The Colosseum building on Lake Street
It’s been two years since the murder of George Floyd and the Troubles of 2020. So long that I almost forget what the corner of Lake Street and 27th Avenue looked like. What was once one of the densest and most striking corners of south Minneapolis — the retro Town Talk Diner, the ornate facade of the IOOF building, and even the distinctive red awning of the liquor store — is nearly impossible to imagine now, as today the corner seems mostly empty.
But one of the old buildings is still standing: the century-old building of the Colosseum.
“After the unrest, we started reaching out to the community to understand the state of things and where there might be opportunities for recovery,” explained Taylor Smrikarovna, director of real estate development at Redesign, Inc. (formerly Seward Redesign), an economic development firm that has worked in the neighborhood since 1969.
During the Troubles, fires were started in many buildings in the area, and the Colosseum did not escape. Fires scorched the interior and caused extensive water damage during firefighting. Two years ago, the massive three-story brick complex was slated for the wrecking ball.
“Once things were settled and secured, we assessed all the properties to see which ones could be saved,” Smrikarovna said. “We approached the owners (of the Colosseum). They wanted to tear it down, but we knew it could be saved, because the building wasn’t in such bad shape.
Thanks to their timely intervention, the building will not meet the same fate as the burnt-out neighbors that once stood across Lake Street. If all goes according to plan, the Colosseum building will experience a renaissance instead. The large complex is set to become a small business incubator focused on Black-owned businesses, and could even become a model for improving long-standing wealth gaps in the Twin Cities.
A century of history
What is now called the Colosseum, poised to survive a near-death experience, is over a hundred years old. It was built in 1917 by E. B. Freeman, a retail entrepreneur who ran an eponymous department store on the first floor until World War II, when the neighborhood was a thriving part of Minneapolis industry. , sandwiched between the Minneapolis Moline Tractor Plant and bustling Milwaukee. The road and rail yards, both of which employed thousands of neighborhood people.
As described in Iric Nathanson’s in-depth column on the subject, his son took over after a brief interlude with an outside owner and ran the place for another generation until 1975 when it finally closed. due to drastic economic changes.
In the 1990s, things went downhill a bit. For a time the building housed Podany’s furniture warehouse, before a seizure led to it being renamed “Colosseum”. A 1990s redevelopment installed a Denny’s, while a Latino health clinic and a ballroom that once housed the Tapestry Folk Dance Center were elsewhere inside. Even in 2019, the building had seen better days, although it was recently listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. In the expensive app, the various additions and sections of the complex are detailed for posterity.
I used to go there as a teenager to do counter dancing; the expansive inflatable wooden floor was ideal for folk dancing, although these days the dances have moved a few blocks down Minnehaha Avenue.
Redesign Inc., one of the oldest community development corporations (CDCs) in Minneapolis, has worked in the area for half a century. It began as an effort to stop late 1960s urban renewal programs from bulldozing dozens of city blocks in the then downtrodden neighborhood of Seward, but community activists pushed to use the funding for rehabilitation instead. and the restoration of the neighborhood’s historic homes (Milwaukee Avenue is the most inspiring example of early Redesign work). Since then, the organization has helped rehabilitate, fund, and incubate dozens of buildings and businesses across much of south Minneapolis.
The latest work might be the biggest leap yet, representing a new direction for the band. Like many local CDCs that began as neighborhood businesses, growth and change in the funding model has meant a gradual expansion of mission. Especially after the killing of George Floyd on a Chicago Avenue sidewalk, and the subsequent local and global mass protest against police killings, Redesign seems to be doing far more than most organizations to actually change their approach.
“We’re really focused on this idea of expanding property ownership by making sure that black-owned businesses are part of the ownership,” said Andy Hestness, executive director of Redesign.
If you look at the persistent wealth gap in the Minneapolis-St. Metro Paul, with one of the widest black-white divides in the country, roots often lie in access to real estate. People of color, especially black people in Minnesota, are much less likely to own homes or properties than white people.
This should change with the new Colosseum plans.
“People will share in the revenue streams and wealth-creating potential of real estate ownership,” explained Hestness, which is a non-profit organization that will own a smaller than usual percentage of the building at the time. coming. “We take that skill set from real estate development and arranging finance and working with for-profit companies. It’s all a bit unique, something we’ve explored with other projects along the Lake Street Corridor.
Soon, Redesign won’t even own the property; they will have transmitted the acts to their partners, and will have moved on to other projects. Examples of other efforts in the neighborhood include the Elite Cleaners Building and the nearby US Bank Building, both of which are ongoing redesign projects. In doing so, they will have saved a key historic landmark from a devastated corner and created a more equitable legacy for Lake Street.
According to Smrikarovna, they are working with black-owned businesses to renovate the property into a “community mall,” featuring retail on the first floor with offices above. The bright orange Redesign, Inc. “now leasing” sign is already around the corner, in the background a new set of exterior vinyl murals.
Considering the corner’s transformation over the past two years, with the burnt-out shell of the MPD 3rd Precinct not far away, the honorary gate of Gandhi Mahal still standing on 27th Avenue, this is a remarkable achievement.
“Construction is expected to take a year, and we will be open for moves in September 2023,” Smrikarovna said. “We’re hoping to throw a big block party and bring everyone back.”
Well, everyone except Denny’s. I have a sure source that they will not return.