BEST GROUND ZERO Minneapolis 1998 -
A decade ago, when Minneapolis city officials got their skivvies in a snarl about crime on Block E, they did what their predecessors since time immemorial have done when faced with such weighty matters: They broke out the wrecking ball. But then they did something uncharacteristically intelligent: They left the flattened acreage, located across Hennepin Avenue from the Target Center, alone. Unfortunately, this was not because someone on the Minneapolis City Council had finally noticed the lack of uninterrupted green space downtown and was considering building a park there. No, the blessed spate of inactivity transpired entirely by accident, as development proposal after development proposal fell through. But now the city has enlisted DDRM Entertainment and Brookfield Management Services to build something. Something big enough to encompass not only Block E but also the adjacent Blocks D and F. Something called an "urban entertainment center." Anchored by bazillion-screen movie theaters and buttressed by amenities like mega-retailers and theme restaurants, such developments merely represent the latest urban-mall fad. Trouble is, what all the hip cities are wearing today isn't necessarily what they'll be wearing 10 years from now. Just as ominously, this town's leadership has exhibited an uncanny knack for backing the building of eyesores, if not outright financial flops. Witness the tasteless, low-budget City Center, laid downtown like a big square turd in the early 1980s; Gaviidae Common, an upscale piece of early-1990s Brookfield excreta that's so empty most days you could roll a bowling ball down its length and fail to knock over a single shopper; and, finally, the posh Conservatory, whose demolition earlier this year was a veritable case of infanticide. And if any local citizens harbored hopes that the Brookfield/DDRM venture might be more aesthetically pleasing than previous attempts, their rose-colored optimism was severely smudged last month when the developers all but carted away the historic Shubert Theater and trotted out a preliminary design that proudly stressed "experience, not architecture." Had the City Council managed to apply even a modicum of long-range thinking, Block E might have been transformed into a symbol of everything that's so wonderfully livable about this city. As it now stands, this vital plot of land is destined to become yet another sad example of the imbecilic approach to development that is our legacy, and, apparently, our future.