Preservationists aim to halt Peavey Plaza redesign

A Minneapolis City Council committee is in a hearing today discussing whether Peavey Plaza is worth preserving.


People enjoy an afternoon at Peavey Plaza in downtown Minneapolis, Minn. Wednesday, May 16, 2012. After Minneapolis’ Heritage Preservation Commission voted in support of saving the plaza, the Minneapolis City Council will vote this month on whether the plaza should be preserved or demolished and rebuilt. MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

The city’s planning department says the downtown park is unsafe, inaccessible and too expensive to maintain. They want to replace it with a newly designed plaza they say will better suit the city’s needs.

But MPR’s Curtis Gilbert reports historic preservationists see the plaza as a significant work of modernist architecture and they’re fighting to save it.

“Demolition is drastic,” says Charles Birnbaum, a historical preservationist and the president of the of Cultural Landscape Foundation in Washington, D.C.

“Because Peavey Plaza, I would say is a seminal work of landscape architecture of national import, it is worthy of careful change.”

Birnbaum says Peavey represents the first “park plaza” in America. It combines paved and green space in a way that has been imitated since. He wants to see it preserved.

On Wednesday evening, Birnbaum unveiled a proposal to update Peavey Plaza. The plan adds additional wheelchair ramps, a restaurant and a bridge that connects 12th Street to Orchestra Hall. It was created by the original architect, Paul Friedberg, who is now 81 and lives in New York City.

“You don’t have to destroy something to improve it,” Birnbaum said.

Friedberg and Birnbaum were originally part of the team charged with coming up with a revitalization plan for Peavey Plaza, but they were eliminated from the process when Minneapolis decided it wanted to completely replace the plaza.

You can read the rest of Curtis Gilbert’s story here.

The debate has also reached the attention of the New York Times, which reported on the story this morning. You can find that here.

  • Trish Brock

    Here is the backstory:

    This was a miscarriage of justice. The Minneapolis code of ordinances, Title 23, Heritage Preservation, Chapter 599 Heritage Preservation Regulations requires “finding that there are no reasonable alternatives to the demolition”. The new Friedberg design presented is a clear alternative. (Shown here) The Z & P committee completely overlooked what was on the table: Is Peavey Plaza considered to be a historic resource? All irrevelant testimony in the public hearing (most of it) should have been shut down. On more than one occasion there was question among the committee members as to what they were actually voting on. And they still couldn’t get it right. Council Member Lisa Goodman was very disrespectful – to most everyone, but especially to Architect Friedberg. It was never stated that this is about Architect Friedberg. This is about Peavey Plaza, that Architect Friedberg just happens to be the the creator of. In a jaw-dropping display of ignorance, Goodman wonders why she could so easily bulldoze Friedberg’s Loring project, but the public objects to the destruction of a Nationally recognized landmark, Peavey Plaza. Not recognizing the difference establishes Goodman as unfit to rule in the matter. Chair Schiff declares that the property “has issues” and hangs a noose around it instead of acknowledging that a clear solution to these “issues” has been presented. (Architect Friedberg worked pro bono for the citizens of Minneapolis and incorporated design elements that the City seemed to desire.) Such extreme unprofessionalism demonstrated by the Zoning and Planning Committee in a city of this size is unacceptable. We can’t tolerate this in our elected officials, can we?

  • Trish Brock

    Sincere apologies. Between facebook (that I copied from), my computer, and this site, my comment was not posted correctly (not as previewed). It was supposed to stop after the second link (Friedberg’s new design). I don’t know how all that other stuff got on here. Trying to follow-through with the webmaster.