City Council votes to demolish Guthrie

Shira Kantor

Despite what has grown into an international debate, the Minneapolis City Council voted Friday to tear down the Guthrie Theater.

But the question has evolved; it is no longer an issue of whether the theater should be demolished. Instead, council members and activists grapple with the legitimacy of the 8-3 vote, which was made based largely on information provided by the Walker Arts Center. The Walker, which has other development plans, wants to see the theater come down.

“I don’t even get to the question of whether or not the Guthrie should be demolished, because we’re in such a violation of the process right now,” said 11th Ward Council Member Dore Mead.

Mead said she and other activists are concerned the decision to rid Minneapolis of the theater was hasty, as the state’s current study to assess the building’s historic and cultural significance is not complete.

In early October, the Heritage Preservation Commission denied the Walker Art Center’s application to demolish the theater, which sits at 725 Vineland Place. The HPC recommended the state study, which is due in December.

But the City Zoning and Planning Committee decided the site is not historically significant because the face of the building has been modified since its birth 38 years ago and, according to the committee’s findings, “lacks architectural integrity.”

Even if it were a historic site, the committee concluded, the Guthrie’s preservation would be financially unfeasible.

The Walker found purchasing the land on which the theater sits would cost at least $2.65 million, and upwards of $9.1 million would be needed to renovate the structure to meet current codes. Thus far, no party has surfaced who could shoulder the burden of the Guthrie’s $1.2 million operating costs.

Ward 13 Council Member Barret Lane voted to demolish the structure, saying it would eventually end up in the hands of the city.

“We already have one theater that sits empty,” Lane said, referencing the vacant Shubert Theater on Hennepin Avenue.

The Walker wants to move forward with fund raising for the $90 million parking ramp and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden expansion planned for the space the Guthrie currently occupies.

The Guthrie’s designer, Ralph Rapson, a retired University architecture professor, called the process “rather deceitful and rather biased.” Rapson has received hundreds of letters of support from across the nation and overseas.

Mead said considering the thousands of activists opposed to the demolition, she expects the issue to end up in court.

“My guess is the Walker is nervous about major changes on the City Council,” Mead said. “They believed they had enough votes (with the current Council) to railroad this through.”

Mead said the permit issued to demolish the building will expire in one year and can be renewed for up to one additional year. However, the Walker does not plan to complete the demolition until 2005. The demolition is slated to begin in 2002.