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Hopkins Depot supporters look for clarity about the future of the beloved hangout



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The future is murky for the Hopkins Depot coffee house, youth space and all-ages music venue.

The coffee shop will close after April 2 — that much is for sure.

City staff said they plan to temporarily close the building, pause events and re-evaluate what the Depot should be, until they can figure out how to handle a budget deficit. For people who worked hard to make the Depot a place where generations of teenagers have found community, there’s a worry it will mean the end of the Depot as they knew it.

Matt Nelson, who helped found the Depot when he was in high school in the 1990s, said the budget deficit is minor compared to what the Depot has done for youth over the years.

Over the past 10 years, according to the city, it has cost between $228,000 and $384,000 to run the depot, with revenue ranging from a high of $386,000 in 2016 to a low of $183,000 in 2021.

“If you compare what it costs to run the place, versus what the community gets out of the place there’s no comparison,” Nelson said. “The return-on-investment is immeasurable.”

Hundreds of people who went to the Depot as teenagers, or took their children there, have signed an online petition calling for some solution to keep the Depot open and vibrant. Hopkins city and school staff are adamant youth-led programs will continue, although it is not clear what that will look like. City officials say there are thorny money and governance issues to work through.

The pandemic and Green Line construction meant years of diminished traffic at the Depot. Over the winter, the Depot reduced hours to two evenings a week, cutting its long-running Tuesday open mic nights.

A further complication, said Assistant City Manager Ari Lenz, is that the Depot is co-administered and co-funded by the cities of Hopkins and Minnetonka, the Hopkins school district and the Three Rivers Park District, and it is not clear which body should account. for the deficit in its budget. The current year’s deficit is $81,000, with a deficit of $216,000 accruing since the Depot opened.

Officials from the four partner organizations pointed at each other.

“I’m exceptionally disappointed that our partners in this project abandoned the Depot,” said Hopkins City Council Member Alan Beck. A Minnetonka city spokesperson said the city of Hopkins takes the lead in Depot decision-making.

Longtime manager John Guertin has submitted his resignation, effective April 30. Others who worked at the depot said they saw him taking on more responsibility over the years without being allowed to hire help, and Hopkins has decided against replacing him. Another city employee is expected to work with the Depot’s youth board to keep organizing substance-free events, but it was not clear how much that person would be working on the Depot, particularly for booking bands and running performances.

The Depot’s music venue, rebranded as the Freight Room in 2020, has nurtured generations of young artists in the Twin Cities.

“There weren’t very many other places where you could get a gig or a stage for your 14-year-old band,” said Andy Meyer, who performed at the Depot with his high school bands in the 2010s. It wasn’t like playing at school or in the corner of a coffee shop — there was a real sound system and a real audience that wanted to see music.

“This is a safe place for people to go without much prerequisite,” Meyer said. “You can just show up and practice your craft here.”

Matt McFarlane, director of the Performing Institute of Minnesota Arts High School, saw dozens of students perform at the Depot over the years.

“For those music kids it was a very important space to learn and grow,” he said.

The importance of a place to connect offline has become increasingly important over the past 25 years, McFarlane said.

“Kids need places they can go now more than ever, even though they spend so much time on their phones,” McFarlane said. Watching and performing live music slows things down, and can help foster real connections.

Nelson hoped officials would place faith in the youth board to help lead the Depot out of the deficit — just as officialdom let teenagers take the lead in creating the Depot 25 years ago.

“If young people can come into the Depot not feeling accepted and not being their authentic selves, and leave there being leaders in their communities, we can solve this budget deficit.”

Hopkins Depot supporters look for clarity about the future of the beloved hangout

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