The planned demolition of the Star Tribune building, a fixture in downtown Minneapolis for more than 90 years, moved a bit closer to reality on Monday.
The Minneapolis Zoning and Planning Committee voted to grant an appeal lodged by Minneapolis developer Ryan Cos., which plans to demolish the building at 425 Portland Av. to make way for a public park — part of its proposed $400 million mixed-use development near the new Vikings stadium.
The five-block area, now largely occupied by surface parking lots, is owned by the Star Tribune.
Ryan's request for a demolition permit was denied by the city's Heritage Preservation Commission last month, triggering the developer's appeal. The matter will now move to the full City Council this Friday for final approval.
Ryan's proposed development includes two office towers (reportedly for Wells Fargo & Co.), retail shops, residential units, a parking ramp and the park for property located on downtown's eastern flank.
Rick Collins, Ryan's vice president of development, said Monday that the Star Tribune building cannot be saved in an economically feasible manner for potential commercial use. The layout of the building, which has been enlarged and altered significantly over the decades, as well as "significant asbestos contamination," pose serious challenges for redevelopment, he said.
The original Star Tribune building dates to 1919, and for many years, the newspaper was printed on-site. A major addition in 1947 added the black granite and limestone facade that is evident today.
Ryan's feasibility study indicates that it would cost about $47 million to redevelop a portion of the building into offices. Subtracting about $10 million in state and federal historic tax credits, the project would cost about $37 million. In order to realize a viable return, rent of $22 per square foot would have to be charged to tenants — an amount typically paid by firms renting Class A skyway-connected office space in downtown buildings with "retail and service amenities," Collins said.
Michael Klingensmith, publisher and CEO of the Star Tribune, said the newspaper's building is less than half occupied and is "functionally obsolete" for a modern media company. The Star Tribune plans to move to leased quarters downtown sometime in the first half of 2015, and after that, the building will be demolished.
Tom Fisher, dean of the University of Minnesota's College of Design, said he supported demolition of the building, largely because it will make way for a much-needed city park. Inside the Star Tribune building "there's nothing left of historic significance," he said.
But Linda Mack, a Minneapolis resident and former Star Tribune reporter who serves on the Heritage Preservation Commission, noted that there are few examples of 1940s architecture remaining in downtown Minneapolis. The Star Tribune's building, which got its present facade during remodeling shortly after World War II, "is a pretty sound example of Art Moderne" architecture, she said.
She disputed a city report that indicated the Star Tribune building does not reflect the historic nature of the area, which was largely a milling district. "It's not an oddity," she said of the structure. "It defined the whole Downtown East area and represented newspapers in this city for 70 years."
The building is not listed on state or federal historic registries. However, city staff recommended demolition, but urged that the six medallions featured on the front of the building — which represent the state's major industries — be preserved.
The one dissenting vote on the committee was cast by Cam Gordon, who said demolition of the building is a "significant and painful decision" that requires more study to determine its historic significance.