Proposed arts center could find development partner

2/22/02 - by John Gessner, Staff Writer

A proposed Burnsville arts center has gone from supersized to downsized, but backers still hope it will be built — possibly with the help of a private hotel developer.

A report released this month by city-hired arts consultants says that the four-story, 100,000 square-foot center dreamed up by local arts groups is too big and expensive for the groups’ needs.

The report recommends a smaller facility, anchored by a 500-seat theater instead of the 1,200-seat theater that had been suggested by the Community Arts Facility Committee, which formed in late 1999.

The city hired arts consultants Sutton and Associates and Artspace Projects to analyze the committee’s wish list in light of actual needs and to compare it with arts centers in other suburbs.

The consultant’s downsizing is “not unexpected,” said Burnsville Recreation and Facilities Director Gary Harker, who worked with the committee.

“The facility that the committee put together was really a dream facility, a facility to meet everybody’s needs,” he said. “We knew it was large, we knew it was a dream and we knew it would cost an awful lot.”

The center — which would be located west of the future Nicollet Commons Park in Burnsville’s Heart of the City — is considered a potential centerpiece of the redevelopment area along Nicollet Avenue between Burnsville Parkway and Highway 13.

“We need to find a way to pay for this facility, get it built and to run it,” Harker said.

That’s where a private hotel developer may come in.

Spirit Mountain Inc., an Arizona-based partnership proposing to build a 600-room hotel and training center complex in the Heart of the City, has said it might build the center and lease some of the space to local arts groups, according to Burnsville Economic Development Coordinator Judy Tschumper.

The arts consultants have discussed the idea with Spirit Mountain officials and are urging the city to hold off on further planning until the partnership firms up its plans.

“We believe that if Spirit Mountain’s plans move forward, opportunities may exist for collaboration,” the consultants’ report said. “Moreover, Spirit Mountain has indicated that they intend to bring substantial financial resources to the project.”

The arts center, which would be separate from the hotel, may fit Spirit Mountain’s business plan, which includes hotel rooms, a conference center, an indoor park, a training center, ballrooms and restaurants, according to Tschumper. The complex would be north of the arts center.

Tschumper said the City Council will act on a preliminary development agreement with Spirit Mountain in March.

“We’ve had various meetings with the different partners from around the country, and they seem very credible, very sincere in what they’re proposing to do,” she said.

Whether an arts center is part of that remains to be seen.

“We’re at a crossroads,” Harker said.

If that concept falls through, another way to finance the center could be to attract a larger arts group as an anchor tenant, the consultants said.

But that could require a larger facility than the scaled-back version designed to meet only local needs, the consultants said.

“Interviews with leaders of local arts organizations indicate a significant need for a facility for the performing and visual arts in Burnsville,” the report concluded.

According to the report, potential users of the center include Applause Community Theater, the Dakota Valley Symphony, School District 191 Community Education, Giant Step Theatre, Reaching Out Theatre, the South of the River Community Band, the Chameleon Theatre Circle, private dance and music instructors, the Minnesota River School of Fine Arts in Burnsville, the Burnsville History Society, Eagan-based Exultate choirs, the Dakota Valley Arts Council, the Minnesota River Valley Arts Association in Shakopee, Burnsville-based Crossroads Panorama and Eagan Men’s and Women’s Choruses.

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