Terrace Theatre demolition halted; back in court Community group needs $6.35 million bond to save theater

Demolition of the Historic Terrace Theatre in Robbinsdale began on Saturday September 24, less than 48 hours after Friends of the Terrace had filed an appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals and while the chief justice of the Hennepin County courts was on the site signing a stay to stop crews.

Two members of the Robbinsdale Police Department were informed by Erik Hansen, attorney for Friends of the Terrace, that a Hennepin County judge was enroute with an injunction preventing damage to the 65 year old theater. When the officers informed Kent Carlson of Inland Development of the impending arrival of the judge, Carlson ordered a backhoe on site to punch a large hole in the building.

With the chief justice in the parking lot signing the order, and in contempt of her verbal order, the backhoe punched a large hole in the second floor of the building and knocked out plywood on the first floor that formerly covered what was a large window. Demolition stopped once the written order was handed to the officers.

Friends of the Terrace president Susan James Morrow called the act by Carlson and Inland “a despicable act of sabotage. Clearly a desperate move by Inland to avoid having the case heard in front of the appeals court. There is no way that one backhoe could take down a huge structure like the Terrace, so clearly their intent was to sabotage the building.”

A subsequent review of the damage to the theatre by a structural engineer indicated that the damage was repairable and that the building was not in any danger of collapse.

The stay of demolition expired on Monday, September 26 at 4:30 p.m. while attorneys gathered in court before Judge Michael Browne. Browne was the judge who originally heard the case a week before and had denied a request for a temporary restraining order. Browne then issued a ruling late Monday evening that the Friends of the Terrace grass-roots community group would have to post bonds of $6.35 million by Friday, September 30 at 4:30 p.m. or demolition could continue. The Friends group is appealing the bond amount.

In their initial court hearing, Brixmor and the City of Robbinsdale used results of an unscientific online survey as evidence of the will of Robbinsdale residents. “It’s a joke to use results of a survey that was promoted by social media platforms that are friendly to their cause to prove their point” said Terrace Friends VP Brad Nyberg. Inexplicably in both of his rulings, Judge Browne cited the results of the unscientific online-survey as evidence in favor of demolition.

“We could do the same thing, write the question ourselves, promote it on our save the Terrace pages and get the results that we want…and it would have just as much validity as their so-called survey,” said Nyberg.

Nyberg went on to say “Opponents of the demolition of the Terrace chose not to waste their time with an extremely biased ‘survey’ and instead put their time, effort and money into the legal battle.”

Friends of the Terrace filed their appeal in the Minnesota Court of Appeals on the ruling by Judge Browne that denied their request for a temporary restraining order to halt the demolition of the Historic Terrace Theatre in Robbinsdale.

Friends of the Terrace, a small grass roots group of predominantly Robbinsdale residents,  filed a MERA (Minnesota Environmental Rights Act) lawsuit in Hennepin County District Court on August 23 against multi-million dollar absentee-property-owner Brixmor  to save the  65 year old Historic Terrace Theater from demolition.

Friends’ legal team, led by Erik Hansen said that the appeal is based on the following:

*That the court erred in putting too much weight on economic factors, when the statute (MERA) is clear that they cannot determine the outcome.

*The court erred in believing that “Friends of the Terrace” was acting in order to get involved in the redevelopment. Friends was always acting to preserve the theater for future generations, and nothing more

*The court seems to have misunderstood its role in evaluating alternatives for redevelopment. The court’s job was to determine if the property was an historic resource, which it did and then determine if there was no other option but demolition. The court got the second part of that wrong, because the materials presented in court proved that there were other options.

In the September 13 hearing in District Court, Hansen presented documents from National Register Historian Denis Gardner from the State Historic Preservation Office, stating that the Terrace would qualify for designation on the National Register of Historic Places. Affidavits were submitted to show that others have tried to purchase the theater, but Brixmor never returned their telephone calls.

Hansen also pointed out in court that by advocating for demolition of the theater, a natural resource, the City of Robbinsdale through its REDA was in violation of MERA.

On July 13, 2016 HyVee announced their intentions to demolish the historic theatre and build a 91,500 square foot big box store in its place. When those initial plans for HyVee were announced, the Save the Terrace group gathered over 1100 signatures in just a couple weeks,  promising to boycott HyVee nationwide.

The City of Robbinsdale announced on August 19 that Hyvee had either backed out from or delayed their plan to redevelop the Terrace site. That announcement came four days before the Friends of the Terrace had filed its lawsuit in Hennepin County District Court.

The Historic Terrace Theatre was built in 1951, and was designed by prominent Twin Cities architects Liebenberg and Kaplan as their crowning achievement and final indoor movie theater. It has been closed since 1999.