Heritage Preservation Commission torpedoes Peavey Plaza plan

  • Article by: MAYA RAO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 18, 2012 - 11:11 PM

Heritage Preservation Commission's thumbs down on demolition could be overturned by the City Council.

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The question is whether the plaza is a historic structure worthy of preservation or an under-used, costly-to-maintain space in need of replacement.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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Peavey Plaza has escaped a wrecking crew -- for now.

Six months after the City Council approved an overhaul of the downtown Minneapolis park, the city's Heritage Preservation Commission voted 8-1 to deny the city's request to demolish it. The action was a victory for historic preservation advocates and others who want to save the Modernist-style plaza designed in the 1970s by architect M. Paul Friedberg.

But the vote will be moot if the city's economic development team successfully appeals the decision to the City Council, which last fall approved a design intended to revive what some see as an obsolete and under-used space.

Beth Grosen, the city's senior project coordinator, said Wednesday that her staff is exploring an appeal by the 10-day deadline.

"We believe this is a good design, and it involves removing what's there and building a better plaza," she said.

The city contends Peavey Plaza is costly to maintain, and its elaborate fountain is broken. The city's demolition application noted that maintenance ranged from $176,000 to $284,000 annually between 2004 and 2011.

Construction on the new plaza design is planned for summer 2013. The state will fund $2 million of the $10 million estimated cost, while the rest is to come from private sources.

Renovating the plaza is projected to cost $8.7 million.

"I think people will support the new plan for Peavey Plaza," said City Council President Barbara Johnson. The plaza is in disrepair and "doesn't make the most of what is a really big public space," she said.

But opponents say the plaza is a landmark the city will regret losing. The majority of the 19 people who testified at the Heritage Preservation Commission's meeting Tuesday urged the commission to stop the demolition.

Charles Birnbaum, president of the Washington-based Cultural Landscape Foundation, questioned the logic of building a new plaza at greater expense than repairing the existing plaza.

"The decision to destroy Peavey Plaza is irredeemable -- once this treasure is gone, it is gone forever," said Trish Brock, founder of the group Save Peavey Plaza.

But lawyer Kenneth Abdo told the commission he had been excited to hear about improvements to the plaza. "I don't think it rises to that iconic level in our city," he said.

The commission voted to adopt several findings included in the city's application, including that demolition is not needed to correct unsafe conditions and that the plaza is a "historic resource" and eligible for city landmark status. The commission directed city planning staff to study whether the property should be designated as historic, a process that could take as a long as a year, said senior city planner Aaron Hanauer.

That designation could shield the plaza from future redesign efforts.

Maya Rao • 612-673-4210

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  • Annual maintenance costs for Peavey Plaza ranged from $176,000 to $284,000 between 2004 and 2011. Renovating the plaza is projected to cost $8.7 million.

  • THE PLAN: Minneapolis wants to redesign Peavey Plaza, the downtown Modernist-style park designed in the 1970s by New York architect M. Paul Friedberg that city leaders say has become obsolete and expensive to maintain.

    THE LATEST DEVELOPMENT: The Heritage Preservation Commission, an advisory board to the City Council, voted Tuesday to deny the city's request to demolish the plaza.

    WHAT'S NEXT: The commission directed city planning staff to study whether the plaza should be designated as historic, which could protect it from demolition. During that review period, the city can come back before the commission with a new plan. The city also has 10 days to appeal the commission's decision to the City Council.

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