Building with intent & activity- Revitalizing Minneapolis' theatre district

Monday, January 25, 2010

Tom Hoch 76, Hennepin Theatre Trust President/CEO, sits in the Pantages Theatre in downtown Minneapolis, a 1,014-seat venue which opened in 1916.


Although Tom Hoch ’76 has never performed on stage, he dazzles downtown Minneapolis theatergoers nightly with the fruits of his vision, creativity and talent for city-building.

As president and CEO of Hennepin Theatre Trust, Hoch has been the driving force behind a stunning physical and cultural revitalization of Hennepin Avenue’s theater district. In 2005, the non-profit Trust assumed ownership from the city of the historic State, Orpheum and Pantages theatres. Ever since, Hoch has been active in promoting, upgrading and adding to the vitality of downtown, according to Jim Graves ’74 (see related story) who owns the upscale hotel Graves 601 in the neighborhood.

“He’s a very, very important asset to the downtown and to its cultural environment,” Graves said of Hoch. “He’s gentrified Hennepin Avenue.”

Who better to propel this significant metamorphosis than the guy who’s been called a master of reinvention?
Three decades ago, he was fresh out of St. Cloud State University teaching elementary schoolchildren in Minneapolis – first at McKinley, then Hans Christian Anderson. A couple years later, he entered law school at Hamline. After getting his degree, he served as a staff attorney for the Tenth Judicial District, then in private practice for two years before joining the Minneapolis Community Development Agency (CDA). His last incarnation before getting into the theater business full time was deputy executive director of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority.

Every entry on Hoch’s resume represents another period of growth and discovery. His teaching jobs were a result of his involvement in the Urban Project while a senior education student at St. Cloud State. His practice teaching in Minneapolis helped lay a foundation for a career with heavy doses of advocacy and community service.

He believes that volunteering and working for the greater good is not necessarily just about giving. “An important component is what you get from it,” Hoch said.

For Hoch, every new opportunity came as a result of applying passion to volunteer work, going beyond what was expected and welcoming professional challenges and opportunities. While a project manager at the CDA, Minneapolis found itself in the position of needing to restore the State Theatre it had saved from demolition. “The responsibility for its restoration fell in my lap,” he said.

Hoch was ready to take it on. His experience in education, law, real estate and community development, networking in both the public and private sectors – combined with his love of theater and music – helped prepare him for what eventually became what he calls his “pretty good gig.”

Hoch has devoted Hennepin Theatre Trust to building a richer, more vibrant cultural atmosphere in downtown Minneapolis with Broadway touring productions, performers of comedy, dance and music and community engagement and educational programs – including opportunities for students to learn and explore their potential in the performing arts.

An important part of the process has been to improve the external environment for theatergoers. “I look at the total experience of the patrons,” he said. “People want to feel safe. They want to come to a place that’s clean and have a pleasant experience. It all must work together.”

Throughout his professional life Hoch has applied the philosophy that good things happen through intentional activity, and vibrant cities are made by engaged and active people. “You create the kind of city you want,” he said. “It doesn’t just happen.”

“I never envisioned myself sitting here doing what I’m doing,” Hoch said. But it’s clear he’s enjoying the role.

- Marsha Shoemaker

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