On the front of the Star Tribune World HQ, there’s a granite block that says 1947. Behind it: a time capsule.
If you told the people who stored it away that it would be opened in 2014, they’d probably imagine men in jumpsuits using an atomic disintegrator gun to blast open the stone. Which is silly. Guns are prohibited on the premises.
They might ask why the building’s going down — what for? A silvery tower that will pierce the roof of heaven, and have a zeppelin-transfer station at the top of its cloud-swept roof?
Er, no. A park.
Oh, so it’s falling down. Was it damaged in the war? I knew the Reds would hit us sooner or later.
No, it’s fine. Still a solid block that stands at the edge of downtown like a sheer cliff, a plain monument to civic gravitas.
Then I don’t understand.
Neither, to be honest, do I.
But: We absolutely have to tear it down to build the park. This is a reversal of the usual order of things, where parks are turned into buildings. Apparently, if the park isn’t two blocks big, no one will use it. Dude! There’ll be like Frisbees everywhere! It won’t be safe.
I think the entire redevelopment idea is spiffy. If they built just a stadium, it wouldn’t revitalize the area. I know that’s crazy talk, but somewhere downtown there has to be an example of a big sports facility that did bupkis for the surrounding area; the name escapes me at the moment. But add a big office complex, some housing, a park and presto: It’s no longer the cold empty shank of downtown. It’ll be utterly transformed!
And that’s the problem. Not everything needs to be utterly transformed when improvement will suffice. The area was already transformed, utterly, when blocks of old commercial and industrial buildings were erased for vast seas of asphalt. You get no sense of the history of the area today — if anything, you suspect it was haunted burial ground on which no one dared build anything.
The proposed designs for the new Wells Fargo towers are sober and cautious, and I say that with great relief. They’re not flamboyant monstrosities that will look dated in a few years. (If many of our recent famous buildings were shirts, they’d be in Ragstock in 2019.) The hues may change, but as far as I can tell from the renderings I’ve seen, the colors echo the stone-and-black-brick palette of the Strib HQ, as if they’re blowing taps to a fallen comrade. Whom they had shot.
Anyway, we must demolish the structure so a theoretical cohort of people at one end of the park can behold the new stadium in all its icy glory. I understand that. The view of the future usually requires the obstacles of the past to be eliminated. But you could lop off two stories from the east wing and return it to its 1947 profile; surely the new stadium would still loom commandingly over its domain.
But what to do with the remainder? Hey, it’s been a while since we built a Destination Shopping Place downtown with movie theaters, a T. J. McDrinkery’s Sports Bar and so forth. Hey: A newspaper-themed restaurant, where the server never says “excellent choice” when you order because that wouldn’t be objective, and your meal is spread out over a month of Sunday nights as a four-part series! By every table there are some bushes, and the server throws your check into them instead of placing it on the table.
Maybe not. Or: A boutique hotel! Maybe not. A paintball arena! No. The problem is those enormous words set in stone. STAR AND TRIBUNE. That’s what the building is supposed to be. It’s rather clear on the matter.
I made my peace with the building’s demise the day they started talking about a Metrodome replacement. Everything about the new stadium has had an air of inevitability, the obstacles mere saplings in the path of an implacable glacier.
Perhaps that colors one’s view, but I’ve felt the Strib HQ sag as the years go on. Buildings have souls, in a strange way. You enter a refurbished space from the 18th century, and you feel as if its soul was frozen; a European building from the 1600s can feel alive and ageless. A 1970s office building can feel like it has the spirit of a middle-aged man with thinning hair and a brown polyester tie, behind on child support.
Not to be the Building Whisperer here, but believe me: The Star and Tribune building is tired.
So what’s in the time capsule? Let’s save that for another day. A hard one. Years hence everyone who remembered it will be gone, but people in the park will look at the medallions rescued from the Star Tribune building’s facade and installed with memorial plaques. The cow, the wheat, the gears. They’ll be able to touch the artifacts, something no one could do when they loomed down from above.
That’s not enough. When it comes to saving history, it’s never enough. But it’ll be something.