ST. PAUL — Minnesota's state Capitol has sat dark and mostly vacant for a year now, closed to the public and surrounded by a tall, wire fence cemented into concrete blocks.
On Tuesday, June 1 — a year almost to the day since it was erected — the fence is coming down.
The fence went up on May 31, 2020, in response to last summer's civil unrest throughout the Twin Cities in the wake of George Floyd's death. State officials were concerned for the physical security of the 116-year-old building, which houses the governor's office and legislative chambers, as well as for the lawmakers and state employees who work in the complex.
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, who chairs the state Capitol Area Architectural and Planning (CAAP) Board, said in a written statement Tuesday that she is "eager to open the doors to the Capitol so that Minnesotans can safely return to the People’s House and advocate for our shared future."
"Their voices and stories and presence are a necessary piece in the process of democracy," she wrote. "While virtual channels have helped us reimagine what access might look like, there’s nothing quite like meeting directly with your legislators or a rally in the Rotunda."
Due to both security risks, as well as public health and capacity concerns during the coronavirus pandemic, the Capitol has remained closed to the public. Only lawmakers, staffers and credentialed members of the media were able to enter the building during the Legislature's numerous special legislative sessions, as well as its regular session.
Minnesota Department of Administration Assistant Commissioner Curtis Yoakum on Tuesday said an original fence and replacement that had guarded the Capitol for a year cost the state roughly $105,000. The full removal of the barrier was expected to be complete within 10 days.
Typically, the Capitol can be bustling: Visitors roam through the marble halls, students line up on field trips and demonstrators chant and hold up signs in the rotunda.
Paul Mandell, the executive secretary for the CAAP Board, said in an email Tuesday that he "welcome(s) this as another positive sign."
"And (I) hope to see the Capitol Building itself open again to the public soon, provided we all come back recognizing the need to respect one another’s need to feel safe during a time of a pandemic and intense political division," he said.
Threats to the building were not limited to last summer's demonstrations. During a January hearing, state Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said the state Capitol saw 117 protests in 2020, or roughly one demonstration every three days. While it did not come to fruition, concerns for the Capitol heightened around the time of President Joe Biden's inauguration, when many state Capitols throughout the country saw increased threats.