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Historic Northrop Memorial Auditorium could be the focus of a massive renovation in the next few years.
Stage set for Northrop renewal
Recommendations for campus centerpiece underscore U's commitment to historic mission, transformative change
By Jim Thorp
Brief, Feb. 14, 2007
Long the historic heart of the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus, Northrop Memorial Auditorium could one day expand from a fine arts and lectures mecca to a hub of U activity 24 hours a day, seven days a week, if a proposed new vision is adopted.
In February 2006, President Robert Bruininks charged a group of University and community leaders to develop a vision for the future of Northrop that supports the U's goal of becoming one of the top three public research universities in the world.
"Northrop is one of the most recognizable buildings in the state," Bruininks told the Board or Regents at its Feb. 9, 2007, meeting. "It's always been the home to exciting artistic performances ... We were seeking a vision for the future of Northrop that is at the center of the life of the University."
The Future of Northrop Advisory Committee was co-chaired by vice president for university services Kathleen O'Brien and College of Liberal Arts dean Steven Rosenstone, who presented the board with an overview of the group's conclusions and recommendations.
Although the University is already spending $21 million to stabilize the building and address safety concerns, O'Brien and Rosenstone offered a sobering assessment of the current state of Northrop:
>> No aspect of Northrop is without issue.
>> The current configuration and use patterns make only a modest contribution to the academic priorities of the U.
>> The substantial resources required to maintain the facility demand a multi-use, daily-use facility to provide more bang for the University buck.
Northrop Memorial Auditorium opened in 1929 with a seating capacity of 4,800--the U's entire student body at the time. According to Rosenstone, once safety and accessibility issues addressed, the renovated auditorium will seat no more than 4,000.
According to the 30-page report, the recommendations will "transform a sacred, aging and crumbling icon" into:
- A bustling and dynamic place that advances the University's academic mission and is a fully integrated part of the everyday life of the University community.
- A forum for discussion and debate about the most innovative ideas and challenging issues of our time.
- A venue in which diverse, eclectic and exciting events, performances and gatherings routinely engage the University and the broader community.
- A state-of-the-art facility with superior design, acoustics, spaces and technologies that facilitate rich programming.
- A place of distinction that enlightens, inspires, provokes, challenges and educates students, faculty and staff and connects the University of Minnesota to the world.
The committee's recommendations would reconfigure the auditorium to create superior acoustics and sightlines, address all health and safety issues, and enrich the facility with up-to-date technology. Reducing the size of the auditorium would provide space within the building to house a signature academic program such as the new University honors program, as well as flexible-use meeting space for seminars and informal student and faculty gatherings. The project would cost an estimated $70 million, requiring state and private support, as well as additional bonding on the University's part.
In other action, the Board of Regents:
- Accepted gifts totaling nearly $60 million for the months of November and December 2006. According to U of M Foundation president Gerald Fischer, December was a record month, with gifts totaling more than $52 million. Fisher highlighted major gifts from the Charles J. Biederman estate to the Weisman Art Museum and from Target Corporation to support capital initiatives on the Twin Cities campus including TCF Stadium, a new Weisman wing, and the Carlson School of Management's Hanson Hall.
- Reviewed policy clarifying the relationship between the University and associated organizations, including appropriate U representation on the boards of such organizations and appropriate standards for ethics, business practices, accountability, and alignment.
- Accepted the report and recommendations of the All-University Honors Committee and heard a report from the Faculty Consultative Committee on the status of tenure code revisions and the establishment of University-wide student learning outcomes.
See also the new release, "U of M Regents hear plan for future of Northrop Auditorium, new East Gateway campus district" (Feb. 9). The next Board of Regents meetings are scheduled for March 8-9 on the Twin Cities campus.
For the complete report of the Future of Northrop Advisory Committee, see pages 69-103 of the February 2007 board docket (PDF 3.30 MB).