I had the chance to talk with Linda Mack after today’s Peavey Plaza press conference at Orchestra Hall. Mack is a former Star Tribune architecture critic who served on the selection committee to choose an architect for the orchestra’s hall project. She is also an unpaid communications adviser to Oslund and Associates, the landscape architects who came up with the design.

Mack, who admitted she is an advocate for the plan, said she was both "relieved and excited" by the new Peavey design.

"It keeps the bones of the place we know as Peavey Plaza but brings it back from a moribund state."

She felt the design connects better to the street and would bring people in from Nicollet Mall. It also brings more green into the space as an urban element. 

One issue going forward (should this design clear all its hurdles) will be the operating costs of the new Peavey. An oft-repeated theme is that Peavey is going to have to work harder, as a performance and event space. That implies not only an ongoing maintenance budget, but an operating fund fueled both by income and donations. Landscape architect Tom Oslund, whose firm did the redesign, mentioned after the press conference that signature parks can figure on operating costs of about 8 to 10 percent of the total project — which in this case is $8 to $10 million.

The city of Minneapolis chips in about $250,000 a year to maintain the space now. That wouldn’t change, so a separate nonprofit would need to be created not only to create an endowment and raise funds but the manage the plaza.

Oslund also said Wednesday that materials for the project — again, assuming it goes forward with minimal modification — are still being investigated. Poured concrete — a key part of the current plaza — has gone out of vogue. Oslund said he is thinking that the design would reflect some of the materials used in the Orchestra Hall project. Also on the palette are natural materials are natural materials such as granite and wood and precast pavers.

There is still considerable sturm and drang among a group of about 40 people who call themselves supporters of Peavey Plaza. Where Mack sees a redesign that respects the bones of the place, this group of preservationists sees "an option that removes the signature and defining elements."

But what’s more galling to these folks is a process that they say has shut down other options and kept a shroud around the process. "The project has $2 million in state funding, so the public should be given a greater role in determining the Plaza’s future," they say in a statement released earlier this week. In a phone call this morning, Meg Arnosti said the group hopes to get on the public record with questions about the design and perhaps influence some change. After today’s public hearing, there are two more hurdles to clear: the community development and transportation and public works joint committee on Oct. 25 and the city council on Nov. 4.

Stay tuned.

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