Community notebook :: Swedish Institute to expand

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July 5, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott
American Swedish Institute to expand its campus

The muggy, oppressive weather couldn’t dampen the fanfare at the American Swedish Institute (ASI) on June 15. It only moved the celebration inside — which offered guests a more intimate glimpse at the Institute’s plans for an ambitious expansion, which will place a 34,000-square-foot, glass-walled addition where a parking lot lies today.

A procession of fiddlers decked out in traditional Swedish costume led a small crowd into the basement of the Turnblad Mansion, at 2600 Park Ave., which has housed the ASI since 1929.

Plans to renovate and expand upon the castle-like property have been discussed for years. But it took reaching $11 million in its capital campaign — half of its total goal of $21.5 million — to get serious about the project.

Minneapolis firm Hammel Green and Abrahamson, Inc., (HGA) is handling the expansion. E. Tim Carl is lead architect.

At the June 15 press event, Carl unveiled plans for the new addition, called the Nelson Center after benefactors Carl and Leslie Nelson. A pair of angular, minimalist blocks will stack on top of one another adjacent to the Turnblad Mansion. Plants will sprout from a green roof that slants toward the mansion, and a Swedish-style courtyard, landscaped with perennials and birch trees that thrive in both Minnesota and Sweden, will separate the two buildings.

The Nelson Center will house a museum shop and café, an art gallery, a large studio and crafts workshop, new office and storage space and an event hall that can accommodate 325 guests. The hall will reference the Stockholm City Hall, echoing its timber roof in the new hall’s wood elements.

In addition, Gustavus Adolphus College has made a commitment to establish a Twin Cities office in the Nelson Center.

“Nordic respect for the environment has been top of mind,” Carl said at the press event, pointing out the myriad sustainability features of the project. The new campus boasts 90 geothermal wells that will heat and cool the structure. The building has also been designed to achieve LEED Gold certification.

Prior to beginning the expansion project, Carl traveled to Stockholm to immerse himself in Swedish design. He also solicited critiques of his initial design from Swedish designers.

Construction on the Nelson Center will begin in early 2011 and be completed in mid-2012.

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Loring Alley gets even more charm

As if Loring Alley weren’t charming enough.

The quaintest corridor in the Twin Cities — a twisting, European-style alleyway, with glowing Chinese lanterns strung criss-cross from the historic brick buildings that it separates — has just gotten quainter, thanks to a recently completed renovation.

A fresh surface of red cobblestones has been laid, and a handful of lush, overflowing planters have greened up the 5,600 square-foot alley. The improvements had been in the works since early 2009. But it took a slow, careful partnership between Loring Corners, Inc. President Joseph Whitney, who owns the buildings through which the alley snakes, and the City of Minneapolis to make the changes happen.

The city owns the alley and was interested in repaving it.

“They were going to resurface the ally with asphalt, and I asked them if they would consider letting it be cobblestones,” Whitney said.

Council Member Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) was “way in favor” of the plan, Whitney said, and helped get the renovations off the ground. The city agreed to pay what it would cost to resurface the alley with asphalt, and Whitney agreed to pay the rest.

North Minneapolis-based Diversified Drainage supplied and laid the pavers. Quality Concrete Design did the staining.

With the work wrapped up in early June, a ribbon-cutting celebration took place on June 15.  Nick & Eddie’s supplied food, Four Seasons Dance Studio offered tango lessons and Father Joseph Gillespie blessed the alley. Whitney and Goodman cut the ceremonial ribbon.

Whitney said that some of his tenants were planning further improvements, namely Nick and Eddie. The restaurant has already constructed an awning toward the rear of the alley, and plans for outdoor café seating and possibly a small deck may be in the works.

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City to explore tunnel system’s potential as ‘energy center’


The City of Minneapolis has received $7,000 to conduct a scope study of the tunnel system beneath the Pillsbury A. Mill, located at 116 3rd Ave. SE, alongside the St. Anthony Falls. The tunnels — along with their drop shafts and tail races, which once supplied water to power the mill — could prove useful as an “energy center” to support development in the area, officials say. The plan would involve using the historic tunnel infrastructure as the site for an innovative hydrothermal heating and cooling system, one that could leverage hydro-electricity.

Schafer Richardson, the developer that owns the property, worked with the city last fall to secure a $30,000 loan to study the engineering feasibility of the energy center idea. The latest batch of money comes from the Minnesota Historical Society as part of the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund that passed in November 2008.

The engineering study should be completed by August 2010.

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Orchestra Hall hits goal for expansion


The Minnesota Orchestra has hit the $40 million mark in its capital campaign, the magic number needed to move forward with an expansion and renovation of Orchestra Hall, at 1111 Nicollet Mall. A $5 million donation from Target, made in mid-June, helped meet the goal.

While a vast array of details still need to be sorted out and no groundbreaking date has yet been set, Orchestra President and CEO Michael Henson has said that the new facility could open in June 2013. The hall will have to close for one year while the work is being done.

The state of Minnesota contributed $14 million in bonding money to the project. The Orchestra has raised another $29 million in private funds. The ultimate goal is $100 million.

With its gift, Target will have naming rights on the Orchestra’ new lobby and the expanded terraces outside.

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Two nonprofits to headquarter across from the Guthrie Theater

The vacant, L-shaped lot sitting across from the Guthrie Theater will soon be developed, according to city planners. The site is slated for the headquarters of both the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) and Artspace Projects, Inc., both local nonprofits.

A full City Council vote took place on July 2.

The plan calls for a 53,000-square-foot, four-story office building along Chicago Avenue South, which the AAN will occupy.

Artspace, a real estate developer dedicated to the arts, will move into a four-story building, boasting office and studio space, 36 affordable housing units for artists, and a fifth story penthouse, along Washington Avenue South.  

The AAN has plans to start construction in 2011. Artspace is still seeking financing.

The total project costs for the two buildings are estimated to be around $29.3 million.

The AAN, a professional association for neurologists, hosts hundreds of meetings a year. The influx of visitors is expected to further boost vitality in the burgeoning neighborhood.

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Shubert will be named Cowles Center for Dance and Performing Arts


When the freshly renovated Schubert Center for Dance and Performing Arts opens next year, it will do so with a new name.

At a gala event on June 29 that promised “to raise the curtain on a new era” for the historic Schubert Theater, executive director Mary McColl announced that the arts center would henceforth be known as the Cowles Center for Dance and Performing Arts.

The name honors dance enthusiasts and arts patrons John and Sage Cowles. The Cowles have been juggernauts of local philanthropy over the years, and already have three esteemed public spaces named after them: the Cowles Conservatory in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, the Cowles Stadium for women’s softball at the University of Minnesota and the Cowles Auditorium in the Hubert H. Humphrey Center.

John Cowles, Jr. is the former publisher of the Star Tribune, and has served on boards of directors for both the Guthrie Theater and the Walker Art Center. Sage Cowles is a former dancer and has served for many years on the board of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in New York.

“We hope that the new center will help take dance in Minnesota to new heights and do for this wonderful art form what the Guthrie did for theater beginning in the early 10s,” said Sage Cowles.

According to McColl, the new Cowles Center will consist of three buildings: the 1910 Schubert Theater and the 1888 Hennepin Center for the Arts — both historic structures — plus a new entry hall to serve as “the nerve center” of the facility.

Miller Dunwiddie Architects are leading the renovation, which is expected to be completed in the fall of 2011.