Playwrights Center to leave Seward and double in size on St. Paul’s Raymond Avenue

20October 2020

Coming soon to the Green Line and St. Paul’s South St. Anthony Park neighborhood: the storied Twin Cities theater and playwriting center that helped launch the career of storied writer August Wilson nearly 40 years ago.

The Playwrights’ Center anticipates leaving its Franklin Avenue perch in Minneapolis’ Seward neighborhood and moving to a new home at 710 Raymond Ave., about a block south of Caffe Biaggio and University Avenue, with twice the square footage.

The 19,500-square foot building, which is currently a mix of warehouse storage and office space, will be completely renovated in an $8 million remodeling effort.

“We love our Seward neighborhood where we are, but the limitations of the center make it challenging there as the center has grown, as our programming has grown,” said Robert Chelimsky, Playwrights’ Center managing director, in an interview.

“We’ll be right off the Green Line, equidistant between the two downtowns,” he said. “Being centrally located and really accessible to the entire metro is exciting.”

The relocation, which would happen in time for the center’s 50th anniversary season in 2021-22, is made possible in part by $850,000 from the $1.9 billion state bonding bill approved by the Minnesota Legislature last week.

Plans include a 150-seat theater, community gathering space, indoor and outdoor public spaces, classrooms, rehearsal studios, a wellness center and at least two apartments for artists in crisis or transition.

Farther east along the Green Line, after years in the planning, the long-anticipated Victoria Theater Arts Center on University Avenue in Frogtown is slated to receive $1 million from the state bonding bill. Another $12 million will back a North Minneapolis amphitheater near the Mississippi River.

The Playwrights’ Center location was scouted with help from organizers of St. Paul’s Creative Enterprise Zone, a cultural district where arts and nonprofit organizations have found community near creative workers.

In a written statement, Chelimsky also thanked Gov. Tim Walz, state Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, state Rep. Kaohly Her, DFL-St. Paul, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, City Council Member Mitra Jalali and Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter.

“Rep. Her, the speech she gave (about us) during the floor session on the Wednesday before the House passed the bonding bill, it was really potent,” Chelimsky said. “It was really powerful. She’s been a real champion.”

City and county officials included the center in the list of bonding priorities shared with legislative leaders.

Founded in 1971, the center workshops more than 70 new plays each year, and backs 25-30 writers and additional fellows with more than $400,000 annually in direct financial support. Its membership roster spans 2,200 playwrights.

The Playwrights’ Center recently launched a capital/capacity campaign to support the $8 million building project, as well as expanded annual public events, more fellowships, partnerships with other theaters and a more robust website and online learning opportunities.

“We’re still in the early stages of the campaign,” Chelimsky said. “There will be more news coming soon.”

The center has also embarked on an accredited playwriting program with Augsburg University, which is available to students throughout the state.

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