Up until two months ago, anyone walking along the 200 block of E Superior Street in downtown Duluth had limited options for an evening's entertainment, including among other venues the local men's club, The NorShor Experience or Fond-du-Luth Casino.
Now, just across the street, resides a new business dedicated to "attracting young people to the area."
Kat Eldred, director of organization and communication for the A. H. Zeppa Foundation, believes that attracting young people to Duluth was the main goal of alan Zeppa, a philanthropist and chairperson of the a non-profit foundation devoted to supporting progressive ventures in Duluth.
Zeitgeist Arts, a company owned by the A.H. Zeppa Foundation, has recently opened three new businesses: Teatro Zuconne, a 120-seat black-box theatre; Zinema 2, Duluth's only independent movie theater featuring two screening rooms; and Zeitgeist Arts Café, a restaurant serving contemporary American cuisine.
Eldred, who also serves as president of Zeigeist Arts, said the multi-million dollar renovation project was the idea of Alan Zeppa.
"The complex was Alan's brainchild," Eldred said.
Zeppa, a Duluthian who inherited a family fortune at the death of his stepfather, founded the A.H. Zeppa Family Foundation in 2005.
Known to describe himself as "a weird, middle class guy," Zeppa established the foundation dedicated to making a difference locally, regionally, and globally by allotting grants to organizations specializing in performance and visual arts, liberal/progressive principles in human affairs and prevention and/or reversal of further environmental degradation.
About 10-15 percent of the foundation's donations go towards local and regional arts, and approximately 80-90 percent of the grants go toward organizations exhibiting the latter two missions.
"We are a progressive foundation. Alan support things like social justice, the arts and the environment," Eldred said, noting that in the past year the foundation has provided grants for organizations such as the Union Gospel Mission, Northland Youth Music Program, Walker Art Center, Sustainable Twin Ports and Minnesota Environmental Partnership.
Zeppa owns homes in both Northern California and Duluth, but he established the foundation in Duluth.
"He felt like he could make bigger impact and more of a community difference in Duluth," Eldred said, noting that the area of Northern California has more established philanthropic organizations.
Zeitgeist Arts was established in 2007 as a for-profit arm of the Zeppa Foundation, a non-profit organization.
"Zeitgeist Arts creates to create socially responsible and environmentally sustainable programs that support and celebrate the arts," Eldred said, noting that Zeitgeist Arts is an investment of the Zeppa Foundation.
Profits beyond the cost of running the three entities go back to the Zeppa Foundation to be used for future community funding.
"If the entities break even then we've won, because we've done good for the community," Eldred said. "We value the social gain as much or even more than the fiscal gain."
Eldred described the new businesses, saying, "Zeitgeist means the 'essence of a culture, the spirit of our times,' so it is a great fit for what we are trying to do."
The new complex aligns with the foundation's mission to contribute to the community in a way that makes it attractive and encourages young people to stay in the area.
"The purpose of the complex is to give creative people different outlets and encourage the creative element of community," Eldred said.
Because there were no independent theatres in Duluth, Eldred said many Duluthians, including Zeppa, traveled to the cities to view independent films.
"Alan loves indie films, and he was hoping to bring that to Duluth," Eldred said.
Tim Masset, curator of film and manager of Zinema 2, was recruited from Florida to run the independent cinema. Eldred said he plans on showing mostly first-run indie films along with some classics, and even some opportunities for community involvement.
The Zinema is not just focused on showing films, but that they also encourage community involvement in the creative arts, Eldred explained.
"It's really about a creative community," Eldred said.
The Zinema is dedicated to showing student film and local filmmakers and displaying local artwork in the lobby, along with providing the community opportunities to rent the theater for special events, attend a public Oscar night, or even reserve the cinema to show home videos.
Next store to the Zinema is the Teatro Zuccone, the new home to local theatre group Renegade Comedy Theatre. Eldred said Zeppa, who has participated in local theatre himself, understood the importance of a home theatre.
"Alan wanted to help Renegade get into a home," Eldred said.
With help from the foundation, Renegade Theatre Company, a local, premier theatrical company founded in 1991, has its first permanent home.
Renegade annually produces a complete main stage season, specializing in comedic performances that "enrich, enlighten, and above all, entertain." Though Teatro Zuccone is Renegade's home, the company doesn't run the theatre complex, nor is the Teatro limited to Renegade performances.
When planning the new theater and cinema, Eldred said they knew they were missing an important element in an evening of entertainment.
"You have to have food, right? Food is an important part of any social gathering," Eldred said.
Customers at the new complex have multiple options for food during an evening of entertainment. Though beer, wine and concession treats are sold outside the Zinema and Zuccone, the Zeitgeist Arts Café offers a more formal atmosphere, serving a variety of contemporary American food.
"The café provides a nice option for food during a reception of a film or production," Eldred said. "People gather around food."
In addition to the entertainment value of film, theatre, and culinary delight, Eldred said these art forms contribute to society and community. She referred to creative, expressive communities such as Portland, Ore., that thrive because of artistic, experimental ventures.
"I think Duluth has that potential," Eldred said.
Though the Zeppa Foundation is focused on new, innovative, artistic community opportunities, the non-profit also values preserving authentic culture and historical presence. Alan wanted to maintain the historical value and appreciation of the pre-existing downtown entity, so the complex was renovated from the original building.
"It's so much easier to build something new. Retro-fitting a building is so much more work," Eldred said of the $5 million renovation project.
Another challenge the Zeppa Foundation faced during the renovation was the struggling economy. The downturn forced them to look at value engineering. They wanted to be economical without compromising the end result, Eldred said.
"There are lots of ways that we saved by being creative, but it ended up being the project we wanted it to be," Eldred said.
Eldred said a positive part of the economic struggle was that the foundation employed many people during the renovation, and Zeppa still provides over 30 jobs for the community.
Zeitgeist currently employs six to seven full-time, benefited employees and around 30 hourly employees.
Eldred said she has the same two expectations for the three entities at the new complex.
"We expect them to make a contribution to the community and also break even so they aren't draining money from the foundation."
Though all entities are currently open and operating, Zeitgeist Arts has planned a grand opening including music and a champagne toast on Nov. 12. The evening will celebrate Zeitgeist Arts and the launch of its three new entities dedicated to promoting cultural creativity and progressive arts in Duluth.
"Going forward we hope to be around for a long time," Eldred said. "We are hoping to capture the cultural spirit of our community and also contribute to its evolution, one that grows in its appreciation for the arts and creativity."