Above: The Armory in 2015 (Bruce Bisping)
Minneapolis leaders are seeking to reestablish historic protections for the downtown Armory as the building’s new owner revs up an overhaul of the space into an event center.
A judge tossed the city’s historic designation of the building nearly 30 years ago on procedural grounds, leaving the 81-year-old building unprotected from major alterations. That changed this week when the city’s preservation board granted interim protections to the property, pending further study for landmark status.
The building is in the midst of a transformation from a parking garage into an event space, led by its new owner Ned Abdul of Swervo Development. Work so far has included repairing the roof and window sashes, as well as demolishing most of the interior bleachers.
The city’s architectural historian, John Smoley, said Abdul was working with the city to ensure the building was restored in a way that preserved its “historical character.” But renderings of some large additions on the outside of the building raised eyebrows.
“He proposed some additions that seemed very concerning to staff members here at our end,” Smoley said. “We were concerned that the additions would damage the property’s ability to communicate its historical significance – the additions were so sizeable.”
Above: A rendering of a banquet hall in the armory (Shea Architects)
The interim protections mean that major alterations to the building will have to win approval from the city’s preservation board, subject to a vote of the City Council.
Except in rare circumstances, historic designations generally protect building exteriors.
But in his nomination, the city's development chief Craig Taylor also highlighted two interior WPA-era murals (right), which Abdul said they are preserving. It remains unclear if protections would hinder plans for the building interior.
"I don’t think there’s anything really historic left on the inside of the building that hasn’t already been ruined with all the weather and so on," Abdul said. "Other than the murals, which we’re intending to try to salvage and protect.”
The building was the subject of a major preservation fight in the 1980s and 1990s, when Hennepin County sought to demolish it to build a new jail. They successfully fought the city's 1985 designation, which was overturned for several reasons having to do with the building's ownership by the state.
Above: A slideshow of events that have taken place in the Armory.
But demolition was ultimately blocked by the Minnesota Supreme Court under the state's environmental protection law, since there were other feasible sites for the jail. It then became a parking lot.
Abdul said the move to establish landmark status for the building “throws a wrench” into the plans.
“Hopefully it doesn’t kill the project. We’d love to see this thing on to its next life,” Abdul said. “But if the city isn’t amenable and folks aren’t amenable, we will finish our exterior stabilization on the building and the thing will continue on with its former use as parking, which would be disappointing. We hope that’s not the case.”