6 takeaways from St. Paul's freshly renovated Palace Theatre

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St. Paul's Palace Theatre at Friday's open house event Steven Cohen

While there are unique perks to living in either Minneapolis or St. Paul, the former has an undeniable edge when it comes to downtown music landmarks: First Avenue will forever be blessed with Prince’s golden star on its side. But the capital city is about to add a prestige music venue of its own. 

Despite the looming threat of a blizzard that was forecast for downtown St. Paul last Friday, hundreds braved the weather for a sneak peak at the newly renovated Palace Theatre. The project grants new life to the historic theater that last opened its doors for regular use in 1977 (with a brief period hosting A Prairie Home Companion in 1984). The Palace brings exciting new possibilities for concerts in the Twin Cities, and it should boost St. Paul’s viability for music-loving night owls.

Here are six takeaways from Friday's public unveiling; check out more photos of the Palace Theatre here.

1. This is the next chapter in the Palace Theatre's storied history

At the time of its opening in 1916, the New Palace Theatre could seat 3,000 and was built on the site of the then-recently burned-down library. The name was briefly changed to the Palace-Orpheum Theatre in 1922 after becoming part of the Orpheum vaudeville circuit, but the space was soon re-branded as the Orpheum Theatre (and later the RKO Orpheum) as it transitioned into life as a movie theater.

2. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman's ceremonial key-twist was a long time coming

“I was on the City Council starting in 1998, and kept on wondering how we were going to bring this theater back online -- and just two decades later we are here,” Coleman joked to a hot chocolate-toting crowd at the Palace’s entrance on Friday.

The completion of the renovation will cap off the “Year of Music in the City of Saint Paul," a title bestowed by the mayor to celebrate the city’s artistic soul. “This is going to be the premier venue of this size in the country,” he added before ceremonially unlocking the theater’s doors to the public.

3. The city of St. Paul preserved the venue's ancient charms

The building's two-year, $15.6 million renovation is almost complete. According to the city, which purchased the Palace in 2014, the only work remaining is “adding acoustic treatments and minor aesthetics work” before the keys are handed over to operating partners First Avenue and Jam Productions.

Without action taken by the city, the Palace would likely have been condemned because of deterioration. The theater maintains its historic charms -- including 100-year-old painted detailing -- but it's modernized with colorful LED lights, a brand-new sound system, and accessible bathrooms and elevators.

4. The space feels massive

Total capacity is 2,800, nearly twice as many as First Ave and about a couple hundred more than the Northrop and the Orpheum theaters in Minneapolis; St. Paul's Fitzgerald Theater holds around 1,000. The Palace has intriguing possibilities for utilizing its layout, which includes a vast general-admission ground floor with a huge bar in back (the tiered seated levels each have bars, too).

It’s easy to imagine the kinds of big-named indie bands -- Arcade Fire, St. Vincent, Vampire Weekend, etc. -- that could be lured to the Palace. The venue is expected to draw more than 100,000 people annually to downtown, according to estimates by the city. 

5. Music vibes nicely with the historic setting

A solo performance from folksy Minneapolis musician Jeremy Messersmith enchanted the theater during Friday's open house. Messersmith's haunting vocals juxtaposed nicely with the ghostly presence of the Palace’s past that permeated the area.

6. Regina Spektor is the first act on the Palace's calendar, but that could change

Although concerts are expected to be announced that may precede it, a March 26 show from the singer-songwriter and pianist is the first one booked for the Palace. Spektor will be touring in support of her latest album, September's Remember Us to Life.


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