By Mike Munzenrider
The construction at Orchestra Hall crowds onto South 11th Street in downtown Minneapolis — transforming the once familiar concert venue, with its blue glass façade and big blue pipes, into a confusion of white tarps, particle-board and cranes.
While the Minnesota Orchestra is at an impasse with management and musicians over a new collective bargaining agreement, the Orchestra Hall renovation is moving ahead and on pace to be done this summer.
The $50 million renovation, which started last June, is set to update and improve the performance space’s auditorium and the hall’s lobby area.
Construction is scheduled to be complete in July, before finishing touches will be completed for the start of the next concert season. This year, concerts have been cancelled through April 7 because of the ongoing labor dispute.
“The project remains on schedule and remains on budget,” said Michael Henson, president and CEO of the Minnesota Orchestra Association.
Originally slated to be a $160 million reconstruction project, Henson said the project’s budget was scaled down incrementally by tens of millions of dollars, until it was $60 million near the end of 2007 when he took over as president and CEO.
The 2008 recession scaled it down further to the current $50 million price tag.
Renovation funds are a part of a $110 million campaign that began in 2005. This fund contributes to renovations as well as the organization’s legacy funds, while also serving to help pay musicians and fund touring and recording.
Henson said that while the auditorium at Orchestra Hall was built to last 200 years, the lobby was built to last 20 years and has been in use for 40. He said the renovation aims to benefit audiences, musicians and the hall.
“We’re doubling the lobby space to actually reflect the size of the audience,” Henson said, noting the former lobby could hold around 800 people, about one third of the hall’s capacity.
“We are also replacing all the seating in the auditorium, all the flooring in the auditorium, all the flooring on the stage, updating the acoustics and updating musicians’ practice rooms,” he said.
Orchestra Hall continues to face financial difficulties, including the ongoing labor dispute with musicians that has resulted in a lockout. Henson said he hopes the hall’s update will benefit the organization in the long term.
“The refurbished hall will let us generate more money through rental income and sales of food and drink,” he said. “It will be a more attractive venue.”
Seeking a savings of $5 million annually following contract talks that started in April, the orchestra’s board of directors offered a contract to musicians that would have cut salary and benefits by an average of 32 percent.
Musicians rejected the management offer — resulting in the lockout that went into effect Oct. 1, 2012.
Because of the lockout, the Minnesota Orchestra cancelled successive blocks of shows; at this point, six months of shows have been cancelled or rescheduled and Orchestra Hall.
The labor dispute is an increasingly thorny issue, which both management and musicians are reluctant to discuss.
Meet Minneapolis estimates that downtown businesses will lose $1.9 million in revenue through April 7, the date of the last cancelled concert because of the lockout — $1.2 million of that estimate is lost dining revenue, based on the idea that half of all concertgoers will dine out as well.
However, on Nicollet Mall and at the many bars and restaurants that benefit from business-as-usual at nearby Orchestra Hall, the affects of the lockout and renovation have been mixed.
From the ground floor barroom at Brit’s Pub and Eating Establishment there’s a clear view of Orchestra Hall, which is less than a block away. Shane Higgins, Brit’s general manager, said that while he misses the extra concert business on “cold Wednesday nights,” overall, the lack of shows has meant no negative impact to the pub.
“We’ve not been hurt,” he said.
Higgins said business is up relative to last year, which he credited to events at Brit’s like Downton Abbey viewing parties and private holiday events. Without taking sides, he said he hopes the orchestra board and musicians can come to an agreement, soon.
On the other hand, at Masa, which is essentially kitty-corner to Orchestra Hall, business is decidedly down.
“We’ve lost about $45,000 in sales since the lockout began,” Michelle Hummer, the general manager at Masa, said. “You can’t plan around that.”
Hummer said the loss of revenue has forced her to lay off staff and reduce hours for others. Because of the reduction in hours for some, she said she’s lost longtime employees to other restaurants. Still, Hummer said, many employees at Masa have “rode the weather” of the slump in business.
Hummer said that Orchestra Hall is an important draw to the city center.
“We need people to keep coming downtown instead of staying in the ‘burbs.”
While she hopes that “we will have a season to look forward to,” Hummer’s current outlook is a bit grim.
“There’s no light at the end of the tunnel right now,” she said, “it’s a waiting game.”
At the Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant, business has largely been unaffected by the lack of Orchestra Hall traffic.
