Organizers at the long-planned Victoria Theater Arts Center bought the closed cabaret at 825 University Ave. W. of the Land Bank Twin Cities, a major step toward reopening the site as a nonprofit community gathering and performance space on the outskirts of St. Paul’s Frogtown and Rondo neighborhoods.
The purchase closed on Thursday, spurred by $2.4 million in capital support from the state of Minnesota last year and an additional $1.6 million in public and private fundraising. The arts center, which sits on the Green Line, still has $1.4 million to raise as part of its $5.4 million fundraising campaign.
In 2009, when a private developer planned to raze the two-story building – then a shuttered lamp store – for parking space, key partners such as the Frogtown Neighborhood Association, the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent, Historic St. Paul and Dangerous Productions have stepped up to save the century-old vacant cabaret. Land Bank Twin Cities bought the facility in 2014, the same year the Victoria Station light rail stop opened, and has owned it on behalf of the arts center for the past seven years.
“It’s a huge step,” Tyler Olsen-Highness, executive director of the arts center, said in an interview Friday. “That’s ultimately what it was all about, keeping that asset in the community. We got it, which is amazing. It took seven long years to get there.
Olsen-Highness said, based on discussions with VJAA Architects in Minneapolis, its goal is to open the arts center in early 2023.
“The back half of the building is the 120-seat performance space, but the front half is the more flexible community space,” he said. “We are entering the most public part of the (fundraising) campaign, which will be asking individuals in the community and throughout St. Paul to make it happen.”
The arts center hired D’Angelos Svenkeson, managing director of NEOO Partners, Inc., an urban planning and real estate development firm, to help with fundraising, programming and design.
“We’re proud to be part of something that’s in my backyard,” said Svenkeson, a Rondo resident who grew up in Frogtown. ” We are almost there. There are property-specific funding or alternative funding sources that are less art-focused and are either tied to tax credits or more local funding sources.
To celebrate the sale of the building, the arts center will host a community “We Bought the Building” BBQ from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday outside the theater at 825 University Ave. W. The event will feature Frogtown and Rondo-area food, music and art.