Northfield soon to be without a cineplex

Southgate Cinema

The end must be near for Southgate Cinema, as they’re apparently showing a National Geographic-type documentary on the mating habits of intelligent Ailuropoda melanoleuca.

The spot will soon be a Culver’s. The cineplex planned for the property behind Arby’s and Oil Can Henry’s is dead.

winona-7-cinema  Excelsior Dock Cinema 3Big screen Pottermania night

It seems like the Q-Block would be the perfect place (my wife planted this idea in my head a while ago) for a small cineplex like the Winona 7 (left) in downtown Winona or the Excelsior Dock Cinema 3 in downtown Excelsior. In the meantime, we might have to be content to put up the big blow-up movie screen downtown like last July for Pottermania night. And maybe that’s not a bad thing.

Oooh, let’s relive that magical evening. See the Pottermania 2007 photo album or this slideshow:


  1. Curt Benson said:

    I will miss the theater’s cryptic movie titles. Apparently, those plastic letters for the sign have been too prohibitively expensive to replace for years–far too expensive to stock enough to actually spell the titles of the movies. My recent favorite: “In ana Jones”.

    June 24, 2008
  2. Anne Bretts said:

    Maybe some people should contact CECTheaters (which owns the Faribault theater and a lot of other small-town venues) and see whether they are interested in adding Northfield to their collection of small theaters. Seems the last developer gave up. Toward the end didn’t even answer e-mails, so I wonder whether anyone got a good answer on his decision.
    When he was still excited about the project he said that the Q-block wouldn’t have enough parking and the property owners weren’t to sell. But he said the key problem was that he wouldn’t put a movie theater next to railroad tracks because there was no effective way to soundproof the building.

    June 24, 2008
  3. Ross Currier said:

    Griff –

    I may have said this before, on this or another website, but the Hopkins Theater has also seemed as a potential model for Northfield, at least to me. It sits on a city block. When I was there many years ago, there was a sports-themed restaurant on the left corner and a coffee shop on the right corner, both of which helped the theater visually fit in with the downtown location. Apparently the City built a parking ramp behind the theater, which supported the theater development as well as existing businesses throughout the downtown area.

    – Ross

    June 24, 2008
  4. Jerry Bilek said:

    from the Northfield News:

    Today’s movie-goers want stadium seating, cup holders and anywhere from eight to 11 screens. And, they’re willing to pay for it, Anderson said, pointing to the success of the Lakeville 21 Theater.

    If the theater closes and Culver’s moves in, Anderson said he’ll pursue plans for a new theater. The spot he’s eyeing is a six-acre site on Hwy. 3 just south of Menards in Dundas.

    June 24, 2008
  5. Holly Cairns said:

    Maybe the Grand will again show movies. I’m for that! Fun times.

    June 24, 2008
  6. Gabriel Rholl said:

    This is a big shame, if you ask me. I was always a fan of Southgate, even if that made me an outcast among my friends. I like being able to walk or bike there, instead of finding a ride to drag along to Lakeville or Apple Valley. That adds gas costs to the already higher ticket prices at those theaters.

    Also, from Al Roder’s recent report: “Culver’s is proposing to alter the existing building rather than construct a new building.” Really? I can’t see that building becoming a restaurant without heavy altering.

    I think the Q Block is a good concept on paper for a couple reasons: to draw back the college students that have shunned Southgate (the proximity to the colleges is prime), to potentially develop a unique building with downtown brick styling and modern interiors that could tie between the sentimental “downtown theater” (like the Grand was, as Holly pointed out) and viewer demands of the present. I like the idea, but I only like it on paper, because I think the train issue is pretty hard to get around (anybody that has lived through a horn blast during a NAG play can attest to this).

    Parking, however, shouldn’t be a problem. I mean, heck, where is there a big open empty space screaming “use me!” in the vicinity of Q Block? Hmm…

    June 24, 2008
  7. Boy, Ross, you just can’t let that die, can you? Make one comment about blurring of lines between your opinions as head of the NDDC and the opinions you express here as a private citizen, and you drag it out every once in a while, as if that makes you, what, correct? No. Petty and vindictive, I’ll accept.

    Oh well, I stand by my original comments, the precise wording of which I cannot recall, nor do I wish to dig them up for reposting. I’m sure you can tell me since they apparently seared your very soul.

    Griff, is there a statute of limitations you can enforce on that guy?

    Also, I noticed the Southgate sign the other day, and I thought it would have been even funnier if it read “Get Smart / Panda / Sex” from the top down.

