DEBATE OVER THE possibility of saving and renovating the historic Shubert Theater at last week's Minneapolis City Council Community Development Committee meeting was so intense that the tripling of the city's controversial plan for Block E nearly went unnoticed. In the middle of the heated debate about the Shubert, Harold Brandt, president of the local arm of the city's preferred developer, Brookfield Management Services, casually announced that Brookfield and DDRM Entertainment President Stanley Castleton had, earlier that same day, signed a letter of intent to develop not just Block E, but blocks D and F. Those are the blocks on either side of E where First Avenue nightclub and the Hennepin Center for the Arts are located. The developers then dropped a second quiet bombshell: The project's cost to the public would be closer to $38 million than the $20 million previously quoted.
Council members barely blinked. Without seeing a plan for the new three-block development, nor estimates of what the new, larger complex would cost taxpayers, members went ahead and granted exclusive development rights to the two companies. Next, the Council gave Brookfield the green light to move ahead with its original one-block plan should its "whirlwind romance" with DDRM fail. Council members Lisa McDonald and Doré Mead expressed apprehension about granting those rights without seeing a plan, saying they felt the developer was asking the city for a "leap of faith." Brookfield and DDRM, however, countered that they might lose retail tenants for Block E if the city failed to act. That argument, apparently, was enough to carry the motion.
Also buried was news that some of the damage to the theater--including possible structural damage that could make the theater much more difficult to renovate or move--was the result of the city's negligence. According to Britta Bloomberg of the state Historic Preservation Office, when the Shubert was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, the city agreed to maintain it. Virtually no maintenance has been done since the city bought much of Block E in the late '80s, including repairs to a leaking roof that is said to have caused some of the most significant damage. The full Council is expected to vote on the Brookfield plan December 30.