City waives rules for Guthrie riverfront project

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April 28, 2003 // UPDATED 10:50 am - April 30, 2007
By: Bob Gilbert
Bob Gilbert

The Guthrie Theater cleared a major hurdle April 14 when the City Planning Commission approved the theater company's building plans for their new riverfront complex on South 2nd Street. The total cost of the project is estimated at $125 million.

Most of the theater will be on the river side of the 800 block of 2nd Street. The Guthrie also has a plot of land on the 900 block of 2nd Street for future expansion. A scene shop will be located across 2nd street on top of a parking lot four stories high. The sets and backdrops will be transported high above 2nd Street via a private skyway to the theater's backstage areas.

The Commission made exceptions to their zoning rules to accommodate the theater's design.

Approved alterations allowed the Guthrie to build a 10-story, 168-foot-tall building, far above the four-story, 56-foot-tall limit.

The Commission waived the parking requirement that the theater build 709 spaces to accommodate patrons. Instead, the city will allow the Guthrie's construction firm to build a parking garage that will be paid for and run by the city. The design will resemble the three-theater complex. Located on the 900 block of 2nd Street between Chicago and 9th avenues, the ramp will have space for 1000 cars.

The Commission also waived ordinances that restrict wall signs to 180 square feet. The Guthrie may have a 256-square-foot banner on the side of the building.

The theater had asked for a variance to exceed the maximum allowed area for roof-mounted signs -- 180 square feet -- for three light-emitting-diode (LED) signs 800, 600 and 685 square feet. However, the hearing on the variance was postponed.

"Technically the zoning doesn't allow for that kind of a sign," said Ann Calvert, Senior Project Coordinator of the Minneapolis Community Development Agency. "There will be a revision for the rezoning to allow for it which will be considered at a public hearing on June 16, 2003."

Now that their building plans have been approved, the Guthrie's next hurdles are political and financial.

According to James Morrison, the Guthrie's Communications Director, the theater is asking for $35 million in bonding from the state of Minnesota while it brings $90 million in private contributions. The Guthrie will borrow $15 million of the $90 million.

Currently, a Minnesota Senate bill pledges $26 million for the Guthrie, which Morrison said is not as much as the theater company needs but is sufficient to break ground.

"If we don't get the money from the state, there is concern that we'll lose much of the private commitment as well," said Morrison. "Moving forward is now contingent on the state legislature."

If the legislature appropriates the money, groundbreaking will begin this summer. The project will take an estimated two years to complete.