What's up with the Shubert Theater?by Chris Roberts, Minnesota Public Radio
The group that is renovating the Shubert Theater in downtown Minneapolis has modified its plans for the long awaited facility. It's also pushing back its opening date by more than a year. Officials at Artspace say the modifications will help contain costs, even though the cost of the project is going up, and ensure the Minnesota Shubert Center will be the state's flagship venue for dance.
Minneapolis, Minn. — Ever since it was hoisted on dollies and rolled to a new location in downtown Minneapolis in 1999, the Shubert Theater renovation project has been in stop-and-go mode.
When Artspace originally announced plans for restoring the Shubert in 2000, it projected a 2004 opening date. In 2006, after the Legislature approved $11 million in bonding for the project, Artspace said the Shubert would be open in the fall of 2008.
Now project director Kim Motes says the opening is being pushed back again.
"We're really now looking at -- our design process will be completed in the fall," she said. "So we could break ground in the fall of 2008. That's the plan right now."
And if everything goes as planned, the Shubert's doors will open in January, 2010. Motes says any groundbreaking or opening date depends on fundraising, and the project just isn't there yet.
The anticipated cost of the renovation is now $41 million, up from $37 million two years ago. So far, Artspace has raised $32 million. Motes says fundraising has started to pick up lately.
"We feel really good about the fact that we have raised $5 million over the last six months, and that momentum is really pushing us forward," she said.
Motes says there are a number of reasons Artspace has yet to reach its capital campaign goals.
First, potential donors might be feeling a little fatigue after supporting $500 million in new arts construction in the Twin Cities in the last five years. Second, it took longer than expected to get bonding money at the State Capitol.
"And the art form that we're dedicating this facility to, which is dance, is the most under-resourced and under-appreciated art form in this community," she said.
Perhaps the Shubert's biggest obstacle, according to Vickie Benson, program director for the Arts at the McKnight Foundation, is its lack of a history or track record in the community.
"Unlike other arts organizations who have a more solid base of supporters, when they begin a capital campaign, the Shubert has essentially been developing its base from scratch," Benson said. "So from that standpoint, it's actually remarkable that they've been able to raise as much as they have."
Benson says she doesn't think the sluggish pace of the Shubert's capital campaign reflects on the merits of the project.
"We want to see the Shubert up and thriving and full of dance and other performing arts, and many of us were thinking it was going to happen before now," Benson said. "But I just think it's a matter of time, and with their new plan, that the Shubert's going to open."
The new plan Benson refers to is actually a scaling back of its previous plan. Artspace has decided to remove the two balconies in the theater, to guarantee superior sight lines for dance and strengthen acoustics for music.
As a result, project director Kim Motes says the venue will become a much more intimate space.
"I think we were at 900 seats as we were moving through this," Motes said. "We're looking at something closer to 520 seats at this point."
The atrium, or great hall, as Artspace calls it, which will serve as the main entrance and connect the Shubert with the Hennepin Center for the Arts, is also being slightly downsized. It will now be two floors instead of three. The rest rooms and arts education technology studio will be relocated to the first floor.
But Motes says none of the programming plans have changed. The Shubert still will be home base to at least 15 arts groups, from James Sewell Ballet to the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, when it performs in Minneapolis. It will also continue to offer online interactive programs to classrooms across Minnesota.
Motes says when people hear about the Shubert they get excited about it, which is why reaching the finish line is now mainly a matter of getting the word out.
"There's so much in the plus column, and so very little in the negative column, that I can't think of a more compelling project at this point," she says.
Motes' primary concern is one the Minnesota Twins expressed repeatedly at the State Capitol when the team was lobbying for money for a new stadium -- the rapidly escalating costs of construction materials.
- All Things Considered, 05/30/2008, 5:54 p.m.