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Council members like Peavey Plaza redesign plan, but public testimony split

Architect Thomas Oslund's design for Peavey Plaza
Architect Thomas Oslund’s design for Peavey Plaza

Peavey Plaza’s redesign plan got a positive reaction Tuesday from members of two Minneapolis City Council committees. But that mood of acceptance was not embraced by everyone in the room.

Most of the complaints about the new design came from those who would rather see the 1974 design by architect M. Paul Friedberg restored, rather than replaced.

Thomas Oslund, the architect of the new proposal, noted that his plan includes waterfalls and fountains in a nod to the water elements of the original plan. Oslund’s plaza design, like the original, also steps down from street level but not as much. It also makes more use of the street-level area along Nicollet Mall.

Everyone, though, seems to agree on is that the current plaza needs to be repaired.

The concrete is crumbling, and two of the three the pumps that moved 120,000 gallons of water through the fountains are broken and cannot be repaired.

The current design, which predates the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act, is not accessible to everyone. There is one ramp but it is too steep to comply with ADA requirements.

“This is not small surgery,” Oslund told the council committees.

The cost of restoring the plaza to its 1974 design would be $11 million to $12 million. The budget for the new design is $8 million to $10 million. Most of that money will come from private donations. 

Oslund said he asked Friedberg to participate in the redesign or restoration of the plaza but the original architect told him he was interested only in restoration of his original design.

Others share that view.

“This is a key work of modernism with national recognition,” Meg Arnosti, an architect and opponent of the new design, told council members. She believes that the problems with the current plaza could be repaired. Arnosti also said that “many people feel left out” of the planning process.

“Fifty years from now, people will regret the demise of Peavey Plaza,” said Erin Hanafin Berg of the Preservation Alliance, who also said the process of selecting a design was not as open as it should have been.

Others, however, favor the plaza changes.

“It’s cut off from the street, and the basin is dead space most of the time,” said Linda Mack, formerly a longtime architecture writer for the Star Tribune, who favors the new design. Mack also is a member of the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission but said she was not speaking for the commission.

During the last 40 years, she said, a lot has been learned about successful public spaces, and those lessons need to be applied to Peavey Plaza. 

Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy, too, favors the new design. “I understand if you absolutely love a space, it’s hard to let go,” she said after hearing public testimony. She said she wanted a design that will draw people into the plaza and believes this one will.

This is not the end of the discussion, with more meetings and public hearings in the months ahead. 

The two committees, however, approved the design without dissent, allowing planning work to continue as proposed.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Diane Hellekson on 11/07/2011 - 07:54 pm.

    Story oversimplified, as were the design choices presented during recent hearings. Those of us who decried the “public” process and the lack of respect for Friedberg’s masterpiece never said “Only Restore”; we advocated exploring an honest middle ground that would keep the signature elements while updating accessibility, etc. Orchestra Hall and the city drew a false dichotomy (restore or redesign), and so the redesign is moving ahead, with a cursory nod to the original. Meanwhile, the city negotiates leasing agreements with the Orchestra, moving Peavey ever-so-subtly out of the public sphere, as it has been going all season.

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