George Latimer upbeat about SPCO, Ordway

One of the civic leaders posing with shovels when ground was broken on the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts was George Latimer, then mayor of St. Paul. Now in semi-retirement, he continues to promote the city as a point of personal pride — as when, for example, he brags to old friends from law school. Or when he fires off a few hundred words in a letter to MPR.


Former St. Paul Mayor George Latimer photographed in 2008

MPR Photo/William Wilcoxen

“Our dream was for the Ordway to enliven a downtown that had been in decline,” Latimer wrote this week. “Nine million visitors to the Ordway later, I can say our hopes for that patch of dirt we were shoveling have been exceeded.

“Downtown St. Paul is different because of the Ordway. And the arts are different too. The Minnesota Opera has become a leader in its field. Last year it won the Pulitzer Prize for Music, and its most recent opera was reviewed in the New York Times. I hope my old classmates read what the Times’ music critic had to say about the new opera that premiered in downtown St. Paul.

“But what about the labor lockout at the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra? What about the future of St. Paul’s cultural ambassadors? Well, we seem to be living in an age of lockouts, and none of us are too fond of it. The Wild, the Timberwolves and the Vikings were all locked out in the last two years. Their seasons were disrupted, but they all returned to playing. The same will eventually happen with the SPCO, a point on which management and labor agree.

“Unlike other troubled orchestras across the country, the SPCO has no debt, hasn’t taken large draws from its endowment and doesn’t own a large building it must run and maintain. However, it did run a sizable deficit last year, its first in more than a decade. So to stay out of trouble – indeed, to continue to grow in quality – its new contract must secure a solid financial base.

“Back in the 1980s, a ‘sense of place’ was what we hoped the Ordway would deliver. From the day the doors opened it has been a Twin Cities favorite, a gathering place that shows off what is beautiful about St. Paul. It is also the No. 1 cultural destination for public school students, the home of a great Children’s Festival, and the state’s oldest arts organization, The Schubert Club. One sign of the Ordway’s success is the lack of free nights on its calendar.

“Before long this lockout will be over, a blur amidst the other lockouts of this era. By then, the Ordway’s new concert hall will be underway, and the finances of those performing at the Ordway will be strengthened by a more robust endowment. The effort to accomplish both of those goals is this generation’s contribution to what we built in the ’80s. We faced obstacles back then, too, but we persisted. The Ordway has been a winner for this community for decades, particularly for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Their success will continue.”