Several years ago, Saint Paul’s historic Victoria Theater
was nearly demolished. Now, after sitting vacant for 14 years, the place is getting a new lease on life. The Twin Cities Community Land Bank is closing on the purchase of the theater, according to Tyler Olson, the project coordinator. Olson is working with the volunteer-driven Victoria Theater Arts Initiative (VTAI), which will take over the building’s ownership in the future.
Basically, the land bank is “holding” the property for the group. “The fear was that we would do the work upfront and the owner [of the theater] would get an offer that couldn’t be refused” from someone else, Olson says.
A kickoff event, which includes building tours, begins at 2:30 p.m., Thursday, January 16.
VTAI, which began meeting a year ago, is comprised of representatives from various local organizations including the Frogtown Neighborhood Association, the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent, Historic Saint Paul, Dangerous Productions, and the New Victoria Theater Project. “We started saying, ‘Let’s make something happen here. It feels like now is the time, especially with the light rail coming,’” he says.
That kind of grassroots effort is typical in Frogtown, where a "trend of organic growth" has taken hold, he says, citing the development of the nearby Frogtown Farms.
Together, the consortium “intends to revitalize the building, transforming it into a community-owned and -managed center for arts engagement, education and performance,” a prepared statement reads. Irrigate, Springboard for the Arts, and the City of Saint Paul helped to make the project happen.
What are the next steps? As it is, the building is a shell that needs to be renovated. “We really need to figure out all of the things that need to happen to make it workable and usable,” he says. The group is also “getting out into the community,” to find out what people are interested in seeing happen at the theater, he says. “People are excited about its potential.”
The theater will be “a huge boon to the community, a landmark destination,” he says. “The hope is that people will come to see something here they wouldn’t be able to see anywhere else in the Twin Cities."
Source: Tyler Olsen, project coordinator, Victoria Theater Arts Initiative
Writer: Anna Pratt