    June 24, 2008
  8. Sorry, I was referring to Ross’s snide comment #4.

    June 24, 2008
  9. Margaret Colangelo said:

    Wonder if Mendota Homes would consider a theater in the now defunct Crossings area? I don’t see condo values coming back anytime soon.

    June 24, 2008
  10. Holly Cairns said:

    Good points, Gabe.

    The best is that there is too few parking spaces downtown.

    To take this seriously: The Grand as a movie theatre was a trip. I don’t know if they could make any money on it now, though– Southgate must have a connection to get those top rated movies. Hmm, seems like the owner of Southgate must have a connection with the old outdoor Mann Theatre in Bloomington/ Edina. Is that right? Otherwise, how would they get those new movies for such a small theater? Big connections, someplace.

    Did we already talk about this and I have forgotten?

    Anyway, the Grand probably would have to offer “Gone with the Wind” and other memorables, instead of the new happenings.

    June 25, 2008
  11. Linda Seebach said:

    You mean reality is confirming the ineffable wisdom of the game Trivial Pursuit?

    June 25, 2008
  12. Today’s movie-goers want stadium seating, cup holders and anywhere from eight to 11 screens. And, they’re willing to pay for it, Anderson said, pointing to the success of the Lakeville 21 Theater.

    If the theater closes and Culver’s moves in, Anderson said he’ll pursue plans for a new theater. The spot he’s eyeing is a six-acre site on Hwy. 3 just south of Menards in Dundas.

    But apparently what today’s moviegoers really want is endless sprawl. A location south of Menards might be walkable from Dundas, but it probably wouldn’t be. It certainly wouldn’t be realistic for most Northfielders to walk. Building things like this along 55 mph highways is just unacceptable. It’s visually unappealing, it’s inefficient, and it’s environmentally harmful.

    As Gabe Rholl points out, college students should be considered. I don’t think you could get any farther from the colleges within the limits of Northfield and Dundas if you tried. A Q-Block location would be ideal. It’s walking distance for both Carleton and St. Olaf — and for those who choose to drive, it’s close to both Hwy 3 and 19. Other locations that come to mind that aren’t great, but are better than South Highway 3:

    • Downtown: 2nd Street and Highway 3 (The Crossing) — if that second apartment building never goes up
    • South, but on a walkable/bikeable road and near housing: Honeylocust Drive and Jefferson Road (near Target and the new First National Bank) — land currently for sale; probably would need to be rezoned
    • East, but easily walkable for Carleton students: Wall Street Road, near the Oak Lawn cemetery
    • East, but easily walkable for Carleton students: Woodley Street and Jefferson Parkway
    June 25, 2008
  13. Griff Wigley said:

    Margaret, a cineplex at the Crossing might not be a bad idea but it’s complicated by the fact that the City needs tax revenue from residential units there… more than a theater would generate. I think that’s why their interest in putting hotel there got shot down.

    June 25, 2008
  14. Anne Bretts said:

    The finances of theater operations have pushed the minimum number of screens at even small theaters to five or six, which require a significant amount of space, probably more than the Crossing can handle, especially with needed parking. Audiences are fragmented and having just one or two screens means reaching only a small group of people — who won’t come back more than once in a week’s run.
    Movies also are impulse choices, so theaters want to be on traffic routes to get the most visibility and lure people into the seats.
    Adding a conference/theater space to the library as part of the expansion would allow movie nights and film festivals that could draw some folks downtown. In summers it could be fun to do outside movies shown against a blank wall somewhere, with folks in lawn chairs.
    The original site near Target was a good one, and there might be enough land on Jefferson Road behind Target. I think Dundas may win because Northfield has known this was a need for years and hasn’t targeted and promoted an appropriate site.

    June 25, 2008
  15. Jessica Paxton said:

    This is really so sad. I have been a huge fan of the Southgate since I first moved here. (And I love the fact that it has a sort of “Triple X” look about it.) We are so fortunate to have our own small-town theater. The Southgate is yet another one of the truly unique and special things about Northfield. Plus the Southgate always gets the “blockbusters,” and usually on opening weekend. It’s really been disappointing to me over the years to hear people complain about how this town needs a “mega-plex” when there’s nothing wrong with what we already have. (And do we really need another fast-food restaurant along Highway 3???) Perhaps I’ve been spoiled, because prior to living in Northfield I’ve always lived in towns that boasted the small, “independent” movie theater that was within a short walk or bike ride — the Chaska movie theater, the Grandview in St. Paul, Suburban World or the Uptown or the Riverview or the Varsity in Minneapolis, and best of all, “The Dock” in Excelsior. Personally, I hate the vibe of a big, sprawling cineplex with stadium seating and whatnot. I think the “cheese-factor” of the Southgate just adds to the charm of seeing a movie there. These days I mostly see “kids movies” with my young son, but it’s been such a treat to share a Southgate experience with him, similar to the kinds of movie-going experiences I had growing up.
    I think the beginning of the end was the demolition of the Cooper Theater in Golden Valley….now all everybody wants is bigger and “better.”