Dan Eikmeier, who handles artist and media relations at the Dakota, said “the crossover is minimal enough,” in terms of the jazz club’s regular crowd and those who prefer the orchestra, that they have only seen a slight dip in business on weekend nights after 10 p.m.
The Dakota has hosted two shows that were originally scheduled for Orchestra Hall but cancelled because of the lock out. It will host a third, Max Raabe & Palast Orchestra, April 7.
“[Orchestra Hall is] being really good to the artists and pushing them over here,” Eikmeier said.
City Council Member Diane Hofstede and Jacob Frey, her challenger for the Third Ward council seat, squared off in a candidate forum Thursday night at DeLaSalle High School.
More than 200 people attended the event co-sponsored by the Journal and the League of Women Voters. The candidates answered questions from members of the audience on several topics, including affordable housing, transportation, their leadership style, development trends and urban farming, among other things.
Hofstede and Frey are seeking the DFL endorsement. The party is holding an endorsing convention at DeLaSalle High School on May 4.
Here’s a recap of some of the major issues covered by the candidates:
On challenges facing the ward over the next decade
Hofstede said city leaders need to continue focusing on public safety, noting Minneapolis has been blessed with reduced crime rates in recent years. She also said the city needs to continue collaborating with government partners to focus on riverfront revitalization.
Frey, meanwhile, said increasing the city’s population is crucial to facing the challenges of the next 10 years. At one point the city’s population was near 600,000 and now it’s roughly 387,000. He noted the ward is home to many young urban professionals and retired empty nesters and needs to attract more families. He said he supports efforts to secure a new downtown school and more green space as a means to make the ward more family friendly.
Frey said he’s a supporter of the proposal to add streetcars Nicollet and Central avenues. He said they would make the city more “dynamic.” Hofstede said she’s also supportive of streetcars and other transit improvements, like bus rapid transit (BRT).
Hofstede said she has been a strong advocate for small businesses in the ward, pointing to the Third Ward Neighborhoodfest, an annual event she holds at the Nicollet Island Pavilion to showcase local businesses and community groups. She said she’s worked to help business owners navigate the city approval process and said many corridors in the ward are filled with vibrant businesses.
Frey said “small and local businesses are the heart of our city and the heart of our ward.” He said the city’s regulatory process needs to be streamlined to make it easier for small businesses to get up and running. He said the city also needs to reach out to non-English speaking business owners to make it easier for them to launch businesses.
When asked about what his public leadership style, Frey said being a public servant is about “being incessantly involved in the community.” He pointed to his work organizing the Big Gay Race — an event that raised more than $350,000 to fight the amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage. He said if you’re not organizing, you’re not going to be an effective council member.
Hofstede said community organizing is part of her “DNA” and referenced her community outreach work through the Neighborhoodfest event and community meetings she holds throughout the ward. “This is not something new to me,” she said. “I have done this my whole life.”
Hofstede said constituent services is at the core of her work as a council member. Again she pointed to Neighborhoodfest and said she’s attended more than 1,000 community meetings. “It’s something you do every single day,” she said.
Frey, meanwhile, said if elected he would pledge to return phone calls and emails from constituents within 24 hours. He said a council member needs to be able to help facilitate a resolution for constituents who have issues that need to be addressed.
When asked about a vision for the floundering Block E, Frey said the entertainment complex needs to carve out smaller spaces that could attract local retailers. He said the development has been a “total disaster.”
Hofstede said she pushed for the downtown library to be at the site now home to Block E before it was built. As for a new vision, she said she’s confident the owner of Block E will come up with a creative solution for the complex.
Frey said community engagement goes beyond outreach and having meetings. “It’s about affirmatively going out and talking to people,” he said, adding it’s important to reach out to people not traditionally engaged with the city. He pointed to his own campaign as an example of his ability to form connections with a diverse group of people.
Hofstede pointed to her work with the University of Minnesota as an example of her community engagement work. She’s reached out to students on campus moving day and engaged students on ideas for the riverfront.
Frey said urban agriculture could be a “huge benefit” to the city. He said he’d like to see surfacing parking lots transformed into spaces for urban farmers. He also said more needs to be done to make sure all neighborhoods — not just upscale ones — have access to fresh, local foods.
Hofstede said she’s been a supportive of local, homegrown food her whole life. She has a garden in her backyard, is a supporter of the Northeast Farmers Market and has been involved in the Homegrown Minneapolis initiative — a citywide effort to increase the city’s capacity to grow and distribute local food.
