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Minnesota Ballet's 'bittersweet' move

Ken Pogin, technical director and production manager for the Minnesota Ballet, begins rolling up a section of the sprung floor that was used for ballet practice in the roomy Grain Exchange in the Board of Trade Monday afternoon. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com1 / 5
Mary Gummarson, managing director of the Minnesota Ballet, and Robert Gardner, artistic executive director, pack up Gardner's office at the ballet headquarters in the Grain Exchange of the Board of Trade Building Monday afternoon. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com2 / 5
Robert Gardner, artistic executive director of the Minnesota Ballet, takes down a photo-painting titled "Embraceable You" from George Balanchine's "Who Cares?" Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com3 / 5
The Nutcracker, from the ballet of the same name, sits next to boxes packed with costumes and other items from the Minnesota Ballet that will be moved to its new headquarters. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com4 / 5
Ken Pogin, technical director and production manager for the Minnesota Ballet, pulls up part of the sprung floor used for practice and rehearsals at the Grain Exchange in the Board of Trade Building Monday afternoon. The ballet will be moving to its new headquarters at the Duluth Playhouse’s conservatory space in the Wells Fargo building. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com5 / 5

The Minnesota Ballet is moving out of the place it has called home for 19 years.

The ballet will be moved out of its headquarters in the Grain Exchange on the top two floors of the Board of Trade Building and into an office and studio space on the Michigan Street level of the Wells Fargo building by the end of the month.

The ballet is known for its former space in downtown Duluth and the move is "very bittersweet," said Robert Gardner, artistic executive director of the Minnesota Ballet. He added that a lot of work has gone into preserving the space, which is ideal for an artform like ballet.

"There's a lot of history here for us. A lot of wonderful artists have passed through these halls. A lot of students have grown up here and pursued their love of dance here," Gardner said.

In its new headquarters, the company will be missing the Grain Exchange's high ceilings, arched windows and "beautiful historic space with a beautiful artform that all went together," Gardner said.

Ballet students took photos in the space during the last week of classes earlier this month. Efforts have been underway to get the baby grand piano moved out and remove the sprung dance floor. Gardner has been cleaning out his office.

"You accumulate a lot of stuff over 19 years, even in an office. I've been going through letters from students and patrons. I don't want to get rid of those. We will go on," Gardner said.

Dubin Guru Group, the new owner of the Board of Trade Building, plans to remodel the building into a mixed-use residential and commercial space. Gardner said the developer wanted to keep the company in the building, but the rent had been "generous" at a below-market rate due to its preservation work, and the new rent would be unaffordable.

When the ballet moved into the Grain Exchange in 1999, the space had been vacant since 1965. The company raised more than $300,000 for restoration and received an award in 2000 from the Duluth Preservation Alliance for its efforts. The capital campaign preserved the Grain Exchange's maple hardwood floor, telephone booths and catwalk where workers once posted grain prices on a large blackboard.

"Our big concern is that we did put a lot of blood, sweat and tears and love into this space and I just hope that they will maintain its historical significance and beauty," Gardner said.

The company will be moving into the Duluth Playhouse's conservatory space in the Wells Fargo building. The move is occurring this month when the ballet's professional company and school are on a break. It does have some advantages — costume operations will now be on the same floor, eliminating the need to cart costumes between floors.

"We'll see how that works. They've been very generous in helping us out at this time," Gardner said. "Right now, it's a godsend. It could possibly allow us to expand. Our school is busting at the seams and we could use another studio space."

The ballet will retain its two studios at the Depot, which were its original home and are used for rehearsing some performances including the annual "Nutcracker."

"Arts organizations survive. Dance companies survive. We don't like to be vagabonds, but we can do it," Gardner said. "We wish it would have worked out differently and we were hoping it was going to. There was a lot of back and forth and changes going on, and we were just trying to ride the wave and hopefully, it would end up with us on the crest going into the beach and being right where we wanted to be. But that didn't happen."