Guthrie riverfront plan underway with city approval

by Mike Oakes

The Guthrie Theater has cleared its first hurdle in a redevelopment plan that aims to build a state-of-the-art theater complex on the Mississippi River near downtown.
Four city council committees on Monday unanimously approved the Guthrie proposal, authorizing a letter of intent between the city, the Minneapolis Community Development Agency and the Guthrie.
The approval followed a presentation by Guthrie and MCDA officials outlining project plans and addressing issues such as parking and financing.
“What we are doing here today is taking the first step in putting a premier theater on the riverfront,” said council member Joe Biernat. “This is just such a much better location.”
The Guthrie is expected to select an architect for the $100 million project this spring.
Construction is tentatively set to begin in mid-2002, although MCDA officials have given the Guthrie until 2004 to purchase the riverfront property and 2005 to begin construction.
The Guthrie plans to build on two parcels of MCDA land valued at $3 million. The land is in the historic district between West River Parkway and Second Street downtown.
The parcels are also part of the Mississippi River Critical Area Corridor.
Guthrie officials had expressed an interest in closing the land deal this year to avoid any inflationary increases, but the MCDA said it wouldn’t sell until project plans neared completion.
The MCDA will, however, collect revenue on parking lots at the site for one year to be used toward the Guthrie’s land purchase.
The proposal includes 1000 public parking spaces. Five hundred spaces will be underneath the Guthrie and 500 will be above ground.
A nearby 150-space above-ground lot will be used tentatively for Guthrie employee parking.
Guthrie officials said they were not sure if that lot would eventually see public use, or whether it would strictly be employee parking.
Council member Lisa Goodman said she was concerned that publicly-funded above-ground parking is a concept the city is trying to move away from.
The state has already set aside $3 million in funding for the project, and the city will provide infrastructure funding valued at about $25 million.
Guthrie officials said they plan to ask the state for an additional $25 million during the next legislative session.
The new theater will house thrust and proscenium stages and a studio space for young performers to practice, said Joe Dowling, artistic director for the Guthrie.
The Guthrie as it stands today contains one thrust stage, which, Dowling said, makes the Guthrie the best place in the country to see Shakespearean plays.
He said that because the thrust is designed to accommodate large-scale plays, it is important to implement it in the project.
However, Dowling said, the present Guthrie doesn’t accommodate for contemporary-style plays because it doesn’t have a proscenium stage.
Under the new project design, the theater will engage contemporary writers and bring in more guests.
Plans for the theater also include seminars and educational programs to benefit youth, two aspects the Guthrie lacks today.
More than 400,000 people visited the Guthrie in 2000, including over 110,000 students.
Dowling said with the new design he expects visitorship to increase substantially, and he called the proposed Guthrie an “iconic destination point.”
Plans for a new Guthrie Theater have been in the making for years, but the riverfront site was only added last year.

Mike Oakes covers Minneapolis City Hall and welcomes comments at [email protected]