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An Extraordinary New Partnership with First Avenue

A recent rendering of the Upper Harbor Terminal Community Performing Arts Center.
A recent rendering of the Upper Harbor Terminal Community Performing Arts Center.

Over the decades, First Avenue and the Minnesota Orchestra have been great neighbors in downtown Minneapolis. While the former is more associated with Hüsker Dü, Lizzo and Prince, and the latter with the likes of Osmo Vänskä and Joshua Bell—and one soon-to-arrive Danish conductor, Thomas Søndergård—both organizations have been united by their dedication to creating a top-quality music environment in Minnesota. And, in the coming years, First Avenue and the Orchestra will be seeing a lot more of each other.

Since 2016, First Avenue has been considering plans for the Community Performing Arts Center (CPAC), an amphitheater within the Upper Harbor Terminal development. On July 20, the Minnesota Orchestra was selected as First Avenue’s Strategic Business Partner for the project.

Formerly home to a barge shipping terminal that ceased operations in 2014, the Upper Harbor Terminal is a 48-acre industrial site located on the Mississippi River in Minneapolis’ Northside. In 2016, United Properties won a request for proposal from the City of Minneapolis to imagine the site’s future possibilities. Since then, United Properties and First Avenue have held more than 200 community listening sessions with North Minneapolis residents and stakeholders, working in partnership with the community and the city to create an equitable development plan that sets a new precedent for how private development can align more intentionally with community values.

The amphitheater will accommodate 8,000 concertgoers, with $3.00 of every ticket sold reinvested in the Northside community, resulting in an estimated $500,000 annually. The African American Community Development Corporation (AACDC) will manage this fund to explore and develop community programming, and a youth jobs and career program. In another boost to local entrepreneurs, the vendors in the amphitheater will all have ties to North Minneapolis.

“When considering strategic partners for the Community Performing Arts Center, we knew local organizations whose missions align with the community-driven nature of the project was essential,” explains First Avenue CEO, Dayna Frank. “It is crucial that the entity responsible for the community programming of the UHT site be rooted in local leadership, and the AACDC brings that guidance. Additionally, the Orchestra is mission-driven to work to strengthen and revitalize Minneapolis through the arts. When planning one of the most equitable performing arts projects of its kind, we knew our partners must have a shared vision of the role that music plays in energizing and uniting community.”

While the CPAC will be the center point of the development’s first phase, additional plans for the site include affordable housing, a local manufacturing hub, and a 19-acre public park that reconnects portions of the McKinley and Camden neighborhoods to the riverfront.

Top tier orchestras across the United States operate venues beyond their own concert halls, and the Minnesota Orchestra has explored the possibility of an amphitheater project dating back to the 1990s. But don’t fear, the Orchestra isn’t going anywhere: our home will remain at Orchestra Hall, though the CPAC will allow us to schedule occasional larger-scale outdoor concerts, and our team is already thinking big. First Avenue will take the lead on scheduling and programming musical acts, bringing their signature commitment to independent and innovative artists to the amphitheater.

We have tremendous respect for the vision behind the CPAC project and the years of work that First Avenue, Northside residents, United Properties and the City have invested in developing this project. At the Orchestra we believe music plays a fundamental role in energizing, inspiring and bringing people together, and we are honored to partner with First Avenue to bring the CPAC to life and expand our region’s musical footprint.

Minnesota Orchestra President and CEO, Michelle Miller Burns

In the months ahead, the Orchestra will take the lead on private fundraising for the amphitheater and provide ongoing oversight of the project alongside First Avenue. Subsequently, the Orchestra will receive a portion of the revenue share once programming begins, offering another pathway to financial stability to the organization for years to come.

With construction expected to wrap up by spring 2025, we look forward to celebrating this next chapter of Minnesota music with you on the riverfront.

For more information about the Upper Harbor Terminal Community Performing Arts Center, read the press release below.

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