Want to get married at City Hall?

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February 9, 2004 // UPDATED 2:51 pm - April 24, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

Rotunda may soon be available; ambitious fix-up plan will make historic space available for events, weddings

Looking for a unique place for a wedding, cocktail party or reception? The Minneapolis City Hall rotunda and upper-floor galleries should be available for catered events by March 2005.

It is part of the Municipal Building Commission's effort to raise money for City Hall restoration. The Commission is seeking a new caf/ and catering operator -- including the option to host private events, complete with wine, beer and liquor. The 5,533-square-foot Rotunda seats 160 people around the massive Father of Waters statue and the three upper floor galleries could seat up to 48 people each, its Request for Proposals (RFP) said.

The city of Minneapolis and Hennepin County jointly built the Municipal Building -- City Hall's official name -- between 1887 and 1906. A deed describes a line running through the Father of Waters statue; the city owns the building's west half, and the county owns the east half, said Jos/ Cervantes, commission director.

Even though Hennepin County has relocated most of its operations to the Government Center across 5th Street, the City Council and County Board still jointly run the Municipal Building. They have both signed off on the deli and catering concept as a way to raise money for an Historic Preservation Fund, helping to restore some rooms to their original glory.

Cervantes said in recent years the Rotunda has hosted Mayor R.T. Rybak's inauguration and a reception for a sister city delegation from Ibaraki, Japan, but it has not had the commercial ventures now envisioned.

"We are talking about a shift in paradigm," he said.

Proposals are due Feb. 17. Commission staff will make a recommendation by March 24, and the Commission will award a contract by April 29, the RFP said. At least a dozen people have expressed interest.

The deli and catering operation won't open for a year, allowing time for renovations. The food service area will move from its long-standing first-floor-location to the ground floor's west corridor near the newspaper racks, Cervantes said. It will displace some police offices, which will relocate to the first floor in the area formerly occupied by Larry's Canteen.

Old glory

The Commission plans other fund-raising efforts, including selling memorabilia such as Father of Waters postcards or commemorative plates.

Add that money to the caf/ and catering revenue, and the Commission won't get enough money to pay for brick-and-mortar projects, Cervantes said. The Historic Preservation Fund will help pay for initial cost estimates and schematic designs for new projects, however.

The aging building needs life safety and mechanical upgrades. "That's what I was brought in to do. Bring the building up to code," said Cervantes, who has worked for the Commission for five years

Recent major projects have included the new City Council Chambers and the Rotunda renovation.

Killing time

One of the Commission's near-term projects is repairing the stained and aging faces of the clock tower (including one with bullet holes) Cervantes said.

The Commission didn't have the money to do a full-blown assessment of the clock faces, but it did spend a few thousand dollars to have an architect do a preliminary analysis. It's the kind of work the Historic Preservation Fund could pay for in the future, Cervantes said.

The clock originally had glass faces, but the Commission replaced those in the late 1940s with porcelain enameled steel panels, the architect's report said. The panels, now more than 50 years old, have rust, discoloration and staining. The interior has caulk failure, cracking and other signs of wear.

Cleaning the clock faces would cost $22,000, the report said. A thorough repair job would cost $287,000, and new replica faces would cost $322,000.

Removing the old clock faces would also remove a small part of the building's history. "We have .38 slugs going through the clock face," Cervantes said.

Cervantes had no specifics on how the bullet holes got there, but former police officer and City Councilmember Walt Dziedzic did.

Dziedzic said he heard stories dating back to the 1960s about a police unit known as the "SOD Squad" -- the Special Operations Division that worked the night shift.

The city used to have a parking ramp just north of City Hall, where the federal building now sits, he said. The SOD Squad parked their cars in that ramp.

"There were stories about wild parties after they got out off work," Dziedzic said. "The parties were on top of that parking ramp.

"Sometimes they would take the scooters that the meter maids used and would have chariot races in the helix of the parking ramp," he said. "And sometimes they would get a little overexuberant and shoot at the clock."

Future restorations

Bigger projects could include renovating the mayor's former first-floor reception hall and personal office (now rooms 125, 127 and 129) for ceremonial functions, conferences, meetings and exhibitions, recommended in the building's 1983 Comprehensive Master Plan.

The original mayor's office had tall stained- glass windows, oak paneling, beveled glass bookcases and intricate stenciling, the plan said. The reception room had a fireplace, a decorative plaster ceiling, built-in wood bookcases and large library tables.

Robert Swanson, the building's supervisor of custodial and security services, said the reception space got converted into offices in the 1950s or 1960s. The grand hall now is a series of small office and cubicles and houses business information systems. Old hearth tiles, the fireplace's last remnant, are hidden in the closet with a new air conditioning unit.

City mayors, including Hubert H. Humphrey, used the first-floor office for approximately 90 years. Mayor Don Fraser moved to the third floor in the early 1990s to be closer to City Councilmembers' offices. The old office now is empty, except for a few miscellaneous computer boxes and odd pieces of furniture.

"It is a valuable space. We don't know where to go with it yet," said Swanson, who has worked for the Commission since 1970. "It is such an historic space, we couldn't see it going to anybody yet."

The Master Plan also recommends restoring Hennepin County's original Court Room No. 1 on the third floor, to use for ceremonial functions and gatherings. It once had a 50-foot ceiling, before getting subdivided in 1937. The room had a coffered plaster ceiling and oak wainscoting and looked onto 4th Avenue South through two-story arched windows.

The space now has smaller courtrooms.