Newsletter Subscription
Print Subscription
Change Address
Peavey Plaza preservationists lose on appeal in Minneapolis, demolition to follow.
The fountain in the plaza have not operated for some time due to broken pumps.
Charles Birnbaum/TCLF

For months, Minneapolis has been at odds with itself over the fate of an aging modernist square, finally moving to demolish and redesign downtown Peavey Plaza against the cries of preservationists and the landscape architect who designed it.

The Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Committee voted in April to deny a public works request for a demolition permit, six months after City Council okayed the overhaul. Then the city’s planning committee overrode that decision on May 17. In their appeal document, the city’s economic development team wrote, “Peavey Plaza is functionally obsolete and the cost to repair or replicate is not feasible.”

On May 25, City Council voted on the planning committee’s advice to overrule the Heritage Preservation Committee. The council took up no further discussion of the matter, as news of a new stadium for the Vikings dominated the meeting.

Thomas Oslund's new plan for Peavey Plaza..
Courtesy Oslund and Associates

While replicating the original design without updates was basically a nonstarter, the Heritage Preservation Committee contended that full restoration or a total rebuild was a false choice. The new design is expected to cost between $8 and $10 million, which slightly exceeds the cost estimate of $8.6 million put forth by the site’s original designer, M. Paul Friedberg, for a rehabilitation concept. At any rate, with only $2 million in city bonds devoted to the project, funding is still an unanswered question.

Demolition to pave the way for a redesign by landscape architect Thomas Oslund could begin as soon as this summer. Oslund, whose work includes the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, is a noted Minneapolis-based landscape architect. The new design retains Peavey’s large water elements, while bringing the recessed plaza closer to grade.

The distinctive public space was lauded as an urban renewal success story when it opened in 1975. In 1999 the American Society of Landscape Architects recognized Peavey as “a national landmark for outstanding landscape architecture.” The Cultural Landscape Foundation named it a “marvel of modernism.”

The existing Freidberg-designed plaza (left) with its once-operational fountains (right).
Charles Birnbaum / TCLF

Landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg designed the square as a kind of urban oasis. “We proposed a solution which has come to be called the ‘park plaza.’ Truly an American form,” he wrote in 1989, “a mixture of the American green square and the European hard space.”

But the sunken plan and concealed “garden rooms” also attract public urination and other illegal activities, according to the Public Works Department. And much of the two-acre plaza has fallen into disrepair. Even the landmark’s strongest advocates note that two of the three fountains no longer work due to broken pumps.

Handicap accessibility is also an issue, but not one that necessitates demolition according to Friedberg and Charles Birnbaum, president of the Cultural Landscape Foundation and an expert on modernist landscapes. The two were initially advisors to the redesign team, but last summer they split off from Oslund and have since actively campaigned against the new design. Together Friedberg and Birnbaum penned an op-ed piece published in The Minneapolis Star-Tribune stating that their perspective had been “shut out” of the process.

“For accessibility issues, changes have to be made,” said city councilman Cam Gordon, the sole holdout against demolition, “but I have seen many times where the city has been quick to demolish something and then later we wish we hadn’t.”

Christopher Bentley