It has been a home to the Minneapolis Lakers, the National Guard, rock stars, wrestlers and pro bowlers.
Now the Armory in downtown Minneapolis may soon get yet another life.
The historic 1935 building at 5th Street and Portland Avenue S. is now a parking lot for downtown office workers — complete with broken windows and a leaky curved roof. But a $22 million plan is inching forward that would convert it into a multiuse space for concerts, galas and athletics.
The project would be a component of a larger revitalization of the eastern half of downtown, where construction is underway on a Minnesota Vikings stadium, a Wells Fargo corporate campus and two apartment buildings.
The armory’s owners plan to submit detailed plans for roof repairs to the National Park Service this week. If all goes according to plan, the repairs could begin in late summer, and the full renovation — including building a floor above what is now ground level — may be complete by next May. The Park Service approved initial plans last summer.
Doug Hoskin, managing member of Armory Development II, which owns the building, said the primary use of the renovated armory would be for live music. It could also be home to athletics and private events — such as car shows or square-dancing competitions — that may be too small for the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Armories were intended to serve both a military and a community function, Hoskin said, noting that only a few of them have been saved. “The restoration of the Minneapolis Armory falls in line with its intended use as a community facility,” Hoskin said.
The hangar-like structure was built partly with funds from the Public Works Administration, and its distinctive roof and prominent stone carvings have remained a downtown landmark. In the 1990s, it was nearly leveled to make way for a new county jail.
In his guide to Twin Cities architecture, historian Larry Millett said the armory is a significant example of Art Deco’s Moderne phase. “With its graceful curves and gently rounded edges, the building doesn’t quite convey the sense of jut-jawed militarism you’d expect from an armory, although it has an undeniably monumental presence,” he wrote.
Nate Kranz, general manager of First Avenue, said there’s demand for a medium-sized concert venue that — unlike theaters on Hennepin Avenue — does not require concertgoers to sit. “There’s a lot of bands that need a spot like that,” Kranz said. “So I think there would definitely be some business that would go in there.”
Hoskin said the venue would hold about 6,000 people. The closest comparable venue in the urban core is the Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul.
Veteran Minneapolis promoter Randy Levy booked The Police at the Armory and recalls poor sound and problems with loading access, bathrooms and concessions. “It’s never been designed to accommodate much more than Army vehicles,” Levy said. “If that were to change in a redesign, it would be obviously an attractive addition” to the roster of Twin Cities venues.