Fire foils theater’s plans for expansion

by V. Paul

Besieged on all sides, a century-old West Bank landmark struggles against earth, wind, water and fire damage to open its 48th theatrical season today.
Theatre in the Round, located near the intersection of Washington and Cedar avenues, is feeling the block’s growing pains — preparing for the planned student housing construction on one side and repairing damage left by a fire-ravaged building on the other.
Theater officials are concerned that demolition of the neighboring structures and the construction of the new complex’s foundation might affect the 100-year-old foundations of the theater.
“They built buildings well at the turn of the century, so we suspect that we’ll survive,” said Steve Antenucci, the theater’s executive director. “But pile driving creates a lot of vibrations and that might affect our foundations.”
Pile drivers are used by contractors to plunge large metal beams into the ground as part of a building’s foundation.
Theater officials were interested in purchasing the property next door and were working with GrandMarc, the company in charge of the housing development, to secure the acquisition, said Greg Almquist, president of GrandMarc.
When there was a building on the site — the former home of the Nostalgia Bar & Restaurant — the theater considered expanding into it, Antenucci said. They were interested in having control of the abandoned buildings and property, said Jim Sutherland, spokesman for the Minneapolis Community Development Agency.
A June 24 fire in the building changed that.
Theater officials are still assessing the damage to the theater from the fire, which destroyed the abandoned establishment. Nostalgia was demolished days later by the city of Minneapolis for safety reasons; a gaping hole now abuts the theater, exposing to the elements its walls from the basement to the roof.
“We’re concerned with the graduate student housing project,” Antenucci said. “We’ve got to live through that construction period. The fire simply complicated matters extremely.”
Engineers for the theater and for GrandMarc are currently examining the theater’s structure, noting any existing cracks and crevices in its walls and foundations. After the contractors demolish the old buildings, dig the hole for the new one and drive piles in the ground for its foundation, the engineers will check the theater again for any new cracks. Any damage will need to be repaired and paid for by the contractors, Antenucci said.
“There’s really no way to prevent the crack occurring in the wall, but you can at least track it and determine if it was caused by the pile driving,” he said.
Engineers are also looking at damage from the Nostalgia fire and assessing waterproofing requirements for the exposed walls left by the hole next door.
“The other thing we have to do is we have to take care of those two damn ugly walls,” Antenucci said.
Prior to the fire, theater officials were in negotiations about purchasing the lot from Old Republic, a title and insurance company that acquired the lot through foreclosure from the previous owners in 1997.
“Those discussions are still ongoing,” said Carl Yaeger, an attorney representing Old Republic. “It is something both parties anticipate will happen.”
However, the fire and the neighboring construction together pushed purchasing the lot lower on the theater’s list of priorities, said Antenucci.