The Uptown Theatre marquee provided a sense of levity and unity throughout the pandemic with witty messages to the community unable to purchase tickets for its indie films.
But now the iconic cinema in the heart of Uptown — an area reeling from recent violent unrest — is being evicted for failure to pay rent for the past year.
Its landlord, Lagoon Partners LLC, brought the action against Landmark Theatres, which operates Lagoon Cinema and the recently shuttered Edina Cinema. A Hennepin County District Court order forced the theater to vacate the historic location.
The civil complaint filed against Landmark last month says the company owes $340,245 for failing to pay rent, operating expenses and more than $16,000 in late fees since April 2020. Lagoon provided a written notice to Landmark on May 4 threatening to evict the company.
Landmark has operated the Uptown Theatre for the past 43 years. But the court ordered Landmark to vacate the cinema by June 11, according to a settlement filed Wednesday and signed by Lagoon's Minneapolis attorney Brian Niemczyk and Landmark's attorney on behalf of Silver Cinemas Acquisition Co., a Delaware corporation doing business as Landmark Theatres.
Messages left with Niemczyk on Sunday were not immediately returned. Landmark has not responded to numerous requests for comment.
The eviction is the latest blow to Uptown, still with many boarded up storefronts, and the cinema industry as a whole.
Connor Holt, 30, who grew up in Roseville and now works in post-production television in Los Angeles, said the popular theater chain ArcLight Cinemas also has been shuttered for nonpayment of rent.
"People are going back to the movies," he said. "The danger is what if there are no more movie theaters to go back to?"
Holt said the Uptown Theatre is special for its selection of foreign, indie and Oscar-winning films.
The original Uptown Theatre, named Lagoon Theatre, opened in 1916 at the corner of Hennepin and Lagoon avenues. It was renamed Uptown Theatre in 1929. Following a blaze in 1939, the theater was rebuilt to include the familiar Uptown sign.
Landmark's third Minneapolis location, Lagoon Cinema, about a block from the Uptown Theatre, is open and operating. It reopened in February after pandemic-related closures.
Suzanne Haugland, owner of the Edina Cinema, which first opened in 1935, said Landmark also failed to follow through with its financial commitments at her historic theater location after it closed last March because of the pandemic.
"Uptown wasn't alone," she said in an interview Sunday. "They've basically paid nothing since they closed."
Haugland wouldn't specify how much Landmark owes her, but she said that the company "owes everybody throughout the country." Landmark operates 45 theaters in 26 markets across the U.S.
She said Landmark employees returned keys in March after packing up all the projectors and theater equipment. She hasn't heard from them since.
Haugland hopes to find another theater company to lease the Edina Cinema space, but she said that's only a viable option if people return to the theaters now that the pandemic has loosened its grip on the entertainment industry.
"It has to be something people support," she said.