Water walls, permanent bathrooms, a video screen and built-in performance space with seating for up to 1,500 people are all part of the vision of a new Peavey Plaza, unveiled Wednesday.

The iconic park bordered by Orchestra Hall and Nicollet Mall has been targeted by the city of Minneapolis for a makeover that coincides with the Minnesota Orchestra's plans to refurbish the hall's lobby and exterior.

"Minneapolis has always been a city of progressive design thinking," said Tom Oslund, the architect who presented drawings to more than 150 people at a public meeting at Orchestra Hall. "Peavey Plaza in its day reinforced that attitude and it had a reasonable run in the 40 years of its life."

However, Oslund said, the use of modern parks is "more sophisticated and complex today than when Peavey Plaza was conceived."

Not everyone at the meeting, nor among preservationists, agrees with Oslund's vision. The plan drew criticism recently for getting rid of too many of the signature elements in M. Paul Friedberg's 1974 design.

"I see no vestige of Friedberg in this design," said landscape architect Gina Bonsignore at Wednesday's open house. She and a dozen others signed a statement released Tuesday critical of the plan and its process.

Describing the plaza as "a beloved space in the city," Mayor R.T. Rybak told a midday news conference that "one of the sad realities of the space is that it did not welcome enough people in."

For one thing, the plaza doesn't comply with new requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, he said.

City Council Member Lisa Goodman, who represents the area, said the city's goals for the project include accessibility, safety and a design that is economically and environmentally sustainable.

Current estimates are that the reconstruction would cost between $8 million and $10 million, Goodman said. The state of Minnesota has contributed $2 million in bonding money. Private funding would provide the rest of the money, and an endowment would be established to help pay for operating costs.

There is no timetable for the plaza. The orchestra will break ground next June on its $45 million renovation of Orchestra Hall's lobby and exterior.

Retains several levels

Oslund's concept includes three levels for Peavey: A street-level promenade with trees, pergola and concession stand that is essentially an extension of Nicollet Mall. This also includes a sound garden. A shallow reflecting basin (4 feet below street level, compared to 10 feet now) would have fountains that can be switched off to make a performance space. At the 12th Street end of this level would be a video screen flanked by waterfalls. Three feet lower is a level that could be used for lawn bowling or other games.

Some preservationists claim the modifications "remove signature and defining elements" of Friedberg's design.

Meg Arnosti, a St. Paul landscape architect and a member of the project's Community Engagement Council, argued that "there are not as many intimate spaces and the design does not have the nooks and crannies that the current plaza offers." Arnosti also opposes the removal of the water sculpture at 12th and Nicollet.

Friedberg joins critics

Friedberg was invited to participate in the redesign along with Charles A. Birnbaum, a national authority on landscape architecture. However, both men have joined critics who -- separate from their concerns about the design -- feel the process was driven by the orchestra and the city, with inadequate transparency.

Goodman responded that the city solicited 500 comments from the public, and held three open houses (including Wednesday). Rybak defended the orchestra's participation on the project review committee.

"This is going to be the front door of the Minnesota Orchestra," he said. "It's important to recognize that open spaces are also about the buildings that sit next to them."

Arnosti said that her group feels the "best possible outcome would be to revisit the design."

The project now goes to the city's Community Development and Transportation and Public Works joint committee on Oct. 25. The full City Council will take up the plan on Nov. 4.

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299