The long-standing fight over the future of the Terrace Theatre in Robbinsdale came to a head Saturday morning, when developers moved in with backhoes and started demolishing the building, while a group of preservationists determined to save the building succeeded in getting an 11th-hour stay.
Upon learning that demolition was underway, Attorney Erik Hansen, working on behalf of Friends of the Terrace, summoned Hennepin County Chief Justice Ivy Bernhardson and asked her to come to the site and issue an order stopping the work temporarily.
“She was in her car, signing the order, when the backhoe knocked two big holes in the building,” said Susan James-Morrow, spokesperson for Friends of the Terrace. “Once they knew the judge was there, the backhoes came out. It was totally despicable.”
The order signed at the Terrace site Saturday by Bernhardson is effective until 4:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 26. “We are trying to figure out if irreparable damage was done today (Saturday), and I don’t think we know the answer right now,” Hansen said.
On Sunday, James-Morrow said that the Friends group does not know what the next steps will be in the matter.
The fight to save the 65-year-old theater at 3508 France Ave. N., vacant since 1999, has involved a passionate group of mostly residents who are determined that the theater can be renovated.
Inland Development Partners has a $5.2 million purchase agreement for the property.
At one time, Hy-Vee was interested in locating a grocery store there, but the company withdrew Aug. 19 because of intense citizen sentiment against the plan.
In the meantime, city officials say a survey they conducted indicated that 85 percent of Robbinsdale residents favored razing the theater and redeveloping the site.
Saturday’s drama capped an intense week, which began on Sept. 19, when Hennepin County District Court Judge Michael Browne denied the Friends of the Terrace request for a temporary restraining order.
On Sept. 23, Hansen filed an appeal of the judge’s ruling denying a temporary restraining order, and asked the state Court of Appeals for an emergency injunction to prevent the theater from being destroyed or demolished. He asked the court for an expedited hearing on the matter.
Hansen also requested that the court direct Brixmor, the potential developer, “not to impair the aesthetic and historic characteristics of the Terrace Theatre, including but not limited to the removal of architectural features.”
He conceded that it was unusual to have a judge come to a site to sign such an order. “The stay was in place to let the first judge decide whether to stay demolition while the appeal is going on,” he said.
At noon Friday, Sept. 23, Robbinsdale city officials said that no request had been received for a demolition permit for the theater site. Late Friday afternoon, however, the developer secured a demolition permit from the city.
Onlookers who gathered on the sidewalk Saturday to watch the demolition begin had mixed feelings about it. Andy Batson, who grew up in Brooklyn Center and now lives in Robbinsdale, said the Terrace was the first theater he went to when he was young.
“I saw ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ there when I was 11,” he said. “Best movie ever. Best theater ever.”
But Blake Lehane, a four-year Robbinsdale resident, said, “I’m excited to see the theater go and see the corner redeveloped. I’m looking forward to economic development, though I have empathy for the people who want to save it.”
Friends of the Terrace argued that the Terrace could be rehabilitated and preserved, and also that it is eligible for inclusion on the National Register.
City officials, however, said it would cost $2.4 million just to bring the building up to code.
As the backhoes began moving Saturday, according to James-Morrow, Friends of the Terrace contacted the state Pollution Control Agency and OSHA, and she said Hennepin County Sheriff’s deputies came to the site.
The group’s original lawsuit, filed Aug. 23, argued that the theater building is protected under Minnesota Environmental Law.