Century-old grain elevator at U of M is going down

Preservationists fought to save the relic but the U of M wants to put something else there

A 60-foot-tall steel landmark that's been sentinel on the edge of the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus for more than a century is just about ready to stand down.

Actually, it's going to be knocked down following a vote Friday by the U of M's Board of Regents.

The Electric Steel Elevator and its 32 grain silos are a throwback to a time when the Mississippi moved lots of grain through Minneapolis.

About 100 people sent messages urging them to spare Minnesota's only steel grain elevator, but regents decided there's no viable way for the university to reuse the silos and something else should be done with those five acres of land near the Gophers' football stadium.

(Their discussion of the grain elevator starts about 2 hours and 5 minutes into this video.)

The argument for keeping the silos

The oldest parts of Electric Steel Elevator were built in 1901, the university says. (Lots of elevator-related stuff starts on page 95 of this document.)

Later on, concrete was used to build elevators so steel grain silos are extremely rare. The Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, which fought to save the buildings, says they would qualify for the National Register of Historic Places.

Minneapolis thought the historic value of the structures was enough that the city turned down the previous owner's request to demolish them.

One of the people who wrote to the university asking them to keep the elevator up was Bruce Wright, an architect and U of M alum, who wrote:

"The histories of Minneapolis and the university are intimately tied to the history of grain processing on the Mississippi and these structures are representative of that history, integral to the urban landscape."

So why not save them?

The university had a panel study several possible ways to reuse the grain elevator but the report that came back in August (it starts on page 97 here) said ultimately there is no viable reuse that fits with the university's mission.

As the Pioneer Press reported last month, the university's athletics department wants the land where the grain elevator sits to be the new home of its "sports bubble" – a dome where intramural athletes and other students can play softball or soccer during the winter.

(In a sports construction chain reaction, the bubble's current site is becoming a new track and field facility.)

At Friday's meeting University President Eric Kaler backed off his previous support for the sports bubble plan and told regents he will get back to them on other possible uses for the land, the Star Tribune says.

Kaler told the regents there's no need to delay demolition of the grain elevator, though, and MinnPost reports it's likely to be gone by the end of the year.

The university says it will donate items from the Electric Steel Elevator to the state Historical Society's Mill City Museum.

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