Jungle Boogie

Two buildings, one loan: A tragedy in three acts

Meanwhile, the Blue Nile found a home on Franklin Avenue, near Minneapolis's West Bank.

Act Three: The Debt of a Salesman

The Jungle's $450,000 loan (including interest) from the MCDA was about to come due in July 2000, when representatives from the theater went to the agency, hats in hands, and asked if the debt could be forgiven. MCDA analysts rejected the idea. Instead, they recommended that the Jungle put the still vacant Latham building on the market and use the money to pay back the city. A sale sign was tacked up earlier this year. The price tag: $695,000.

Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat is unhappy about the Jungle Theater's failure to redevelop the Latham Building
Tony Nelson
Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat is unhappy about the Jungle Theater's failure to redevelop the Latham Building

To Hennepin County Commissioner Opat's way of thinking, it was a tragic ending for the county, who could have sold the building in the first place: "So we gave them a building for a dollar, and they want to sell it for $700,000? I think our board would be wise not to do any deals like this in the future with arts groups--anybody who's not going to escrow their firstborn until they carry out the representation they make to us. It ends up being a pretty gross misrepresentation."

Since the Latham project never really got rolling, the NRP funds and state money earmarked for the building never made it to the Jungle. "I think when we bought the Knickers building it might have been prudent to give the Latham Building back to the city and the county," the Jungle's Sand allows now. "It's been troubling to us that we haven't been able to develop it, because it's an empty building here. The problem is, in 1994 they really thought that they'd raised the money to renovate it."

Susan Hagler, the current president of CARAG, says the dollar figures involved have prompted some tongue-wagging among the neighbors--especially those intrigued by Latham's potential as a community space. "A few of us kind of raised our eyebrows at this. They got the building for a dollar and they're going to go and sell it to pay their debts," she says. "We do feel like the Jungle is an asset to the neighborhood, but they're basically getting a really good deal in being able to sell that building."

According to an MCDA staff report, the Latham will have to sell for $600,000 to ensure that the city gets all of its money back. That's because the city has agreed to let the Jungle first pay costs associated with the sale of the building, as well as other debts, including $10,000 to reimburse Hennepin County for environmental studies. The report guesses the property could sell for anywhere from $300,000 to about $900,000. If there's not enough money from the sale to pay the entire MCDA loan, council member Lisa McDonald, whose Tenth Ward includes the dilapidated Latham, opposes forgiving the balance. Council member Jim Niland, whose Sixth Ward includes the new Jungle, is in favor of cutting the theater a break.

Today, while the Latham sits empty, the revitalized hub of Lake and Lyndale is bustling with new businesses, including the Herkimer Pub and Brewery and La Bodega Tapas Bar. Mike Finkelstein of Suntide Commercial Realty is handling the sale. He acknowledges that the Latham Building is in disrepair and will require substantial rehabilitation. What might fit in the old building? Maybe a restaurant or a retail space on the first floor, says Finkelstein, with offices or apartments on the upper floors. Maybe something like the Blue Nile, which once sat on the ground floor of the Latham Building--a fine spot for dining after the theater.

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