Northrop’s curtain rises again

A four-year, $88.2 million renovation has made Northrop more spacious, flexible and — officials hope — accessible to students.

University of Minnesota alumni Tom Gross takes a photo of  Northrop Auditorium's stage. Gross saw his first orchestral  concert at Northrop Auditorium when he was an undergrad, and also graduated in the building.

Bridget Bennett

University of Minnesota alumni Tom Gross takes a photo of Northrop Auditorium’s stage. Gross saw his first orchestral concert at Northrop Auditorium when he was an undergrad, and also graduated in the building.

Anne Millerbernd

The crowd was silent as the first ballet dancers gracefully shuffled across the stage in Northrop Auditorium on Friday.

After years of construction and $88.2 million spent, the iconic University of Minnesota structure celebrated its first day back in business.

The renovated building opened its doors again Friday with a performance from the American Ballet Theatre. The new facility boasts more stages with improved acoustics, new study areas and spaces dedicated for the College of Design, the Institute for Advanced Study and the University Honors Program.

In the main theater, changes include two new balconies, one additional stage and about 2,100 fewer seats than the old Northrop, which had a capacity of 4,847.

Reducing seats was a tough decision to make, Northrop Director Christine Tschida said, but it was necessary to add space outside of the auditorium.

The renovations also added four ticket windows, nearly doubled the number of restrooms and increased collaborative space in the building to 13,520 square feet.

HGA Architects and Engineers, a national architecture firm, designed the new interior and first began work on Northrop in 2008, project architect Jim Moore said.

He and project designer Tim Carl said redesigning the building was the most complex work they’d ever done. It was especially challenging to rework the inside of the building while preserving its historical integrity.

“This was unique … because it was such a unique existing building,” Carl said. “The vision was so radical in terms of how far to transform, specifically the space for performance.”

The University also wanted to use Northrop in many different ways, Moore said.

Because the building was redesigned to house three University programs, Carl said the auditorium itself also serves as a study space for students.

Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement funds, as well as donations from companies and individuals, paid for interior renovations. A project to update the outside of the building cost $13 million several years ago, Tschida said.

But compared to the recently completed $50 million renovations to the lobby and acoustics at Orchestra Hall, Tschida said, the University was economical with its funds.

“We got so much out of that investment when you start to compare it to some other [renovations],” she said.

The building’s opening has created more than 90 jobs, including ushers, box office attendants and back stage crew, and Tschida said many of those positions have been filled by students.

Northrop has also booked a show by CollegeHumor Live, a speech by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and a University Symphony Orchestra performance this semester.

Coping with less funding

Northrop Concerts and Lectures originally requested more than $480,000 in student services fees to help fund student programming for next school year. It only received about $170,000 in the final fees recommendations.

Some of the requested money would have paid for free student tickets and subsidized costs for students to rent spaces in the building, Tschida said.

Additionally, much of the money requested would have been used to provide more programs aimed at students, which took the biggest hit in the final fees recommendations.

Student group University Collaborative Ambassadors for Northrop formed in advance of the opening to spread awareness and create programming for the renovated Northrop. The group’s advisor, Allyson Taubenheim, said Northrop’s fees request was cut because officials couldn’t prove that the programming would be successful.

Though Northrop leaders are happy to work with the funds recommended, Taubenheim said, they’re hoping to prove the programming’s worth to secure more funding in the future.

The renovation will make Northrop more appealing and accessible to students, Tschida said

“There’s just going to be something all the time that is going on here in all the different spaces,” she said.