Intended as an urban oasis, Peavey Plaza has not aged well since 1975, when it opened next to Orchestra Hall at the south end of Nicollet Mall. The brassy tubular fountains and water cascades are dry, as is the pool on which ice skaters once glided in winter. Railroad-tie seats, concrete pavers and "No Skateboarding" signs disfigure the terraces. Plantings are overgrown or indifferently pruned.

As the Minnesota Orchestra prepares for a $45 million hall renovation and expansion in 2012, the plaza's future is in play too.

The city of Minneapolis, which owns and maintains the plaza, picked four Minneapolis landscape firms as finalists to revitalize the site. The firms will discuss their strategies in public interviews Tuesday at the Minneapolis Convention Center. A winner will be chosen, possibly by the end of the week, by city officials and representatives from the orchestra and community. The landscape firms will not present redesign sketches or models Tuesday, but their previous work hints at possible approaches.

The plaza renovation is expected to cost between $5 million and $6 million, of which the state of Minnesota has provided $2 million in bonding money. The rest of the funds will come from private sources.

"The first thing you want to do is appoint the landscape architects, get some design work done, and then get people excited about the potential of what can be possible," said Michael Henson, the orchestra's president and CEO.

Competitors will have to address maintenance issues that have bedeviled M. Paul Friedberg's 1975 design, which features a sunken reflecting pool surrounded by terraces, patios and steps to Nicollet Mall. Safety, access, operational costs, winter plans and future uses must be addressed. The plaza's historic status as an exemplar of modernism is also a factor. The Preservation Alliance recently listed the site as an "endangered property," and some fans have urged that it be restored to its original design.

Damon Farber Associates, a finalist, proposes to enlist Friedberg's firm in planning the renovation. They do not envision a plaza restoration, however. "Times change; needs change," their proposal states. "It's about reassessing and re-designing this space to make it aesthetically exciting, pragmatically functional, and visually and physically accessible." Farber designed the campus that ties a new wing of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to Children's Theater and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

The other finalists are:

Close Landscape Architecture, which proposes to retain some "character-defining features" of the plaza while updating it. Previous Close projects include pro bono consulting on Peavey's historic significance and work for the Minneapolis and St. Paul park boards.

Coen + Partners, which specializes in spare, modernist designs using native grasses and plants. The Coen firm surrounded Minneapolis' Central Library with birch trees and slabs of Minnesota stone. It also designed a plaza on Nicollet Mall for Xcel Energy and a courtyard for Westminister Presbyterian Church just south of Peavey Plaza on 12th Street.

Oslund and Associates, which prides itself on "sculpting open space into an artful form." Its Twin Cities credits include Target Plaza at the new Twins ballpark, the mound-centered Gold Medal Park near the Guthrie Theater, a master plan for General Mills headquarters, and a new Remembrance Garden commemorating the I-35W bridge collapse.

The orchestra has raised $88 million in a $100 million campaign to renovate and expand its lobby, strengthen its endowment and fund artistic and educational programs. Costs of the Peavey Plaza renovation are not included in that campaign.

Mary Abbe • 612-673-4431