Stadium blurs historic building’s fate

Station 19’s neighbors and supporters said they’re worried about the future of the building, which is in the way of the stadium.

Nina Petersen-Perlman

Kitty-corner from the University’s alumni center and across the street from Williams Arena sits a little red brick building with a big problem.

Station 19, which is one of the last old-time firehouses in Minneapolis and has been owned and occupied by Station 19 Architects for decades, is in the way of architectural plans related to the proposed on-campus football stadium.

While University officials have made clear they will not tear down the historic building, they’re staying mum on whether they want it and what they would do to get it if the Legislature approves a stadium funding bill.

Richard Pfutzenreuter, the University’s chief financial officer, emphasized that all the University wants for the time being (pending stadium approval) are 15 parking spaces near the building.

“I don’t want to negotiate the details of the deal through the Daily or anywhere else, but we need the stadium and 15 parking spaces,” Pfutzenreuter said. “Other people are manufacturing stories about our intentions.”

The building’s neighbors and supporters said they are concerned the University would use eminent domain to force Station 19 Architects and its owner, Darrel LeBarron, out, although Pfutzenreuter said the University is not at that point.

Stadium Village’s Campus Pizza and Pasta owner Jim Rosveld, who is also on the board of the Stadium Area Advisory Group, said it certainly would not help the underlying animosity between the neighborhood and University if the University chose that course of action.

“If they take Station 19, what’s next? Big 10?” Rosveld asked. “It’s a matter of encroachment. We don’t like it when they take viable businesses and assets away from the neighborhood.”

Joe Ring, Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association president, said he’s been working to make people within the preservation movement aware of the potential willingness of the University to use eminent domain.

“The (building’s) design is very unique to the method of firehouse construction at the time,” Ring said. “Preservation is not just the buildings and the land; it’s a concept as to what we are as a society and what we hold dear.”

LeBarron said he has no plans to sell the 113-year-old building he has owned since 1977 to the University or anyone else, but wants to figure out a way to work together with them as partners.

“We would like to continue in the neighborly spirit of cooperation,” LeBarron said.

This clash over a building he eventually wants to hand down to his architect daughter is unfortunate, LeBarron said. His office has a combined 10 degrees from the University, and LeBarron said his office is “pro-‘U of M.’ “

“This is like a fight with a favorite uncle,” he said.

Pfutzenreuter said there was confusion over whether the building’s owners wanted to sell and concern they would sell to a restaurant or bar.

“From there on, it seemed to explode into this big David and Goliath argument about taking over that property, and we were not at that point,” Pfutzenreuter said. “It was a dialogue with Mr. LeBarron about options.”

The stadium would require a rerouting of Oak Street so it could be widened, running to the east of Station 19 instead of to the west. The road currently there would be filled in and made into a plaza, putting the station in an “isolated island” 60 feet from the stadium entrance, Pfutzenreuter said.

Station 19’s problem is one likely to reoccur in the near future with the University seeking further expansion such as the five new buildings required over the next five years for the Biomedical Research Facilities Authority, Pfutzenreuter said.

“We have to continue to have a dialogue on how development of that part of the campus impacts on his operation in conjunction with the fact that we do have space needs at the University,” Pfutzenreuter said.

Whatever the University decides to do with the building, LeBarron said he plans to cooperate as much as he can.

“We should be able to do it in a real friendly way,” he said. “We here assume they need some design freedoms to accomplish what they’re going to do.”