"Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”  

Jane Jacobs

If You Plan It They Will Come

Minneapolis, like many other urban cities with a long history, has numerous commercial hubs scattered throughout residential districts. These hubs are the remnants of the original city function providing neighborhood grocery stores and retail businesses within walking distances of a sizable population of households. Most of these areas were located along the street car lines and often times hosted a small movie theater to provide local entertainment.

One such Minneapolis node is located at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, a once bustling commercial hub home to the Nokomis Theater. The theater was constructed in 1915 as a silent moving picture house on the busy Chicago Avenue street car line. As movie production evolved, so did the theater. In 1928 it was remodeled under the new owners, Finkelstein & Rubin to increase the seating capacity to 553. The movie business continued to evolve over the years and new mega movie centers replaced the charming neighborhood theater. The Nokomis was no exception and closed in 1952, coinciding with the closure of the Chicago Avenue street car line. The building was re-purposed as a retail store and most recently an auto body shop.

Original Front Elevation by Finkelstein and Ruben  Photo of the print copies held by the building owners

Original Front Elevation by Finkelstein and Ruben  Photo of the print copies held by the building owners

With the demise of the street car line and business models shifting to serve regional rather than local households, the intersection became a shell of its former self. This continued until 2008 when local neighborhood organizations and city planners teamed together to create the 38th Street and Chicago Avenue Small Area/Corridor Framework Plan. Through a series of engagement and work sessions the plan identified the path forward to returning the area to a hub of commercial activity as it once was. The plan called for a "highly visible arts center" near the 38th Street and Chicago Avenue intersection.

The historic Nokomis Theater renovated by Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center

The historic Nokomis Theater renovated by Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center

One year after the Minneapolis City Council formerly adopted the small area plan, Artspace, a non-profit company that works to create affordable artist live work apartments, helped a small local art studio purchase the old Nokomis Theater. The art studio, Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center, was excited to fill the "visible arts center" role set forth in the area plan. Their vision included the preservation, restoration, and adaptive reuse of the old theater building into a social amenity and hub for creativity, culture, and community.

Interior looking back towards the original stage, now used for blacksmith and metal fabrication

Interior looking back towards the original stage, now used for blacksmith and metal fabrication

City planners set up workshops to gather ideas and input from the residents and neighborhood groups and used that information to develop a plan of action to revitalize the area. The tools for implementation section of the resulting area plan provides multiple funding options for building owners to take advantage of and a timeline for action to ensure the plan is used to its fullest. So often planners create great plans that lead no where because they forget to incorporate performance measures and deadlines. 

This intersection is just one example of how thoughtful and engaging planning for areas within our cities can lead to real results and progress. Minneapolis identified an arts center to anchor the intersection at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue and one showed up. If you plan it, they will come.