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Tough city letter asks MOA to detail its 2014 Orchestra Hall plans

With the exception of a couple of college holiday concerts, the Hall has been largely silent because of the MOA’s lockout of the Minnesota Orchestra.

The MOA’s scheduling plans for the refurbished Orchestra Hall are required under terms of a complex lease the MOA signed off on with the city in order to receive $14 million in state funds, which were used as part of a major renovation of the Hall.
MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson

Minneapolis officials have found a recent Minnesota Orchestral Association report a few notes shy of a symphony.

Earlier this month, the city sent a letter to Michael Henson, chief executive of the MOA, seeking more information [PDF] about what type of scheduling plans the organization has in the event of a continued lockout.

The MOA’s scheduling plans for the refurbished Orchestra Hall are required under terms of a complex lease the MOA signed off on with the city in order to receive $14 million in state funds, which were used as part of a major renovation of the Hall.

It’s hard to know the full intent of the letter from the city’s Planning & Economic Development department. Is the letter a sincere effort to receive required information, or is it a prod for the MOA to end the lockout of the musicians, a lockout that now is approaching 15 months?

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Certainly, the city’s expectation of a response from the MOA by Friday seems a little surly given the fact that the city didn’t send out its letter until Dec. 6. But surliness may be understandable, given that the empty Hall creates little vitality in the heart of the city. 

With the exception of a couple of college holiday concerts, the Hall has been largely silent because of the MOA’s lockout of the Minnesota Orchestra.

There are at least some musician supporters who believe — or at least hope — that if the MOA can’t live up to the terms of the lease with the city, it could lose control of Orchestra Hall. That would be helpful to musicians if they eventually split from the MOA and form a new organization.

But it should be noted that musicians continually have said that “our first priority’’ is to resolve the labor dispute with the MOA, which controls a substantial endowment.  Musicians have made that desire clear even as they’ve scheduled a series of winter and spring concerts that will be performed throughout the region.

In its letter, the city asks that the MOA’s report “fully cover the major activities at the Hall for the MOA’s current fiscal year, which ends September, 2014.’’

The MOA’s initial report to the city was vague at best as to what events would be held at the Hall, presuming the lockout continues.

The city wants specifics.

“Please provide us with a program schedule that lists all of the non-Orchestra events, including those that already have occurred and those that are planned or in the works, with dates and names of performers.’’

This could be difficult for the MOA. Most U.S. professional entertainers and symphony orchestras will not perform at the Hall as long as Minnesota Orchestra musicians are locked out.

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The relationship between the city and the MOA came about because of the MOA’s desire for public (state) money in support of the renovation of the Hall.

The MOA is the underlying owner of the land and the Hall, but the type of grant the MOA received from the state needed to go to a public entity (Minneapolis) with an ownership interest in  the property. So the city got the money and passed it to the MOA, which then leased the Hall property to the city for 50 years with the MOA holding on to the ownership of the property.

That was only part of the deal. Then, the city leased the property back to the MOA “under terms that reflect the requirements imposed on the city by the state.’’ Among those terms is that the MOA operate a performing arts center that serves a public benefit.

All of this emphasizes again why lawyers have replaced musicians as the main performers around Orchestra Hall.