Top three personal achievements
When asked to name her top three achievements, Hofstede pointed to her work collaborating with community partners to reduce crime, her leadership on efforts to improve the riverfront and her work on the development of the Central Library, which she called an “architectural wonder.”
Frey, a former professional distance runner, named the following as his top personal achievements: earning a spot running for Team USA, organizing the Big Gay Race to fight the marriage amendment and being named the city’s first recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. award recognizing outstanding work on social justice issues.
The Twins window slammed shut in 2011 when their team was decimated by concussions, bi-lateral leg weakness and locusts. Any hope of it reopening last year was dashed when injuries to their starting rotation revealed just how barren the minor league system had become. And, unfortunately, it’s going to remain closed this year.
It was bound to happen. They extended that window a full decade, something usually only wealthy teams can accomplish. They also converted that window into a new outdoor home, one that is going to let the sun shine on otherwise dreary seasons.
However, last year’s problem, a starting pitching rotation that ranked as the second worst in the majors, only nominally improved. The optimist will point out that the three offseason acquisitions — Vance Worley, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey — should be quite a bit better than last year’s patchwork. The cynic might suggest that the Twins acquired two fifth starters and a guy rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Both are right.
Instead, Twins General Manager Terry Ryan’s biggest moves focused on the next window. He traded away center fielders Denard Span AND Ben Revere for three young pitchers, including two high-upside prospects who could begin the year in AA. The hope is that they’ll eventually make their way to the majors along with Kyle Gibson, a #1 draft pick who worked his way back from Tommy John surgery last year and is in AAA. Those three, along with Scott Diamond and Worley, could man the rotation by the end of 2014.
But while pitching was the focus of the offseason, it’s the farm system’s hitters who are starting to garner national attention. Just about every minor league analyst listed the Twins farm teams as among the most loaded. For instance, Baseball America listed six Twins among the Top 100 in baseball. By comparison, the other four teams in the AL Central had nine players combined.
That talent begins to arrive this year. Ryan was comfortable trading away Revere and Span because first round draft pick Aaron Hicks had a breakout season in AA last year. A hot spring has put him in position to be the starting center fielder on Opening Day. A complete athlete, he’s a potential All-Star, but he’s just 23, has never played a game in AAA and has a history of struggling initially when he moves up a level. He won’t lift the Twins to an AL Central title this year, but his development will be worth gauging and he should be a fun player to watch.
Over the next two years, you’re going to start seeing changes all around the rest of the diamond too. On Opening Day, right field will belong to 25-year-old outfielder Chris Parmelee. He had an almost historic year in AAA-Rochester last year. But even he might be bumped to first base before the year is out by Oswaldo Arcia, who has slugged his way through AA and is still just 21 years old.
Let’s move to the infield. As early as late next year, the Twins could reload with another 1991 baby, Eddie Rosario, at second base. And then they could get even younger and a LOT better by giving 19-year-old Miguel Sano a shot at third base. Sano is a Dominican man-child, a top 10 national prospect who slugged 28 home runs in A-ball last year. Right behind them is the #2 overall pick in last year’s draft, outfielder Byron Buxton, who makes Ben Revere look slow. Seriously.
At shortstop there’s, well, nobody really. At least you won’t have to watch Tsuyoshi Nishioka. There is also no heir apparent at catcher, but Joe Mauer is under contract through the turn of the century, so that’s not really a priority.
That could be your next winning Twins team, but the minor league system should get even deeper this year. The Twins have the #4 overall pick in a MLB draft that features several high-upside college pitchers. (They’ll likely have a good pick next year, too.) And don’t be surprised if they trade away some veterans for even more prospects at the trade deadline. That could mean saying goodbye to fan favorite Justin Morneau, who will also be a free agent at the end of the year.
But that’s how a rebuild works. Fans’ focus for this year will to need to be on the sunshine, a cold beer and the individual players who are working to show they can contribute to the next competitive Twins team. If you’re one to focus on wins and losses, a third straight dismal season is imminent. But if you can peer forward a bit, that next window of opportunity may be opening sooner than you think.
John Bonnes writes for Twins Daily — a hub for all things Twins at twinsdaily.com. He started TwinsGeek.com in January of 2002. He also is the owner of GameDay Program and Scorecard, which provides the content for the Minnesota Twins Official Scorecard. You can hear him as a guest of the Powertrip Morning show on KFAN 101.3 and on his Gleeman and the Geek podcast, or follow him on Twitter at @TwinsGeek.