Minnesota Orchestra announces $40M expansion

Home of Minnesota Orchestra
Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis is the home of the Minnesota Orchestra.
MPR Photo/Tom Weber

The Minnesota Orchestra today announced a $40 million facelift and expansion for Orchestra Hall. Orchestra leaders say the project will improve every aspect of a visitors experience.

Orchestra Hall is a Minneapolis modernist landmark. It has a reputation in the classical music world for having some of the best acoustics in the business.

But orchestra managers say the building needs a makeover for a couple of reasons. First of all, it's 35 years old and modern materials and building techniques could make it better.

Orchestra rehearses
The Minnesota Orchestra today announced a $40 million expansion of Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

Second of all, the original designers appropriately put most of their resources into the hall itself and skimped on the lobby. Orchestra President and CEO Michael Henson said it has only about a third of the capacity of the hall itself. He said visitors often have to wade through crowds and stand in long lines.

"On a very pragmatic level we need to expand the physical size of the lobby," he said. "On a grander, more imaginative scale, we wish also to expand our audiences experience with us, and have opportunities for gathering before and after concerts [and] opportunities to engage with the orchestra's history, learn about music, and connect with a vibrant downtown community outside."

Henson said the way people are using lobbies and box offices are changing, and the orchestra will develop a flexible space which can keep adapting.

Royal Conservatory of Music
KPMB also designed the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto
Image courtesy Minnesota Orchestra

Inside the hall the renovation will refurbish and modernize the fixtures. It will also work on the touchy issue of on-stage acoustics. While audiences rave about Orchestra Hall's sound, some musicians complain it's hard to hear each other on stage. Henson said the work will be done carefully, with the audience foremost in mind.

"As part of our renovation we will work with professional acousticians to ensure we absolutely preserve this exceptional attribute of the hall," Henson said.

The renovation will also modernize backstage facilities.

The project is half the cost of the renovation the Orchestra originally proposed a couple of years ago, before the economic downturn. Orchestra management describe it as a being a right-sized project for the times.

Goodman Theater
KPMB renovated Chicago's Goodman Theater
Image courtesy Minnesota Orchestra

The Orchestra has chosen Toronto-based KPMB Architects for the design. The firm specializes in renovations of existing performance venues. One of their major projects was updating Chicago's Goodman Theater.

Marianne McKenna, a KPMB partner said people will notice a change in the exterior of Orchestra Hall. Gone will be the plastic film images currently on the exterior. This will allow people to see out and see in.

New techniques will allow for a larger panes of glass.

Marianne McKenna
Marianne McKenna is one of two lead architects on the Orchestra Hall renovation
Image courtesy Minnesota Orchestra

McKenna said they will also be talking with the City of Minneapolis about including the adjoining Peavey Plaza in the project. It is also a downtown landmark, with its tiered concrete structure and fountains. But McKenna said it too would benefit from being updated.

"It was built in a time when it was very popular to drop the level down below sidewalk level," McKenna said. "We are in a time when actually you elevate people where you lift them up and make them part of that public realm, part of that streetscape which is where things are exciting."

McKenna said even if there are no changes in Peavey Plaza the Orchestra Hall redesign will encourage interaction between the hall and the park.

She said preliminary designs should be available in December, with construction probably beginning in early 2011, and completed in 2012. There will likely be some disruption of schedules, but orchestra managers say they will follow the model used by the Walker Art center during its expansion, and make use of outside venues.

Canada's National Ballet School
One of KPMB's designs was for Canada's National Ballet School
Image courtesy Minnesota Orchestra

The Orchestra also announced it has raised $14 million of the $40 million cost of the project. It will ask the state to provide a further $14 million through bonding next year, then make up the rest of the cost through public donations.

DFL Sen. Richard Cohen of St. Paul chairs the Senate Finance Committee. He said the earlier renovation proposal won legislative support, although it was vetoed by Gov. Pawlenty.

Cohen said if the city of Minneapolis gets behind the new proposal he thinks there is a good chance it will get legislative support.

"And there is certainly a lot of lead time to work with the governor and get his support as well," Cohen said.

The bonding request for the Orchestra Hall renovation will go to the legislature during the next session.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.