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Hennepin County initiatives support revitalization of Historic Coliseum Building

Several Hennepin County initiatives support the top-to-bottom reimagining of the historic Coliseum Building.

The historic Coliseum Building was built in 1917. Since then, it’s evolved along with the Lake Street community. It was the heart of the local business district, people gathered in its massive ballroom and shopped at its retailers. As time went on and the neighborhood changed, a Denny’s restaurant came and went, punk music was recorded in the basement, and tech firms hacked away at code in the former ballroom.

But in 2020, the landmark was severely damaged.

“If you stood in front of this building in 2020—in the midst of the COVID pandemic and in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder—you would have seen a burnt, boarded, shell of a structure,” said Hennepin County Commissioner Angela Conley. “It was set to be torn down and sold off to the highest bidder. But this community said, ‘No, we’re going to rebuild, renovate, and create an opportunity for residents and businesses, one that builds a brighter future without paving over the past.’”

Inside the historic Coliseum Building. The process of rebuilding, renovating, and creating that opportunity was an exceptionally complex project. It required a long list of partners, community leaders, creative financing, and organizational support large and small.

Redesign, a community development company and co-owner, lead the development process along with co-owners Alicia Belton, Janice Downing, and Shanelle Montana.

Hennepin County was involved from the beginning. When leaders from the community stood up to buy and develop the building, the county invested nearly $750,000 from its Community Asset Transition Fund (CATF), implemented by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Twin Cities. This fund was designed to keep real estate like the Coliseum Building in the hands of local owners.

It was one aspect of a creative financing necessary to secure the building and get started on construction.

“The Coliseum is a demonstration of what's possible as far as its financing. We had a very complicated capital stack,” said Taylor Smrikárova, director of real estate development at Redesign.

When the building was secured by local owners, the real work began. Hennepin County invested further to develop affordable commercial spaces along critical transit corridors like Lake Street.

Another round of $1.75 million came from Hennepin County’s Community Investment Initiative and Transit Oriented Communities programs.

The Coliseum sits on or is adjacent to several key bus routes and the Lake & Hiawatha Blue Line Station, offering easy access to businesses and customers in the building. The developers also included amenities like underground bike parking, lockers, and shower facilities for tenant businesses.

As for the affordable commercial space funding, it’s rare. Smrikárova said this support means more options for small businesses in the area.

“It was absolutely crucial to have that funding, and we appreciate Hennepin County coming along with us as we got through the complicated closing process with all the other lenders that were there,” said Smrikárova. “One of the requirements is set around making sure that the rents and the common area maintenance charges are affordable; that was a necessary piece that Hennepin County put into the documentation, which is something doesn't happen all the time, but it's definitely helping direct us as we do our leasing.”

Taylor Smrikárova and Ryan Kelley outside the historic Coliseum Building. Ryan Kelley, community development manager at Hennepin County (photographed to the right with Smrikárova), said there are straightforward reasons to support the project, but it is an especially noteworthy project amid $30 million in Hennepin County funding put in place up and down Lake Street.

“The Coliseum project is a remarkable undertaking that advances so many Hennepin County priorities. The restoration of the building embodies sustainability and preserves a key piece of the pedestrian environment in this area,” said Kelley. “The project demonstrates a new model for supporting a diverse business community with affordable commercial space and a unique ownership structure that helps build and retain wealth in the community. I commend Redesign on not only rebuilding a physical structure, but for also creating a community hub for residents that live and work along Lake Street.”

Chris Montana, the founder of Du Norde Social Spirits, future tenant and husband to co-owner Shanelle Montana said this kind of development requires the unique support seen from Hennepin County, the City of Minneapolis, creative bankers, and private investors to come together with a vision.

“These types of developments don't happen and there's reasons for that. This ownership group is atypical, both in its makeup, but also probably in the depth of its pockets, and this wouldn't have happened but for a number of organizations, the county, the city, and various banks thinking differently,” Montana said. “It's also an opportunity. If this is successful and people see this being successful, it becomes a model that other people can replicate, certainly in terms of financing with an eye towards what's good for a community.”

Smrikárova said it was a lot of work, and the ownership group and investors used every cent dedicated to the development to create something designed to invigorate the area that matches the vision of the original builders.

“It was absolutely a labor of love,” said Smrikárova. “They wanted to see local ownership, they wanted to see small businesses and local businesses in the building and thrive.”

Co-owners and the community celebrated the grand opening on June 19 to coincide with the Juneteenth holiday.

According to the developers, the Coliseum Building will provide 70,000 square feet of affordable commercial space and will create 150 new jobs. Total project costs were $29.9 million.

Additional financing support came from PACE, Met Council, Minneapolis Commercial Property Development Fund, DEED Main Street Economic Revitalization Grant, and Historic Tax Credits.