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Fans, foes split over whether Minneapolis’ Peavey Plaza should be demolished

Peavey Plaza
MinnPost photo by Karen Boros
Lack of adequate electricity and the inaccessible landscape make the current plaza a difficult location for large events.

Peavey Plaza has been given a 180-day reprieve from the wrecking ball to give city planners time to study the possibility that the current design might have historic significance.

The action came last night following a public hearing before the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission when fans and foes of the current design were briefed on the condition of the plaza and had a chance to address the commissioners.

The city is seeking approval to move ahead with demolition of the current downtown plaza, an action that requires the approval of the Heritage Preservation Commission.

“Peavey Plaza is clearly deteriorated,” said Commissioner Kevin Kelley after hearing the testimony, “but our first question is: Is this a historic resource?  It clearly is.”

“I don’t have enough information,” said Commissioner Tammy Lindberg, who wanted more financial data before making a decision. “It is an accessibility nightmare,” she added.

Accessibility is one of many problems at the 40-year-old plaza.

Only one of the three pumps that service the fountains and pools is still functioning. Rusted and clogged pipes that carry the water are buried deep below the concrete, making repairs difficult. Access to electric power is limited, and the plaza drains storm water into the sanitary sewer, which is illegal.

“We have not been able to keep up,” said Mike Kennedy, of the city’s Public Works Department, who cited budget restrictions as the reason for deterioration of the plaza. And he had more bad news: “The pumps can’t be replaced, and there are no parts for them.”

Plans for a new Peavey Plaza were unveiled last fall. Changes include the addition of two waterfalls, water jets, a pergola along Nicollet Mall, a concession stand and bathrooms. The plaza would become more accessible and have adequate electrical service for events.

Plaza planning has been funded by $2 million from state bonds. Construction, estimated at $8 million to $10-million, would be paid for by private donations.

Peter Brown, a consultant to the city’s Community Planning and Economic Development Department, told the commission that the new plaza will allow the city to generate revenue from events and will be a more attractive event location for sponsors. Currently, the only revenue generated by the plaza comes from permit fees.

Lack of adequate electricity and the inaccessible landscape make the current plaza a difficult location for large events, according to Brown.

The new plaza is being designed by an area architecture firm headed by Thomas Oslund. The original plaza was designed by architect M. Paul Friedberg, who also designed the Loring Greenway. He was made a fellow in the American Society of landscape Architects not long after Peavey Plaza was completed.

“Peavey Plaza is eligible for the National Register,” architect Charles Brinbaum told the commission as he asked them to delay demolition for 180 days to allow further study of the historic role of the Freidberg design. “Peavey Plaza is the most significant work by Paul Friedberg in America,” he said.

“It wasn’t built for the architect — it was built for us,” said Ken Abdo, an entertainment attorney, who talked about the difficulties his clients have moving their equipment down the stairs for performances at the Plaza.

“I don’t think it rises to the iconic level,” said Abdo, “It’s broken, it’s just broken.”

Peavey Plaza redesign
oslund.and.assoc.The renovation itself will cost between $8 million and $10 million, with funding from private donations.

“Let’s embrace the history of Peavey Plaza,” said Graham Sones, past president of the American Society of Landscape Architects, who called the plaza “a modernist design statement.”

“I love Peavey Plaza,” said Becky Roloff, CEO of the YWCA, who says she can see the plaza from her office window across the street. “I just don’t think it works anymore.” 

Roloff said it is not unusual for her to see people falling on the stairs or tripping over electrical cords. “The hope I have is to have the space catch up with its use,” she said.

“The decision to destroy Peavey Plaza is unredeemable,” said Trish Block, who has formed a Save Peavey Plaza organization.  “Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever,” she added.

The commission voted to delay demolition of the plaza for at least 180 days to determine whether the plaza qualifies as a historic property. The city can come forward at any time during that time with a new proposal or with a request to reconsider the current demolition plan.

Two Cities blog, which covers Minneapolis and St. Paul City Halls, is made possible in part by grants from The Saint Paul Foundation and the Carolyn Foundation.

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Comments (2)

Excuses for demolition

If every historical resource that wasn't up to today's standards of electrical service and accessibility were demolished, there'd be nothing left. As Birnbaum has pointed out, it costs the same to renovate the existing plaza to repair the fountains (which deteriorated due to the City's neglect, not due to any deficiency in design), upgrade the electric, and make it fully accessible. There is no good excuse to demolish it, and the boring, characterless, corporate proposed replacement certainly isn't one.

The fountains

remind me of those at the Minnesota State Fair and elsewhere, which have had to be closed off from children at times in order to avoid the spread of disease. Perhaps not the best plan?