A few pleas for pleasing updates around town

  • Article by: BARBARAFLANAGANTHE FLANAGAN MEMO
  • Updated: April 1, 2012 - 3:22 PM

The Flanagan Memo: Re: Our town is being redone, rebuilt, renewed. So where do we begin? I won't even bring up the Vikings.

• • •

My list of things set for reconstruction and, sadly in some cases, redesign, is about 14 or 15 items long right now and growing. So what is first? How about good old Hennepin Avenue?

When I first wrote "Hennepin Av. needs work" in the year 1965, I had only hopes. Most are coming true. The theaters are back in action. There are great restaurants. Plus a grand new library and a not-so-great Block E. The street is expanding, stretching from the Mississippi River to Loring Park, the Minneapolis Sculpture Park, and Walker Art Center.

Tom Hoch, who heads the nonprofit Hennepin Theatre Trust, is involved with future planning and I applaud his group of devotees.

But if I nag a bit, forgive me. Here are some dos and don'ts:

• Do not destroy Augie's Cafe, a grand and gaudy taste of the past that continues to boom.

• Plant if you wish, but no metal trees, please. We stomped on that idea 30 years ago.

•At Loring Park, allow the splendid Friends of Loring Park to do their thing, which already has helped restore that park to civic glory.

• Find some money to help the park board with the Sculpture Garden. They claim to need about $8 million.

• And if any dough is left over, how about starting a lovely green vine, thick and shiny, to grow over Walker Art Center's unattractive stone addition to their red brick building. It would warm it up and make it fit into the neighborhood greenery.

• • •

As for the Nicollet Mall -- and Nicollet Avenue -- green is keen so plant away. However, it would be nifty to return those little buses that once roamed up and down the avenue all day long. More good street-side retail stores are needed, and a new Nicollet Hotel would be nice.

The main move our city officials and planners could make regarding Nicollet is to reopen the avenue at Lake Street. It has been blocked by a Kmart store ever since an earlier, money-mad City Council voted to close it. Nicollet, once our longest thoroughfare, deserves to be returned to normal.

And please don't write to complain that Kmart and its customers are losing a needed location. There are vacant lots all over town.

• • •

As for Peavey Plaza, I am among those old fogies who believe that Peavey would be dandy if it were properly tended. But our town doesn't seem do that too well. The park board does a good job on its properties, but somehow our dandy open space on Nicollet, designed by award-winning M. Paul Friedberg, can't be touched by anybody but the city.

So, now they are planning a redesign. Why? Friedberg's design is fine -- just put together a greenery team to keep it up. I don't know about you, but I like seeing ice skaters there in winter and waders in summer.

• • •

Now then, a couple of other pleas:

• Don't mess with our skyways, they are unique and a joy in winter. And they do not detract from the street. Why is it that people who did not create them always want to change them?

• The former Forum Cafeteria which has been many things, including Goodfellow's, an elegant restaurant owned by a Dayton, is empty again. It is an amazing Art Deco interior that deserves to be used and admired.

• Theaters including the old Loring on Nicollet and the Suburban World (originally the Grenada) in Uptown are closed. They shouldn't be. Meanwhile, the Uptown theater, my favorite of them all, is being spiffed up. Finally.

• • •

Yes, he was truly a "gentleman of the press." Really!

I am referring to my longtime boss, the late John Cowles Jr., who died last month of lung cancer.

About 50 or so years ago, we worked as reporters for this newspaper, he on the police beat and I as general assignment.

So, one cold and windy Sunday afternoon, I was told to go to a hotel fire and meet Cowles there. We met on an ice-covered street loaded with fire hoses. It looked almost impossible for walking. John then lifted his arm to me and said, "Shall we?" I was startled, but I took his arm and we marched and minced across the ice to the fire chief who complimented us on our footwork.

May I say it was the first and only time that any of the friendly gentlemen of the press ever assisted me on a job. For John, however, it was just the natural thing to do.

He was a nice guy and we will miss him.

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