Preservationists Fight Minneapolis to Save Park

     MINNEAPOLIS (CN) - Preservationists claim in court that Minneapolis intentionally neglected Peavey Plaza, an award-winning downtown park, and plans to demolish the site and use it for other purposes.
     The nonprofit Preservation Alliance of Minnesota and the Cultural Landscape Foundation sued the city in Hennepin County Court.
     Peavey Plaza was built in 1975 to the design of M. Paul Friedberg. The American Society of Landscape Architects in 1999 named it one of the great examples of modern landscape design, comparing it to New York's Center Park.
     But in March this year, Minneapolis submitted an "application for the demolition of a historic resource" - Peavey Plaza.
     The plaza is partly owned by the city, and is on the same block as Minnesota Orchestra Hall.
     The plaintiffs say that "the City of Minneapolis has failed to adequately maintain Peavey Plaza and substantial rehabilitation work is now required."
     In 2009, the Minnesota Orchestra began planning an expansion and created a Community Engagement Committee to discuss rejuvenating Peavey Plaza.
     The committee after first included a representative of the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota and a representative from the Minnesota chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.
     "M. Paul Friedberg and Charles Birnbaum of TCLF [Cultural Landscape Foundation] were part of the winning team selected for the plaza's revitalization but were subsequently marginalized" according to the complaint.
     In June 2011, the committee reviewed four concept plans for the new Peavey Plaza. But the plaintiffs say that none of the four was designed to preserve Peavey Plaza. The closest plan was a "replacement" option.
     "The City of Minneapolis refused to release the full details of the concept plans and their corresponding detailed cost estimates. The cost estimate for the replacement option appears to contain more than $2 million worth of enhancements and upgrades rather than true replacement costs," according to the complaint.
     In its application for the demolition of a historic resource, the city stated: "An intentional effort has been made in recent years to hold the line on maintenance costs, including the decision not to repair some fountains and other infrastructure and to reduce the staff time at the plaza," according to the complaint.
     The city acknowledged Peavey Plaza's "historic and esthetic significance." But it "contended that the plaza required significant rehabilitation work and that the city could not raise sufficient finances from private sources to repair Peavey Plaza," the complaint states.
     Even before the city submitted its demolition request, the Cultural Landscape Foundation worked with Friedberg and presented a new design concept that would address the needs of all users of Peavey Plaza, the complaint states.
     But the plaintiffs say the city "never considered the new design concept proposed by TCLF" and "never considered a design concept that would preserve the signature historic and esthetic elements of Peavey Plaza."
     The city and the Minnesota Orchestra announced in October 2011 that a new design had been chosen and that an "alternative commons multi-grade concept" would replace Peavey Plaza. The plaintiffs objected.
     Because Peavey Plaza met state landmark designation criteria, "approval of the demolition permit could not proceed administratively and an application for permission had to be brought before Minneapolis's Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) via an application for Demolition of a Historic Resource," the complaint states.
     "Minneapolis Code of Ordinances 599.210 provides criteria for a property worthy of designation as a landmark because of its historical, cultural, architectural, archaeological or engineering significance," the complaint states.
     In response, the Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) acknowledged the historic significance of Peavey Plaza and denied the city's application.
     According to the complaint: "The HPC made the following findings of fact:
     "1. Peavey Plaza is a historic resource;
     "2. Peavey Plaza is significant and eligible for designation as a City of Minneapolis landmark by meeting local designation criterion 1, 3, 5, and 6;
     "3. The final cost for constructing Peavey Plaza in 1974-1975 was $3 million.
     "4. Peavey Plaza has experienced a number of alterations; however the overall integrity of the plaza is good;
     "5. The demolition is not necessary to correct an unsafe or dangerous condition of Peavey Plaza."
     But On May 25, after the city appealed the HPC's decision, the City Council approved the demolition application, based on the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Zoning and Planning of the Minneapolis City Council.
     So the plaintiffs have gone to court.
     They want the city enjoined from demolishing Peavey Plaza, and a declaration that the plaza is a natural resource that cannot be demolished, under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act.
     They are represented by Erik Hansen, with Patrick Burns & Associates.