Uptown Theater reopens, bets on ‘revival’ of Uptown surrounding it

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The outside of the Uptown Theater, featuring its iconic Uptown sign still intact. (Photo by Nick Longworth)

A historic theater in Uptown, Minneapolis, has been redeveloped and will reopen this weekend following a years-long effort by a Twin Cities real estate developer who hopes to revitalize the Uptown neighborhood that has seemingly struggled in recent years.

The Uptown Theater will have a grand reopening on June 10, featuring musical guests Yam Haus in its newly renovated 2,500-person capacity space.

As the venue begins booking entertainment regularly, it hopes to attract both nationally touring and local musical acts, as well as, make its space available as an all-purpose event center for community gatherings such as speaking tours.

Designated as a historical landmark prior to its latest redevelopment, the venue opened as the Lagoon in 1916, then was renamed to Uptown Theater in 1929, before a fire damaged its original structure.

From those ashes, the building developed its now well-known exterior, featuring a 60-foot tall, three-sided sign, in 1939. The theater has been a Minneapolis staple ever since, receiving a $2 million upgrade a little more than a decade ago in 2012.

But it’s the latest reincarnation that has community members excited about its potential to revive a popular neighborhood that has taken a downturn in recent years due to both economic factors such as COVID-19 restrictions, and a perceived increase in crime surrounding it.

A first-look party for community members held Thursday prior to the grand reopening offered a glimpse at the inside of the venue, at which FOX 9 was in attendance.

The free-flowing floor space where moviegoers once sat is now an open area for general admission guests, while retaining its second floor balcony seating for those looking to get off their feet.

Several bars are located on both levels, with tables and select sections that can be reserved for more intimate settings. 

"I think this could be the best music venue in Minneapolis," said Sam Dahl, who previously frequented midnight showings of the Rocky Horror Picture show in its days as a film house. "The history of the building along with the work they put into it has made it look great."

"It’s a new scene that Uptown needs with everything that has gone on. It’s full of possibilities," said Waz Oba, a resident of Northeast Minneapolis, who already has tickets to a show at the theater in August. "Uptown is changing. Everyone thinks Uptown is the worst right now, but I feel a lot of new and eccentric energy. Everyone thinks everything is closing, but positive ideas are coming. We need a new identity, and this will help."

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey was in attendance at the event, saying he envisions the theater’s reopening will help revitalize the area back to the prominence it has historically relished in.

"This is part of the comeback that we’re going to see in Uptown… Uptown has been through a lot in the last couple of years, it’s good to see investment coming back in a big way," Frey told FOX 9. "The Uptown Theater is an iconic location. To get it back in fine form is indicative of where we’re going. It plants a flag in the ground that says ‘we’re all in’ – Uptown is coming back."

In recent years, long-time neighborhood staples Stella’s Fish Café, William’s Uptown Pub and Peanut Bar and Chino Latino have closed, among other businesses.

But there’s also been openings, with the additions of Boludo, and The Green Room, which opened in February 2023 on the site of the former Pourhouse Uptown at Lagoon and Girard avenues with the intent of hosting its own concerts.

"We have new businesses, and existing businesses re-working what they’re doing. It’s been a tough couple of years, as it has been for everyone, but now we’re in a different state and excited to see the future of Uptown coming back to a place that everyone wants to be," said Natasha Greiling, a board member with the Uptown Association for more than 10 years.

According to its site, The Uptown Association’s mission is, "to improve the economic vitality and sustainability of Uptown through programs, promotions and partnerships within the community."

Although quiet on the total costs of the renovations done within the Uptown Theater, Mike Finkelstein of Maven Commercial Real Estate and Nick Boosalis, a developer with Trend Lab, LCC, were quick to note improvements done prior to the grand reopening during an interview with FOX 9.

Renovations include a main support beam placed between building structures to allow its design team to build increased floor space, adding VIP suites to the second-floor balcony (while keeping reserved mezzanine seating), and building out its back-of-house for an artist’s quarters. Additional storage for lights, as well as, catering and office supplies were also added.

According to communications consultant Robb Leer, all renovations made to the original Uptown Theater space were, "in compliance of historical preservation" to keep its historic aesthetic intact.

Greiling has followed the investment of the Uptown Theater in the community she calls home, and is pleased to see the project finally become a reality.

"I’m very excited for the neighborhood itself to see this re-imagination. The reinvestment in the community is exciting to see. To me Uptown is going through a renaissance, and this was a big centerpiece of our neighborhood. The Uptown Theater has been in existence for more than 100 years… I’m excited to see what it will bring," said Greiling. "The demand is there, and I think will be for years to come. We really have a cool vibe going on in Uptown… [Uptown Theater] has been such an iconic and historic Minneapolis landmark. Who doesn’t know the Uptown sign? It’s kind of like our version of the Hollywood sign. Everyone knows where it is, and I envision it’s here to stay. It’s a beacon of our neighborhood and city."

Developer's success comes with questions

The owner of Swervo Development Corp. behind the renovation project, Ned Abdul, has a long history of developing properties in disrepair throughout the Twin Cities.

Several media outlets in the Twin Cities have previously covered his rise to prominence in the real estate industry, beginning with flipping houses in North Minneapolis in the 1990s.

More recently, he was the main player behind renovating the Minneapolis Armory – a historic event center and former National Guard armory located in downtown Minneapolis – into the venue respectively known now as The Armory.

However, his history of successful investments also comes with questions.

In May 2010, federal authorities investigated Abdul for potential fraud and misuse of funds in several projects he was developing at the time.

An unnamed operator of a business that worked on several of Abdul's projects was the source of the investigation, which alleged Abdul and business partner John R. Barlow skimmed cash from various nightclubs for personal use, and to pay subcontractors for building projects in cash, according to the affidavit.

Abdul was never officially charged in the investigation.

FOX 9 was not able to interview Abdul about the current Uptown Theater project despite several attempts.