    June 25, 2008
  16. kiffi summa said:

    Northfield’s only Presbyterian Italian, Victor Summa, has been pushing for a small Lagoon type movie complex, on the Q-Block, forever; even though I completely agree I am so tired of hearing this frustrating discussion which never goes anywhere. It IS, IS, IS the best spot, between the two colleges, neither of which have great film programs, right adjoining the DT, and a good walk from both the old East and West side neighborhoods, and new retiree complexes.

    I’d be there as many nights a week as there were films I wanted to see; one of the pleasures of being retired. Added benefit: walk instead of drive, spend gas money on a good chocolate bar.

    Jerry Anderson’s idea of providing a new movie theatre is a great , except for the location. Why would you not want to have all the college kids walking there?

    When the scale , and volume of business, is fairly small and local … as it is in NF… then the most successful venture will put together the most demographic increments.

    Its time to put some teeth and $$ in this game; the EDA should consider this to be one of the best INFILL investments they could make. I’d be willing to bet they won’t even talk about it, and I have an “in” …Trouble is it takes more than one vote. How about it, J. Pokorney?

    June 25, 2008
  17. Anne Bretts said:

    Maybe someone should make a formal request to the EDA. Maybe the NDDC or the downtown business people who are interested in the idea could just go ahead and recruit someone. It would take about a half-day online to get the names and contact information on all the independent and small chain operators, determine their criteria and see which might fit Northfield. There are pretty set requirements on parking spaces and building size, so it wouldn’t take long to narrow down a list of sites.
    Perhaps the first step is to recruit Mr. Anderson, or at least see whether he can be recruited.
    Waiting pretty much guarantees the theater will be built in Dundas and the window will close for Northfield.

    June 25, 2008
  18. John Becker said:

    Over here in Red Wing, a small group of passionate film fans would love to see the old Red Wing Chief Theater reopen…

    The Chief Theater has been empty for over a year and it hasn’t operated as a theater since 1994. Last year we had a marketing executive from Landmark Theatres (the owners of the Lagoon, Uptown and Edina-4) tour the building and comment on the business viability of re-opening the Chief Theater.

    The model suggested was the model the Riverview Theater in Minneapolis uses, which meant making the single screen work very hard, i.e.; a movie for the toddlers in the morning, a matinee for the retirees, an evening screening for couples and a cult classic at midnight for gen-x and gen-y.

    And a beer and wine license always makes a difference.

    Good luck. A downtown movie theater can be an amazing economic stimulator.

    June 26, 2008
  19. I was told that both colleges bus the students to the Lakeville theater as Southgate is not good enough.

    June 26, 2008
  20. Marcea, you seem to be right.

    • $5 provides transportation to and from the Lakeville Muller Family Theatre 21 and a discounted movie ticket. […]

    That said, they do also drive people to Southgate:

    • Free shuttle on Friday and Saturday evenings.
    • The scheduled route includes both colleges, Bridge Square (downtown Northfield), Southgate Movie Theater, and Target/Cub/Applebee’s […]

    June 26, 2008
  21. Gabriel Rholl said:

    You have a point, Marcea, but college students could be persuaded to stay in town if the theater was in walking distance, and provided the amenities of a modern theater. The “Movie Bus” is convenient, but in my experience, also a bit of a hassle. I can’t speak for everyone at the two colleges, but I’ve found that the bus service to Lakeville is just not worth the trip. It’s a long way up, and there’s also only one bus. That means that once you’re there, you may have to wait a while to get into the film you were aiming for if the timing doesn’t work out. On the way back, the bus doesn’t show up until well after Midnight, so if you pick an earlier showing or a shorter movie, you have to wait at the end in the lobby, sometimes up to an hour. I used the movie bus my first year, but I haven’t since, just because of that long time investment you have to make.

    June 26, 2008
  22. I glad to hear they do have service to Southgate.

    June 26, 2008
  23. John S. Thomas said:

    We are heading to Southgate either tonight or tomorrow for the Matinee. (depends on how dinner works out if we can make the 7 PM show.)

