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What’s old is new: A Block E park

Eleven years ago, dreamers proposed greenscape where a doomed, labyrinthine entertainment graveyard now stands. Is it time to undo our civic mistake?
By David Brauer

Bellanotte’s closing already has some people dreaming about tearing down moribund Block E and “starting over.”

Back in the day, I covered the Block E saga before the sad, doomed labyrinth was even a gleam in its architect’s eye. While Minneapolis politicos, led by Council President Jackie Cherryhomes, relentlessly pushed for our generation’s version of The Conservatory, there were a few brave souls who had a longer-term vision that looks mighty sharp today.

This 1998 piece I did for City Pages lays out the most attractive dreamscape: a Block E park.

Had it happened, we never would’ve moved the Shubert, never erected excess retail and had a fabulous tree-lined “town square” for downtown workers and shopping. They would’ve shown movies on the back of the Shub, and imagine the sylvan linkage between the park and Target Field.

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The nifty thing about the plan is that it won the endorsement of city finance director John Moir, who was about the only one trying to grasp the reins during the Cherryhomes/Sayles Belton years. (Note Moir’s skepticism over the then-$26 million Shubert plan; the still-unrenovated palace costs $41 million now.) Underground parking would’ve paid for land development, and surrounding-block development would’ve spun off added property taxes, much like lakes and lakefront property do.

I don’t know if this dreamscape would’ve survived further vetting, since Cherryhomes’ headlong push for a civic monument (now tombstone) proved impossible to brake. Three years after I wrote this, Minneapolis voters ejected Cherryhomes, Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton and others for their developer-crazed ways.

Could we go back and undo our wrong turn, with the Graves 601 hotel subbing for the Shubert? After all, the underground parking is already built — and we know downtown is overbuilt. There’s little doubt America must trash countless bubble-fueled developments. The best alternative is building nothing (after all, housing, office and retail markets are all overbuilt), but most sites don’t lend themselves to parks. Block E does.

There are countless obstacles, of course: buying out the developer, renegotiating a handful of leases, figuring out if financing is a bigger folly than what we now have. But I’d encourage the smart folks to at least do the legwork. Sometimes, dreams are more practical than reality.