Iconic Uptown Theater Emerges from Its 'Time Warp' with $2 Million Renovation
"Let's do the time warp!"
Before it closed for renovations in February, time had indeed warped the Uptown Theater in Minneapolis. As one of the oldest theaters still showing movies in Minnesota (since 1939), the Uptown was known for its midnight showings of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," as well as cool art house and independent flicks.
And for, well, the fact it was kind of falling apart.
But on Friday, after an extensive $2 million facelift, the Uptown is opening its doors again on Friday. The iconic theater, which has been given "landmark" status by the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission, hadn't been over-hauled since the 1960s.
The first movie scheduled is "Sleepwalk With Me." Tickets are $10 on the main floor, $12.50 in the new VIP balcony. ("Rocky Horror" will resume at a later, undetermined date.)
According to Michael Fant, the senior vice president of real estate and development for Landmark Theaters, the company that has owns the Uptown since 1978, "We are on budget and hopefully on schedule." Landmark has signed a new multi-year lease with the new owner of the 101-year-old building that the Uptown inhabits, at the corner of Lake and Hennepin in the Uptown neighborhood.
Aaudiences will find a much more intimate venue; the number of seats have been cut by almost two thirds to just 350. Fant says the reduction affects the theater's bottom line "to a degree, but I mean it's hard to fill a 900 seat theater at this point in time." The seats are bigger and wider, made of faux leather. In the balcony, "love seats" have been added for those looking for some snuggling while they movie-watch.
The screen is 45 percent larger, the audio has been amplified, the neon ceiling lights have been upgraded, the bathrooms have been enlarged (five stalls alone in the women's lavatory, compared to two before), and the plumbing, heating and electrical have all been completely gutted. Oh, and no more sticky floors (at least for now). Fant says the theater's new carpet is extraordinarily stain-resistant--Landmark staff tested the durability by actually spilling popcorn and soda on it, and then stomping on it. Seriously.
The Minneapolis City Council approved a liquor license for the theater and it now has fully stocked bar. In addition to the popcorn and hot dogs, it also offers an extended menu which includes items like gourmet pizza, Greek salads, pita sandwiches and even vegan cookies.
"We preserved some of the key architectural elements," Fant said, pointing to murals on the walls of the theater, and an art deco chandelier that hangs above the concession stand. And for the first time in 35 years, the beacon atop the theater will shine a spotlight into the night air--visible from up to five miles in every direction.
But the biggest change to the theater is an advanced new movie projection system, an upgrade that cost around $80,000. 35 Millimeter films are out, digital projection is in. According to Bobby Parry, Landmark's chief engineer, "It's just like when we went from the horse and buggy to the car."
By the end of next year, most major film studios will release titles only in the digital format. "So you either convert or go out of business," Parry said. "The quality of the image is better than the 35 millimeter film. The first show will look just as perfect as the last show. There is no more scratching, no more dust, no more dirt. Everything will be perfect projection."
Parry goes on to say, "A person doesn't even need to be up here anymore (in the projection booth)." So the theater is eliminating jobs? "No, no," he said, "we're keeping all of our projectionists." In fact, the Uptown is increasing its overall staff size from seven to 25. (All seven of the employees who worked at the theater before it construction are returning.)
In the last week, Landmark has converted its other Twin Cities theaters, the Edina, and the Lagoon, to digital projection as well. Others following suit include the St. Louis Park 6, which went digital in early August. The 86-year-old Columbia Heights Showplace also recently converted. The discount second-run Riverview Theater in South Minneapolis is reportedly planning to upgrade its system to conform to the new studio standards soon.
Some industry insiders predict as many as one fifth of all movie theaters in the U.S. will be eventually shut down in the digital age, if they can't afford to convert.
The Uptown hopes to avoid that kind of time warp.
Mark Saxenmeyer can be reached at email@example.com