    We debated going up to Lakeville tonight, but it is just too much hassle, especially on opening weekend.

    Even when busy, Southgate is much more comfortable.

    June 27, 2008
  24. John S. Thomas said:

    I wanted to add one more thing. The economics of all this.

    Admission has been raised in Lakeville to $9 and $6.25 for kids.

    So, $25 for the show, another $15 for concessions, and then about $9 for gas.

    Yes, you get stadium seating, but you also get a 400 seat theater, crowds, and sticky floors.

    At Southgate, admission is reasonable, there is hardly a line, the popcorn is fresh, and the staff is great. Plus, its only about a mile from the house.

    Why would I want to spend $60+ to go to a movie in Lakeville, when I can either see it here in Northfield, or wait and buy/rent the DVD and watch it on the Hi-Def @ home?

    I have only been to Lakeville a couple times over the past 5 years. It is what it is, a sprawling movie complex that is all about moving cattle in and out as fast as they can at $9 a head.

    I will take Southgate any day, and for as long as it lasts.


    June 27, 2008
  25. Elizabeth Buckheit said:

    I want the cinema to stay for several reasons.

    It’s in town and I don’t (well, my parents) have to waste extra gas to drive there, while I can just bike to Southgate now.

    Do we really need another fast food restaurant??? Between us and Dundas we have a McDonald’s, an Arby’s, a Wendy’s, and a Perkins! Also, this being my personal, I think Culvers custard is gross.

    Besides, it’s fun just to go to the movies with your friends, or at least it is for us teenagers.

    So, the floors maybe sticky, and the popcorn somewhat stale, but still this cinema has become a part of our town, but I would much prefer it to yet another franchise.

    June 27, 2008
  26. Anne Bretts said:

    Talking about wanting the theater to stay may be too little, too late. This is the third summer this discussion group has covered the same ground. Either the right developer hasn’t found Northfield, or there’s something in the calculation of population size and costs that doesn’t work.
    If someone doesn’t do something, however, next summer we can talk about how nice it would have been if the new theater in Dundas had been built downtown. The owner doesn’t have any obligation to lose money to provide a small downtown theater.
    If enough people had gone to the theater it wouldn’t have closed. Plain and simple. The owner of the new Culver’s seems like a very nice man who’s making a huge investment in his own franchise of this Wisconsin-based family company (yes, the Culvers are real and still train all the franchisees).
    And this won’t be fast food restaurant but a new prototype for a sit-down restaurant with table service, a stone facade and and no blue roof. It’s a shame to insult someone who wants to put his life savings in a business here without really knowing his plans.
    If people want a theater, talk to the Southgate owner and see what it would take to make a new one work in Northfield. Talk to other theater companies and find out what it would take for them to come. Put a theater in the library expansion.
    Or drive to Dundas.

    June 27, 2008
  27. Anne, I don’t think Elizabeth’s comments on Culver’s were unreasonable. We do have too much fast food in Northfield. If I had to pick out the best and worst fast food restaurants, I’d say Culver’s is one of the best. But a being a more desirable part of the problem does not make it any less part of the problem. Culver’s food — like McDonald’s, Arby’s, and Wendy’s — is unhealthy, and this will be highway-strip style development (though, thankfully, in an already-developed area). On a personal level, it’s great for the franchisees to succeed. Combined, though, they are a problem.

    Now on the theater, I think the key is to talk to Mr. Anderson. It seems more likely to me that he would change his plans on where to buy next (since, doing business as H3D LLC, he already owns several buildings in the area) than it would to get somebody who’s never heard of Northfield to come build a theater.

    June 28, 2008
  28. William Siemers said:

    There were 10 cars in the parking lot at the Southgate last night at 9 pm.

    I’m all for hometown, downtown theatres and I hope Northfield gets one. But for every reason given here for locating downtown, I can think of a reason not to…of course I know very little about the movie theatre business.

    It seems to me that someone thinking about investing millions would get expert advice on location. I’m sure they would listen, (or have someone listen for them) to comments from the public, but in the end they will act on expert opinion. And that is how it should be if we want the theater to succeed.

    June 28, 2008
  29. The reasons we don’t go to Southgate are because the screen projector is way too slow, and each flicker can be seen by some people, and when I went on a cold winter night with my snow boots on, my feet nearly froze.

    If you want a movie house, make it somewhat comfortable, and viewable by all.

    June 29, 2008
  30. John Thomas said:

    Sign in front of Southgate announces that the cinema will close on August 14th.

    August 3, 2008

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