Stadium gives Minneapolis Armory time to shine

  • Article by: ERIC ROPER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 6, 2012 - 6:44 AM

Owner of the historic building syncs his plans for $16M in renovations with new Vikings stadium nearby.

Beneath the curved roof of the Minneapolis Armory downtown, a sea of cars now occupies the space where National Guard troops once drilled, the Lakers played their final seasons in Minnesota and Prince filmed the video for his hit "1999."

After 12 years of using the Depression-era historic building as a parking lot, owner Doug Hoskin is sketching out a $16 million renovation that would transform it into a versatile event space for amateur athletics, galas and concerts, among other things. It's the third time he has felt close to finding a new use for the Armory, but he said he thinks newly available state historic tax credits will finally make it possible.

"I thought redevelopment would occur a lot sooner than today, that's for sure," Hoskin said Tuesday during a tour of the building.

His plan coincides with last month's approval of the new $1 billion Vikings stadium on the site of the nearby Metrodome, which is expected to boost development in the area. Hoskin said he's been planning this project for a year, and "the news the stadium [is] going on the current Dome location is certainly good for the Armory."

Built in 1935 partly using funds from the federal Public Works Administration, the Armory, at S. 5th Street and Portland Avenue S., is like a hangar, vast and hollow. The walls are lined with elevated concrete bleachers, and massive rusting ribs support the iconic curved roof.

The National Guard used it for drills and storage before moving out completely in 1986. It was a temporary home to the Minneapolis Lakers, showcasing some of its biggest stars before the team moved to Los Angeles. Prince used it as a backdrop for the video for his 1982 hit "1999," and Aerosmith did the same for 1998's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing."

Hoskin said it will cost upwards of $5 million just to repair the existing building. He then plans to create an entirely new floor on what is now the second level, which will feature 58,000 square feet of interchangeable space. Portable seating will allow it to house soccer, lacrosse or basketball one day, and a gala the next.

"I'm just trying to design it as a multi-purpose venue that would be very raw and its own space," Hoskin said. "We would have kitchen facilities, concession facilities and restrooms. But that would really be about the only other thing in the space."

Hoskin also hopes an adjacent portion of the building off S. 6th Street, known as the "head house," can be converted into office space.

He said there have been as many as 30 development ideas over the years, including offices, a grocery store and a brewery. Hennepin County bought it in 1990 with hopes to raze it and build a new jail, but the Minnesota Supreme Court protected it in a 1993 ruling.

Game day

As Minneapolis fought for a new stadium at the Legislature last year, Mayor R.T. Rybak announced that the Armory could be turned into a Vikings party zone. Sketches showed Vikings banners hanging above hordes of fans milling about the arena.

Hoskin said Tuesday that whether that happens on game days is up to the Vikings, adding that "I'd certainly be interested in talking with them."

Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said in an e-mail that the team is awaiting the appointment of the new Stadium Authority before considering "broader development and game day opportunities like the Armory."

Rybak would still like to see the plan come to fruition, but hopes a renovated Armory will create a centerpiece of what he considers the "Armory District." As for the Armory's years as a parking lot, Rybak believes some historic buildings simply need to "ripen" until the appropriate moment.

"The ability to park cars in there without damaging the structure really allowed it to be held -- almost mothballed -- until the time was right," Rybak said. "That time is now."

Hoskin cautioned that even if the tax credits are approved, which is not assured, the project "still has a lot of hurdles to get through."

Gems among the debris

Despite its auspicious origins, the back halls of the Armory are now dark and musty. Dead pigeons can be found lying amid the dirt of the bleachers.

But ornamental gems are never far from sight, such as two ornate murals painted in what was once a trophy room. Painted by members of the Federal Artists Project, one depicts a woman who personifies Minnesota, sifting flour through her fingers. The other depicts the history of the National Guard in Minnesota.

Larry Millett, a local architectural historian, said the Armory is a major American example of "Streamline Moderne" style.

"I consider it to be a major Twin Cities building, for sure," Millett said. "There isn't really anything quite like it from its period."

Eric Roper • 612-673-1732 Twitter: @StribRoper

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