Political Theater

The Guthrie's search for new digs casts the company in a Minneapolis development drama

The Guthrie's Hawkanson is now calculating his organization's place in these equations as the theater begins raising what might be tens of millions of dollars. "There's no question a group of potential funders are anxious to see how our plans match up with the future progress of the city," Hawkanson says. We're very aware of that. We can't do this in and of ourselves."

If the Guthrie is the caboose in the conception of the Sumner-Fields scheme, it's more of an engine in the shaping of the new downtown. There's no doubt that City Council president Jackie Cherryhomes--arguably Minneapolis's most powerful politician--wants the Guthrie downtown as part of the ever-expanding--and ever-more-subsidized--theater district, which includes the Hey City Theater, and the State and Orpheum Theatres. Cherryhomes says she was "disappointed" when Guthrie consultant William Morrish told her recently that the theater favored the park site. "Everybody on council would love for the Guthrie to come downtown, but Bill was real clear," she says. "It is the second choice, and I have not had any reliable contacts to the contrary." Hawkanson demurs, saying only that "Bill was speaking to Jackie as an individual."

Quips Morrish, an urban design specialist: "I've had a long talk with Jackie about the park site because of the stuff happening on the north side. But there is no priority site I've told her the Guthrie is interested in. I think it's cool that she has a preference, though."

Other council members do speculate the Guthrie could be an anchor for a new development on the vacant Block E between Target Center and City Center, should the current $101-million hotel and entertainment complex proposed for the site evaporate. Another alternative is Block D, which also houses the Hennepin Center for the Arts. Fueling such speculation: the presence of block owner Jim Binger, a theater impresario who is also a Guthrie board-member-for-life and a regular presence at Guthrie board and long-range planning-committee meetings.

At the same time, a Guthrie source says, Binger has never uttered a word in Guthrie meetings about the theater moving onto his block. For his part, Binger defers all comment to Hawkanson. The managing director says, "right now Blocks D and E are not available. At this point, [downtown] is not a fit for us."

Once again, Hawkanson adds that he is not excluding any possibilities. "The mayor and Jackie have both been terrific about letting us go through a process," he says, adding that "no one has suggested political pressure, or [offered] any carrots."

But the city may already be prepared to pony up, according to Jim Niland, the 6th-Ward DFL'er who chairs the influential Community Development Committee. Asked if he would support public funds for the Guthrie, Niland says, "Yes, I would certainly support that. I can't really say how much right now, but it could be significant."

At a time when the council has already sunk tens of millions into the State and Orpheum Theaters, and is willing to spend another $4.7 million to preserve and move Block E's Shubert Theater, the city has already tied downtown development to entertainment. "You've seen same economic studies that I have," Niland says. "If you spend money on economic development, you get a tremendous return on arts and culture as opposed to stadiums for pro sports."

"There would be a tremendous payoff," in moving the Guthrie several blocks up Hennepin, Niland continues. "We could host an international theater festival like Winnipeg [Stratford] Shakespeare Festival, where everyone is closer to restaurants and shopping where they can spend their money."

Hawkanson chuckles when asked how it feels to be in a potential tug-of-war between a barrier-busting parks coalition and an entertainment-chasing City Council. "I think the more opportunities we have, the better," he says.

The Guthrie can only hope to plot such a charmed course in the second act of this development drama.

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