‘New’ Northrop multi-purpose cultural center ‘open to all’ by spring 2014

U of M officials say urban community engagement a top priority 


By Charles Hallman

Staff Writer


University of Minnesota’s Northrop Auditorium, for most of its 90-plus life, has been the annual home for graduation ceremonies, concerts and speaking engagements, but in recent years it has fallen into “serious disrepair.”

Using computer-generated images and input from other consultants, James Moore of HGA Architects and Engineers, during a November 21 press conference at Coffman Union, explained that his firm designed and carried out “a very complex…expansion” of the historic building that is expected to be fully completed in April 2014.

“The construction has been done in a very careful way with lots of respect for the existing fabric,” Moore pointed out. The “new” Northrop will have 2,174 fewer seats but 1,200 more seats closer to the stage, and the building’s square footage will

Northrop Auditorium
Northrop Auditorium

be doubled from 15,000 to 30,000.

Other new features include doubling the number of concessions stands and public restrooms along with installing an additional elevator. The building also will have over 10,000 more square feet for two new conference rooms, seven multi-purpose rooms, and a new 168-seat lecture/recital hall that will serve as home for two school programs.

When finished, it will be “a multi-purpose, state-of-the-art cultural center,” proclaimed U of M Senior Vice-President for Academic Affairs and Provost Karen Hanson, adding that it also will house three school programs: the University Honors Program, the Institute for Advanced Study, and the College of Design’s Travelers Innovation Lab. “Our vision positions Northrop as central to the university’s mission as a land-grant and research university.”

The MSR asked both Hanson and Northrop Director Christine Tschida after the press conference why the average Minnesotan, including many in the Black community who don’t come to the campus, should be interested in a transformed Northrop.

“We envision the Northrop space as one that’s very connected to our communities. It is important to us that the programming reach out to all our communities,” responded Hanson.

“We want to make sure that [for] many of the special events that are held in the performing arts spaces or the recital hall we engage with the [non-campus] community,

(l-r) Karen Hanson, Christine Tschida, Pamela Price Baker Photos by Charles Hallman
(l-r) Karen Hanson, Christine Tschida, Pamela Price Baker
Photos by Charles Hallman

and sometimes that will mean finding foundations that will underwrite travel to and from elementary schools, high schools [and] junior high schools to come see events, lectures and performances, and we are actively seeking funders to help us do that. It’s important to us that we connect in that way.

“We want to invite the community — we regard this as an important space for all Minnesota, and particularly the urban region,” continued Hanson. “We want everyone to feel at home there and want to make sure that it is used by our community.”

Northrop will be open to all, Tschida emphasized: “It is not only cultural activities we will be having here,” she explained, adding that the building will help the university “open its doors in ways that it hasn’t before with this facility.

“Come — you don’t have to sign up for a class and pay tuition. Come hear one of these topics, engage in these topics with these folk. There are going to be so many [events] that we can offer free to the public,” said Tschida.

Pam Wheelock, the school’s university services vice president, told reporters that the three-year project has cost $88.5 million, funded mainly by the university with state funds and private donors. “It was a complex project, and we’re thrilled that we had over 1,250 construction workers on site, and there are still 220 construction workers on site and [we have] had no lost time due to injuries. We hope we can say the same in April,” she stated.

During a press-only tour after last week’s press conference, the MSR observed at least five Black workers on the worksite. When asked about workforce diversity on the project, Ken Styrlund of JE Dunn estimated that about 20 percent are Blacks and other people of color.

According to Styrlund, there was an eight-percent goal set and 10 percent achieved for skilled minority workers. For unskilled minority workers, there was a 15-percent goal, but only 12 percent was actually met. And for women, there was a four-percent goal set with 10 percent actually met.

“It’s very challenging…keeping everything intact, revitalizing and renovating everything around it, but [it’s a] very rewarding project,” said Styrlund. “This is the second most-recognized building in the state.”

“There will be lots of study spaces,” University Honors Program (UHP) Associate Director Pamela Price Baker said of her program being relocated inside Northrop. It is currently housed in Nickelson Hall.

“We don’t have enough space [at the current location],” Price Baker explained. “The fact that we get to be in Northrop will be beneficial…By having a program that really facilitates an engagement across all disciplines, it actually will bring in more students.”

UHP has an enrollment of over 2,300 “high-achieving” undergraduates and sponsors a “broad spectrum of events throughout the academic year.”

“We very much are an interdisciplinary program,” continued Price Baker. “Our students come from every major, every discipline across both campuses. We now will have the space to really be able to handle [the number of students] we need to handle.”

“About 18 percent” of the UHP students are Blacks and other students of color, estimates the associate director. “It is representative of what the university campus percentage is,” she believes. “For our purposes it is not enough — being in Northrop, they will know that we’re here.”

Finally, Price Baker stressed that not only community outreach is needed but also “in-reach” to communities of color on campus. “I think the more exposure [we have] and the more students realize that this is a place that they can be, more will start thinking of it as a place to be.”


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.

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