The inspections came five years after the city gave Mann family more than $330,000 to renovate the Grandview and Highland theaters. The owners say the city never asked them to fix the smoke alarms and say they can’t afford what inspectors want them to do.
On Tuesday, the city’s legislative hearing officer, Marcia Moermond, was sympathetic. Moermond told members of the Mann family that city inspectors are willing to accept an alternative to the expensive overhaul the Manns thought they were required to make.
“I’m OK with holding this up,” she said. “I just want to get this right.
Coming into Tuesday’s hearing, the Manns said they were worried they would be forced to sell the two theaters. The City Council had helped them avoid that fate in 2014 when they provided grants and forgivable loans to renovate the theaters, which were built in 1933 and 1939.
In April 2018, the Manns closed the Grandview Theatre to begin a long-awaited, publicly financed monthlong renovation. Work at the Highland Theatre began in August, after the Grandview renovation was complete and the summer blockbuster season was in the books.
“We started to get into the job and they peeled the drapes and the insulation off the walls and you could see the daylight.
The [concrete] block has been there since 1935 and it disintegrates,” he said. “A lot of our money was spent taking care of issues we didn’t anticipate.
So we never got to do all the things we wanted to do.”
“We have residential smoke detectors right now. That’s all we have.
So if one goes off, that’s the only one that goes off.”
The issue had never been raised before.
He said he hopes a less expensive solution can be found.
“My whole idea was to come up with a system where if one goes off, they all go off,” he said. “I’m not against the strobes and horns and all that.
The loan also would be forgiven if either of two additional conditions occur: the theaters receive historic designation, which likely would increase the cost of their upkeep, or a 500-seat first-run theater opens in St.
Paul, which could cut into their business.
Then they will come back with a possible solution Feb. 4.
“The city has been extremely collaborative in this entire process.