition of the performance venue would be a boon for the neighborhood and a crime deterrent in the area. Any time there are “more eyes and ears on the street,” a neighborhood is safer, Herman said.

“The more people, the better,” Herman said. “Uptown has suffered a lot lately. … I think there’s only upside. It’s a very exciting use.”

Meanwhile, Jill Osiecki, executive director of the Uptown Association, also welcomed news of the redevelopment. She believes the venue will bring back the golden era of live music in the neighborhood. “It’s something that’s going to bring a lot of vitality back to the community,” she said.

What about parking? It’s a question that’s been asked so often it’s become something of a joke. On Twitter, local blogger John Edwards cheekily wrote: “There’s a plan to turn the 950-seat Uptown Theatre into a 2,500-seat live performance venue. People are asking: Where will they park?”

Osiecki is unfazed. She points out that there are two nearby parking ramps: One near the Seven Points mall, and another by the MoZaic building.

A familiar plot

If anyone can convert an abandoned space into a thriving concert venue, Abdul is the guy. Back in 2015, he purchased The Armory in downtown Minneapolis for $6 million. He transformed what had been a training space for the Minnesota National Guard into a sprawling 8,500-person concert venue. At the time, Minneapolis Downtown Council president Steve Cramer told TCB that Abdul has “a track record of success with the buildings that he’s repositioned.”

Abdul has owned the Uptown Theatre since 2009, which he purchased for $1.4 million. Three years later, he poured an additional $2 million into the property for renovations.

Abdul also appears to be relying on some familiar names to convert the Uptown Theatre. Edina-based David J. Kelly Architect Inc. has drawn up the design plans for the venture. Abdul has worked with Kelly on a number of other ventures in town, including renovations to an apartment complex in the Prospect Park neighborhood.

According to architectural plans submitted to the city, the Uptown Theatre renovations call for a two-story performance venue, with standing room on the main floor and seats in the balconies. The plan also includes a lounge and bar.

Given its capacity limitations, the proposed venue would be on par with other smaller-sized spaces in the area, such as the Orpheum Theatre, which can hold up to 2,600.

Uptown may look quite a bit different in a few years, and not just because of the Uptown Theatre renovations. The neighborhood has been the scene of some major retail exits within recent years, but there’s also been a push to redevelop. In late 2021, for example, the brains behind Can Can Wonderland outlined plans to open a mini-golf and art space in the Seven Points mall.

The character of the neighborhood may change, but locals are hopeful it’s for the better.

“When you look at something like this, you mourn the history of the theater, but you also celebrate the future of the building,” Herman said.