The restoration of Lake Street’s century-old Coliseum Building is finally finished after four years and its new interior makes it hard to imagine it was nearly lost to fire.

The walls are newly painted, the floors are polished and the windows bring in natural light that illuminate the three floors of the 85,000 square foot building. But there are some parts that are left untouched, like a wall covered in soot and a burnt beam.

Both remnants were kept to help tell the story of the protests that followed the police murder of George Floyd four years ago and how his death and the subsequent unrest shaped south Minneapolis.

The Coliseum was originally built in 1917 to house Freeman’s Department store and was one of the first stores in the area to offer credit to people of color to shop, according to Alicia Belton, a co-owner and project architect of the building. Its most recent tenants were a Denny’s restaurant, a law office and a health clinic.

In 2020, the Coliseum sustained damage after it was torched during the civil unrest that followed Floyd’s murder. It’s located about two blocks away from the Third Precinct police station, where former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin worked. Since 2021, several Black developers have been leading the charge to restore the landmark.

A building stands

The Coliseum Building in 1962, when it still housed Freeman’s Department store.

Courtesy of Hennepin County Library Digital Collections via Redesign

On Wednesday, the historic structure will finally reopen on the same day as the Juneteenth holiday as part of the Soul of the Southside Juneteenth festival celebrating the diverse neighborhood

“What happened here a couple years ago was traumatic for our neighborhood and Juneteenth is a celebration for liberation of African American people,” said Belton, principal of Minneapolis-based Urban Design Perspectives. “Juneteenth is a celebration for liberation of African American people. And so this feels like we are liberating this building in service to others.”

What will be open in the Coliseum

Belton said she’s excited for people to come through the doors.

“We’re excited to share what we’ve been doing. And with the intent that ‘Hey, this building is for you.’ We’ve been very specific in making sure that we’re planning amenities that the community would want,” said Belton.

Those added amenities include meditation spaces, lactation rooms and foot washing stations in the bathrooms. The foot washing stations are intended for people who wash their feet as a prayer ritual, including some Muslims.

Belton said those additions will help people come into the space and “show up as they are.”

A woman stands in front of a window

Alicia Belton, a co-owner and project architect of the Coliseum Building, stands in a newly restored office space on the second floor.

Nicole Ki | MPR News

The building will welcome community members on Juneteenth with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, art gallery and family activities. People will also be able to see a gallery of Floyd protest posters hung up in a hallway on the main level.

The alleyway of the Coliseum, which connects to the parking lot behind the building, has a new two-story mural done by artist Kada Goalen. It’s located next to the historic Freeman’s Department Store sign on the east side of the building and highlights the diverse cultures in the Longfellow neighborhood.

two story mural covers alley

A new two-story mural by artist Kada Goalen wraps around a part of the alleyway on the east side of the Coliseum Building, depicting the diversity of the Longfellow neighborhood.

Nicole Ki | MPR News

So far, the four owners of the building are working on moving into the Lake Street landmark. They are a restaurant and three Black developers who helped restore the historic structure: Lagniappe Restaurant & Du Nord Cocktail Room, which will serve New Orleans food and drinks; Urban Design Perspectives; Commonsense Consulting; and Divas for Social Justice. Lagniappe Restaurant and Du Nord Cocktail Room are expected to open in early fall.

The building has had some interest from other businesses like a hair salon and tortilla vendor, but is still in the process of signing on new tenants. Prospective tenants can contact Twin Cities firm AssemblyMN for more information on leasing.

Belton said they plan to lease out 25 percent of the space in the first year. It will take some time to see how the space will be used, but the grand opening will help advertise the building.

Taylor Smrikárova, development director at Minneapolis nonprofit Redesign Inc., worked alongside Belton and others to complete the Coliseum’s restoration. Early on, the team prioritized asking what the community wanted to see in the building.

“It was absolutely a labor of love,” said Smrikárova. “They wanted to see local ownership, they wanted to see small businesses and local businesses in the building and thrive.”

She said it was important to get it right for the community because the Coliseum still had a lot of potential to be a “beacon of what’s possible” for the community in revitalizing Lake Street. It was also important to stay true to the mission of investing in underserved communities of color and making the space affordable to BIPOC entrepreneurs and businesses.

Coliseum rebuild centered feedback from Longfellow neighborhood

The Coliseum relied on both private and public financing to help cover high construction costs. The tax credits they used required them to keep parts of the history of the building, like the terrazzo floors and brick walls.

Smrikárova said they tapped into a combination of city, state and county financing, new market and historic tax credits, philanthropic grant money and federal sustainable energy funding.

“The cost of the renovation was way more than we could ever hope to charge to tenants and businesses that were going to move in,” Smrikárova said. “And so we needed the kind of public financing to sort of fill that gap, but also hold us responsible to make sure that the building is still reflective of that mission.”

A building boarded up

The back of the Coliseum Building in April 2021 was covered in wooden boards and graffiti after the 2020 civil unrest.

Courtesy of Redesign

Smrikárova said for a project this large to hold true to its original goals and values is “rare.”

“When you’re kind of one of the first, you do become this sort of example. And you either live up to that or don’t do that,” she said. “Because we had so many different kinds of money coming in, it was also important that we demonstrate that there could be success with that level of complexity.”

Smrikárova is proud of the work the development team has done to get the Coliseum to reopen. In the next few years, she hopes to see the space vibrant with life – people working in the offices, eating at the restaurant on the main level and gathering for community events.

The second floor event center is available for booking starting Aug. 1 and the first floor event center should open by this fall.

Coliseum grand opening details

The grand opening and festival is free to attend. The Historic Coliseum Building on 2700 E. Lake St is among a few locations in the Longfellow neighborhood that are a part of the festival. The event is happening on Wednesday June 19, 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. For more information, visit soulofthesouthside.com.

Three women in hardhats and neon vests chat at a construction site

From left, development director Taylor Smrikárova, architect Alicia Belton, and investor Janice Downing discuss their plans for the Coliseum Building at the construction site in Minneapolis on July 24.

Matt Sepic | MPR News 2023