Inside the Project: The Historic Coliseum Building

The outside of a brick building.

By Amanda Theisen

In 2020, the world had its eyes on Minneapolis after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer. For more than a week in late May to early June, social unrest spread throughout several neighborhoods. This included Lake Street –- a vibrant commercial corridor that runs from the Mississippi River to the Uptown district.

Many of the buildings along Lake Street were badly damaged or destroyed during the unrest. One of them, two blocks away from the third precinct in the Longfellow neighborhood, was the Historic Coliseum Building, located at E. Lake St. and 27th Ave South. The century-old building suffered heavy damage from fire and water and was set to be torn down.

Flash forward to now – the Coliseum Building is re-opening with a new look, new tenants and a mission to build generational wealth for BIPOC business owners and entrepreneurs.

Saving the building

A sign attached to the outside of a building.The Historic Coliseum Building has been home to everything from a department store when it first opened, to a furniture warehouse in the 1960s and even a Denny’s restaurant in the 2000s. A popular ballroom occupied space on the third floor throughout the building’s lifetime. In more recent years, several nonprofits and small businesses leased space in the building.

Redesign, Inc., a nonprofit Community Development Corporation, bought the building after the unrest and launched a $28 million restoration effort. Sunrise Banks provided $8 million in New Markets Tax Credit allocation and just over $5.4 million in bank financing for the project.

“I will never forget the destruction and pain I saw walking at this intersection just a couple weeks after George Floyd’s death,” says Mary Stoick, Senior Vice President and Director of Tax Credit Lending at Sunrise Banks. “It was gut-wrenching, yes, but I could also feel the community’s determination and resilience in every piece of board art and every Black Lives Matter tag. I knew it would rise to rebuild and repair both physical and emotional damage and that Sunrise Banks had to be part of that however we were needed. This project is transformational.”

Restoration challenges

“This was a gut renovation,” says Taylor Smrikárova, Real Estate Development Director for Redesign Inc. “This is basically a new building inside.”

A large open room with wood floors, pillars and tall windows.The Redesign team had to work through several challenges due to the Coliseum’s historic building status. Some features, like undamaged wood flooring from the original third floor ballroom, could stay in place. The flooring that replaced the damaged wood could complement, but not match, the original wood floors. Other features, Smrikárova says, had to be covered up to give spaces inside a “clean, white box” feeling.

Getting the building back to a usable state took a lot of time and effort.

A photo of a ceiling with an exposed pipe and a charred ceiling beam.

“Everything was completely black in all directions,” says Andy Hestness, Executive Director of Redesign, Inc., about some of the areas where the hottest fires burned for days.

The team wanted to preserve some of the damage left after the unrest, such as ceiling beams charred by the fires. Smrikárova says doing so will remind visitors about the trauma and resilience the community went through following Floyd’s murder.

The Weeping Wall

A wall with water stains and painted words.Another feature the Redesign team kept in place from the unrest will be known as “The Weeping Wall”. It is a spot on the second floor where sprinklers rained down on fire and smoke for several days, staining the walls to look like streams of tears.

“I felt like it was symbolic of the passion of that week. I had always really enjoyed walking by them, so we figured out a way to preserve and save them,” says Smrikárova. “We got approval to leave it as is, so we’ll put something here that says something about George Floyd and the date, so it’s almost like an art piece.”

Street art painted on plywood by protesters following the unrest and preserved by the nonprofit Save the Boards, are also permanently displayed on the building’s first floor.

New life, new features

The restored Coliseum Building features space for retail, offices, an art gallery, and public/private events. Shared spaces inside the building focus on diversity and inclusivity. These include foot washing stations, meditation and prayer rooms, lactation rooms, and all-gender restrooms. There will also be bike storage lockers and shower stalls.

A colorful desk sitting in an open lobby.The lobby also has a different look and feel inside the remodeled building. Before, Smrikárova said entrances felt closed off from the rest of the spaces. Now, it features a welcome desk, comfortable seating and lots of light.

“We wanted this lobby to be open and welcoming to the public, so you feel like you’re supposed to be here,” explains Smrikárova.

Plans for the future

The Coliseum Building officially re-opened to the public on June 19th as part of Soul of the Southside’s Juneteenth celebration along Lake Street.

At its core, developers want to use the Coliseum as an incubator space for Black, Indigenous and business owners of color. They also want to make sure those business owners are part of the long-term ownership solution.

Shanelle Montana is one of four owners of the building. She will be opening the Du Nord Cocktail Room and Lagniappe, a New Orleans-inspired restaurant at The Historic Coliseum Building.

In addition to Redesign and Montana, Architect Alicia Belton (Urban Design Perspectives) and business owner Janice Downing (CommonSense Consulting@Work) round out the ownership group.

Belton’s firm served as the architect behind the Coliseum Building’s restoration. Together with Downing, they form S.H.A.K.E., a partnership to design and facilitate a series of experiences that are “safe spaces for individuals to learn, dialogue, and intentionally collaborate.” S.H.A.K.E., Urban Design Perspectives, and CommonSense Consulting will all hold office space in The Historic Coliseum Building.

Other businesses with plans to move to the building include a tortilla maker that will also sell Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares and fresh juices, and a hair salon. The Minnesota DFL will also temporarily lease space at the building ahead of the 2024 election season.

“Lots of activity will come through this building,” says Smrikárova. “Folks will see life back in this building. I hope they’ll be encouraged to come by.”

The Coliseum Building is located in a neighborhood that benefits from the Sunrise Banks Impact Deposit Fund. As a Certified Community Development Institution (CDFI), 60% of our lending benefits customers, businesses and projects in low to moderate-income communities. 

Amanda Theisen is the communications manager at Sunrise Banks.