City Centered: Save the Strib!

The Star Tribune building should not fall (entirely) to the wrecker’s ball.

Star Tribune building
Bobak Ha'Eri

The assumption, at press time, is that later in 2014 the Star Tribune will move its offices elsewhere downtown, vacating its 95-year headquarters to make way for the Vikings stadium-related scraping of Downtown East. It is not an eviction; the newspaper’s owners are excitedly preparing for the cash infusion from the sale of its voluminous downtown land holdings. (The newspaper no longer uses its empty 1980s annex on the north side of 4th Street, and its headquarters to the south are underutilized.)

Urbanists are excited about Ryan Companies’ plans for new office buildings and a two-block-long park (bisected by Portland Avenue) connecting the stadium and downtown. Currently, there’s nothing between Thrivent’s headquarters and the Metrodome (including the Metrodome) worth saving, except for the Strib building.

The plan, as articulated in November, is to demolish the 1919 structure (heavily modified in the 1940s to an art moderne style) save for the historic entry “roundels” documenting the state’s history. But then the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission denied advance authority for demolition, calling for more study and a discussion of alternatives. (The City Council need not honor the HPC’s advice.) Ryan says the Strib building must go if it is to develop the park, which is the lynchpin of its development subsidy with the city of Minneapolis.

The Star and Tribune Building, as it is formally known, is not an important building along the lines of Minneapolis’s Metropolitan Building, whose tragic 1960s demolition sparked the preservation movement in town. And it would be a tragedy if the revitalization of Downtown East was stymied by a single historic structure, but I’d argue the Strib building is both more than and less than it seems.

Less in that the truly important aspect of the building is its art moderne façade, not its heavily altered interior or rear. More in that the building symbolizes the preeminence of a newspaper that knit this community together as it evolved from St. Paul’s anteroom to the state’s dominant metropolis. The façade symbolizes the watchful eye of a press estate that chronicled the city’s history while serving as a galvanizing force for its reform and betterment.

I’d suggest a proper compromise is to preserve the center portion of the façade, perhaps forming the backdrop for a performance stage in the park or otherwise anchoring the space. (Star and Tribune Park should be the inevitable name for the green space.) Alternately, a preserved façade could be integrated into Ryan’s office development, though that’s a less compelling option.

I doubt that BuzzFeed’s office space or The Huffington Post’s HQ will ever be the subject of a preservation debate, but we are living in a different era, one in which media is personal, ephemeral, and far less influential. But the Star and Tribune Building has watched over downtown for 95 years. It’s an edifice where thousands of people have worked to chronicle the life of a place and its people.

That’s a vista we need to save, if for no other reason than to remind us of who we are and where we came from. In an era when news, and even history, is disposable, this part of our past must not be.

Adam Platt is the executive editor of Twin Cities Business Magazine and formerly held the same post at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. City Centered is his monthly column in Mpls.St.Paul Magazine that examines the cultural climate of the Twin Cities.