Guthrie Unveils $125M Theater Plan

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Guthrie Theater has unveiled plans for a $125 million, three-stage complex along the Mississippi River and a campaign to raise $75 million in private funds for its development.

The Guthrie already has $57.1 million in commitments from individuals, corporations and foundations but needs $35 million in state assistance, artistic director Joe Dowling said.

"We know that if we do not have the public-private partnership that we want, this idea is in some serious jeopardy," Dowling said. "If you take out one of the (planned) theaters, then we may as well stay where we are."

The Walker Art Center, which owns the Guthrie's current performing space, wants to demolish the theater as part of an expansion. Guthrie officials say they want to move because the theater's needs have outgrown its 85,000-square-foot space.

Dowling unveiled the plans at a special event Thursday night attended by the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul, members of the Legislature and scores of Guthrie season ticket holders.

"We're known as one of the cultural centers of the Midwest. The Guthrie is the reason for it," said Ulla Lehman, a Guthrie ticket holder for 15 seasons.

As designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, the new Guthrie would re-create the famed thrust stage of the original theater in a 1,100-seat auditorium. Plans for the new theater center also include a 700-seat proscenium, or "picture-frame," stage and a 250-seat studio theater for student and experimental works.

The thrust and proscenium stages would be across from each other and would be raised above the ground. A common lobby would connect the two and would be accessible by escalator and elevator. The box office, coat racks and an exhibition space would be in the lower lobby. Production shops would be in a tower connected to the stage areas by walkways, so sets could be assembled and brought over.

The upper lobby would connect to a cantilevered bridge that would extend over the Mississippi River.

Dowling said the bridge would help make the new Guthrie a public space and be in tune with Sir Tyrone Guthrie's goals for his namesake theater, which opened in Minneapolis in 1963.

"I like to think that he would be proud that the Guthrie didn't just sort of stand still — that it is trying to expand its horizons," Dowling said.

The city of Minneapolis has committed to providing 1,000 parking spaces for the proposed Guthrie in two ramps — one underground on the theater site and the second on an adjacent block. The complex also would include a restaurant and four classrooms.

Dowling said the proposed complex would bring the Guthrie's scattered production shops together and provide teaching space.

He also cited the economic benefits the project would bring to the Historic Mills District of downtown Minneapolis and to the state as a cultural destination. "We're arguing very strongly that this is a resource for the state," Dowling said.

However, Gov. Jesse Ventura didn't include the Guthrie's $35 million request in his proposal last month for new capital spending by the state. While the governor wants to see the new Guthrie built, he opposes using state funds to build arts and entertainment projects, said Ventura spokesman John Wodele.

If the Guthrie's request gets through the Legislature, Dowling said ground could be broken this September, with the opening planned for spring 2005.

Dowling wants 90-year-old actor Hume Cronyn, a member of the Guthrie's original acting company, to open the new theater. "I want him to be the first person to walk on the new Guthrie stage as he was the first person to walk on the original," Dowling said.