By Janet Moore and Eric Roper

The Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission denied a permit to demolish the Star Tribune building in downtown Minneapolis Tuesday, leaving the decision in the hands of the City Council.

Minneapolis-based Ryan Cos. applied for a permit to tear down the newspaper building at 425 Portland Av. to make way for a park -- part of a $400 million mixed-use development proposed for the eastern edge of downtown. The project calls for two office towers, residential units, retail space and a parking ramp that would also be used for patrons of the nearby Vikings stadium. The five-block area is currently owned by the Star Tribune.

Bob Parr, Ryan's director of development, told the commission that the proposed park is a critical part of the development. "Without it, Ryan will not go forward," he said.

The ultimate decision on the demolition of the Star Tribune site rests with the Minneapolis City Council, which can overturn decisions of the preservation commission.

Redeveloping the existing Star Tribune building, parts of which date back to 1919, cannot be done in an economically viable manner, Parr said.

But several people stepped forward to support preserving the building. Todd Grover of Docomomo-Minnesota, a group dedicated to the study and protection of the architecture of the modern movement, said more study of the Star Tribune structure is needed. The building "is a remnant of a time in Minneapolis history that embraced modern, machine-age ideas and used architecture to express them," he wrote in a letter to the Commission.

But staff from the city's Department of Community Planning and Economic Development recommended that the demolition permit be approved. One condition of approval suggested by staff involved preserving the six stone medallions on the front of the building. The medallions, which depict the dominant industries of the upper Midwest, would then be displayed in the park with a plaque explaining the history of the site.

The original building was constructed in 1919 and 1920 by the Nonpartisan League, a populist movement that founded the Minnesota Daily Star. The building's fa├žade changed dramatically during the 1940s through the 1960s, reflecting Art Deco and mid-century modern elements. This occurred after the pioneering Cowles family purchased the Star in 1935. In subsequent years, several additions were added to accommodate the growth of the Cowles media empire.

Several members of the commission said a "designation study" is warranted to better document the building's history and architectural importance. Some suggested the building could be used as a hotel, a school or even a brew pub.

Commission member Alex Haecker wondered why there's such a rush to tear down the building. (City Council will consider approval of the Downtown East project on Dec. 13, and the purchase of the land from the Star Tribune is expected to occur on Dec. 27.)

"We've tied up [demolition] of small houses that had a significant dog living in it" longer, he said.

"Our job is to ensure that this building gets its due," said Commission member Linda Mack, a former Star Tribune reporter. "We may not be able to save it, but we can ensure it gets a decent burial."
After the meeting, Ryan's Parr said "we'll get our team together and assess our options."

Preservation group opposes Strib demolition

A local preservation group is asking the city not to demolish the Star Tribune's building on Portland Avenue ahead of a Tuesday night meeting on the topic.

In a letter to the heritage preservation commission, Preserve Minneapolis wrote that the building could be reused rather than torn down. The non-profit group is made up of architects, architectural historians and others in the development community.

Demolition would be necessary to make way for a two-block park that is planned for the site, adjacent to the new Vikings stadium. Last week, city staff recommended demolishing the building and incorporating six medallions from its facade into the new park.

The preservation group wrote that the building is "an excellent example of Art Moderne architecture and one of the few surviving historic buildings in the neighborhood." They added that many now-cherished structures in the city were once "written off as cumbersome relics of the past."

If the commission,a citizen board focused on historic buildings, denies the application permit, the decision would go to the city council's zoning and planning committee.

Here is the full letter:

Strib Preservation by eric_roper