Imani Harris and Ramiyah Jackson, both 14, belted out “Oh Freedom” in front of a crowd of about 250 people who gathered Thursday morning to celebrate the anticipated expansion and renovation of the only theater left in north Minneapolis.
The nearly $13 million project that will add 20,000 feet to the Capri Theater, 2027 W. Broadway Ave., is about $1.4 million away from meeting its fundraising goal. The theater, where Prince played his first solo performances in 1979, is owned and operated by the Plymouth Christian Youth Center. It has been used more as a community gathering space than a full-fledged theater venue.
But the renovation and expansion aim to change that, leaders said after they ceremoniously dug into the ground around the existing theater Thursday. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey was joined by community members and theater officials during the groundbreaking.
“For many years we have not been able to provide the amenities that a working theater should because the Capri was built as basically a movie theater,” said Ann Long, executive director of the Plymouth Christian Youth Center. “It didn't have dressing rooms, didn't have a green room, didn't have the proper lighting and so on.”
Now, she said the renovations will incorporate theater must-haves and community spaces.
“The new part will also house a basically 100- to 125-seat community hall that can be available for both theater productions as well as [for] families to have reunions and baby showers,” she said, adding that they expect to reopen in the Fall of 2020.
Along with the community hall, Long said the renovations will include green space, a teen tech center and a scene shop for community members interested in learning carpentry skills.
The Theater was built in 1927 under the name Paradise Theater and was renamed Capri in 1967.
According to a 2014 Current blog post, Prince played his first shows as a solo artist at the Capri on Jan. 5 and 6, 1979. The proceeds of the $4 tickets sold the first night went toward the Capri. Shortly after those shows, Plymouth Christian Youth Center took over ownership and operations of the theater.
In 2015, the group launched a capital campaign to fund the renovations and expansion.
Long said the total cost for the theater renovations came to about $13 million, which was raised through grants, fundraising, donations. She said the theater also received new market tax credits that provide incentives for financial institutions to invest in low-income communities.
‘What the community deserves’
Jackson looks forward to getting back on the big stage when the Capri renovations are complete.
“I'm really excited to see how they're going to just expand it and just make it all beautiful and amazing,” she said.
And Harris, of north Minneapolis, knows what this space means for other kids just like her.
“I know that there are a lot of kids who go through trials and tribulations where they can't necessarily get these kinds of things,” Harris said. “This is what we need because we all deserve to build our futures.”
For Long, the theater also means much more than just another space. It’s a symbol of what the community deserves.
“It is just so great for those of us that are residents, as I am, to be able to drive down West Broadway and see nice buildings, see buildings that you can see in many other parts of the city, but are rare to find here,” she said. “That's one of the things that community pride a symbol that indeed people here matter.”