For years it was one of the special places in Minneapolis, a piece of modernism to show off to our out-of-town guests, a park to seek solace amid the sound of crashing water or the backdrop of musical magic. Then Peavey Plaza began to crumble and die, and fixing it promised the inevitable collision of two issues — preservation and accessibility.

The first instinct of the city, Teardownapolis, was to blow up the plaza and start over, creating something new and gleaming and, as modern laws demand, accessible to everyone. Bad idea. Preservationists got Peavey on the National Register of Historic Places and sued to stop demolition. They won.

It has been five long years, but the city is now midway through the design phase of the renovation, working with its representatives as well as disability and preservation activists and just about everybody who has skin in the game. The second public meeting to discuss the plaza is Wednesday during Council Member Lisa Goodman’s “Lunch with Lisa” gathering.

“What I’m hearing from my constituents is people want to see change,” said Goodman. “Not change for the sake of change, but to make a space for everyone.”

Those involved are channeling the ghost of landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg, who built Peavey in 1975, to raise the “marvel of modernism” from the dead.

“I think there’s a lot of reason for optimism,” said Erin Hanafin Berg, of the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, a plaintiff in the lawsuit to stop demolition. “What we appreciate now is the city has gone through the process of understanding the site.”

Robin Ganser, a landscape architect with Coen+Partners, said the Peavey project brings unique challenges. They are trying to preserve the original vision of the plaza while increasing safety and visibility, bringing the infrastructure up to current standards and making it inviting to everyone.

“These are all competing interests,” said Ganser. “Our job is to find a place of commonality. We have to put ourselves in Friedberg’s eyes and ask, ‘If he were alive today, how would he do it?’ This is a rehabilitation project; it’s not preserving everything in a time capsule, it’s finding a feel” for the original design.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime project for our firm,” Ganser added.

“I really don’t see it as historical preservationists vs. disability people,” said David Fenley, ADA/access coordinator for the Minnesota State Council on Disability. “It’s kind of been a grind in general. But when we get engaged in a process, a solution gets discovered. It looks like the designers have come up with a lot of great ideas.”

Friedberg’s design was a “dominant horizontal” of concrete tiers descending to a reflecting basin, which made for stark, bold, modern architecture, but also created barriers for those who wanted to enjoy the space. Ganser said the Coen team, whose designs include the Central Library in Minneapolis and the State Capitol grounds, have experimented with many computer model redesigns that add ramps that would allow access to most levels of the plaza.

Some ramp designs are more traditional, and thus more visible, than others. One is a “ramp sequence that makes it mimic the way you move down the levels of the plaza,” Ganser said. “It’s not just about people in wheelchairs, it’s people getting older and parents with strollers.”

Water will remain an essential element of the plaza, Ganser said. That includes making sure it remains functional. Architects have modeled changes to the main basin, including changing the depth to make it both more accessible and usable for events.

Hanafin Berg said the rehabilitation still has a long way to go, including more input from the community and an eventual schematic design by the fall. The hope is to begin construction by this time next year.

“Nothing has been proposed that you can give a thumbs up or a thumbs down,” Hanafin Berg said. She said each small decision will in turn affect every other aspect of the design.

“It’s much harder to work with a historical site, that’s clear,” said Hanafin Berg. “I’m sure we’ll collectively land on something we are happy with. We know that, with some adaptations, it will be the Peavey Plaza everybody knows and loves.”

Lunch with Lisa will be held at noon Wednesday at the University of St. Thomas, 30 S. 10th St., Room 202.

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