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Eventually, good marks for historic preservation
Written by Kerry Ashmore, Publisher
Posted  9/22/2010
Here’s a rarely-heard message which, while limited in scope to the following subject matter, needs to be stated:

The government is on the right track. Stay the course.

The limited subject matter in question: Historic preservation of some of Northeast’s multi-challenged structures. Specifically, over the course of several decades, the government has gone to bat for Northeast, assisting in preservation efforts for the multi-building Grain Belt Brewery complex, the Hollywood Theater, the Ritz Theater and numerous projects on or near the riverfront.

Sometimes, the projects appear "neat and clean" and the redevelopment work happens relatively quickly. Other projects, such as the Grain Belt complex, have taken many years to "come back to life." The Ritz Theater, after making it through the development process and building an impressive rental and performance schedule, has a debt load that’s proving difficult to maintain (a serious problem, to be sure, but definitely fixable). And still others, such as the Hollywood Theater, remain stubbornly stuck between an important past and an unknown future.

State, federal and local government units, especially the City of Minneapolis, have applied measured doses of action and patience concerning these properties. When the chips have been really down, government has stepped in, determining that these structures are important to everyone, and that it’s appropriate to invest everyone’s money in preserving them.

People such as your publishers chide the governments occasionally for being a bit too patient in the redevelopment process, and no doubt we will continue to do so. We note that buildings such as the Hollywood Theater and the Grain Belt office building (see story on page 1) have been empty for years, and we’re afraid something terrible will happen (and it might) if we don’t see some action soon. It’s all part of the public give and take that combines to find the right balances.

In time frames of just a few years, the painful sight of abandoned properties grows on people, and grows on communities. When the time frame is expanded out to a decade or two or more, however, the government’s historic-preservation track record looks pretty good (as long as speed isn’t considered a high priority). High-quality facilities and high-quality businesses have replaced the blight or borderline blight that often existed prior to government intervention.

This is not to say that high-quality historic preservation can’t or shouldn’t happen without government intervention, and Central Avenue has a shining example of private-sector restoration in the Heights Theater. When private money and a few boatloads of sweat equity can make the project happen, that’s the way to go.

Entirely too many momentarily-obsolete buildings fall to the wrecking ball and to whatever trendy corporate or franchise development pushes the financial folks’ buttons. Once in a while, though, government people say, "Not this time." And we’re glad when they do.

Northeaster Opinion