State legislators and their families were greeted by a much brighter State Capitol when they returned to St. Paul on Tuesday, a reopening that offered the public’s first glimpse at the historic building’s $310 million face-lift.
A taxpayer-funded overhaul of the Capitol, the landmark’s first complete renovation since opening in 1905, covered the exterior in scaffolding and a white wrap for more than two years.
By Tuesday, much of the cumbersome construction work had disappeared. A gleaming marble facade shone in its place.
Hourly tours from the Minnesota Historical Society shuffled visitors through the grand rotunda, offering an in-depth look at restored decorative artwork and original architectural features, along with new public gathering spaces.
The project, which aimed to bring the Capitol closer to its original appearance, hired a team of conservators to painstakingly clean and varnish 57 paintings, reviving the murals’ historic patterns and colors. A diverse collection of artwork was also added to better reflect Minnesota’s changing demographics.
“Every part of the building that you walk into is jaw-dropping,” said Matt Massman, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Administration. “Everybody in Minnesota will feel and see themselves in the Capitol in a way that they, perhaps, didn’t before.”
Crowds of schoolchildren and concerned citizens used to meet with legislators in corridors, Massman said. Now, designated visiting space and educational rooms offer a more comfortable option. About 40,000 square feet of public space — nearly double the amount before restoration began — will be available via reservation. The venues, including conference rooms, dining areas and a rotating gallery, can be booked online.
“It’s the people’s building,” Massman said. “People really expect to be close to and witness their government in action these days.”
Sections of the Capitol, designed by Cass Gilbert, were stripped of dingy carpet in favor of the century-old brown and white tile. In the Supreme Court chamber, a skylight was restored to allow natural light, and audio equipment was updated. Bathrooms, air conditioning and heat were modernized, while ramps and hand rails were added to make the building more accessible to those with disabilities.
Although construction is 95 percent completed, final repairs will continue through the summer. The state is planning a grand reopening Aug. 11-13 to celebrate the completed project, with activities for all ages.