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City council panel recommends demolition of Star Tribune building

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The Minneapolis City Council's zoning committee has signed off on the demolition of the Star Tribune's building, one of the final hurdles to passing Downtown East, a proposed 5-block multi-use office, housing, retail and park development near the new Vikings stadium.

The Star Tribune wants to sell off its real estate in Downtown East, and reportedly move to the Capella tower. It is expected to sell off its property later this month to developer Ryan Cos., which is proposing the $400 million project, including two 20-story office towers for Wells Fargo.

On Nov. 19, the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission denied Ryan Companies' request to demolish the Star Tribune building itself, despite recommendations to accommodate the building's history in other ways. That included a study documenting the history of the building and preserving a half-dozen symbolic medallions on the building's facade.

Ryan Cos. vice president for development Rick Collins made the case today for the City Council to approve the demolition.

He said his company considered partly demolishing and reusing the Star Tribune, but he told the zoning committee that it would cost about $46 million dollars to leave about 149,000 square foot for redevelopment.

"This building is not economically feasible to redevelop," Collins said. "Removal of this building allows us to create a two block urban park that visually and physically connects the new stadium to City Hall."

Collins said the building now stands in the way of the larger stadium district project. "We need to have a conclusion to this discussion about the demolition of the 425 Portland building," noting that it doesn't have a historical designation.

The Star Tribune, for its part, said it is more than ready to leave the building behind. Publisher Michael Klingensmith called it "functionally obsolete" and said its only about half occupied now. He said the paper expected to move into leased space in a downtown office tower, although he didn't say which one.

The building didn't get a lot of love, either, from the Heritage Preservation Committee staff, which recommended approving its demolition last month.

Heritage Preservation Committee staffer John Smoley said it had mixed historical significance. "It's kind of an oddity, in that it's not on newspaper row."

That "row" used to run along 4th Street, from 1st to Marquette avenues. Smoley also told the committee that the building "did undergo some pretty radical transformations during its history."

But Linda Mack, a former Star Tribune staffer and member of the Heritage Preservation Commission, made the case for clemency for the Strib's headquarters.

"It's not just an oddity in the West Bank milling district. It has defined downtown East. This building has represented newspapers in this city for 70 years," she said.

She also said the architecture was significant. "We do not have many buildings from the 1940," she told the committee. "Although it is not a classic Art Deco building, it's a pretty sound example of Art Moderne."

Still, Tom Fisher, dean of the University of Minnesota's architecture school, spoke in favor of letting the demolition go forward. He argued that clearing the site could clear the way for "a major open space for that part of downtown, that would become THE major open space for the entire downtown... A real asset and one that we should do everything we can to help create."

The zoning committee voted 4-1 to approve the appeal from Ryan Cos., and the recommendation will go to the whole City Council on Friday. The Star Tribune is expecting to move out in early 2015.