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So the theater turned to an economic argument, presenting a study showing that the new facility would generate about $80 million a year for the city's economy, as well as some 1,500 construction jobs over the next two years.

That argument for the economic, rather than artistic, benefits of an arts facility is sometimes called the "Bilbao Effect," after the boost that a new museum designed by Frank Gehry gave to tourism in Bilbao, Spain. But one recent book, "The Rise of the Creative Class," by Richard Florida, claims that the arts do more than just bring in tourists and create service jobs: Top-notch cultural amenities are a key to nurturing, attracting, and keeping skilled professionals, a vital "creative class" that will drive future economic development.

"It's a different kind of economic argument than we were singing five years ago, and it's now the more compelling," says Ben Cameron, executive director of the Theater Communications Group, an advocacy organization for nonprofit professional regional theaters.

Though seeking government funds for arts facilities is "not an uncommon thing," the size and prominence of the Guthrie project made it nearly unique nationally, says Larry Redmond, a longtime lobbyist for the Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, who follows the Guthrie's building effort closely. Beyond listening to the economic arguments, he adds, legislators became convinced that the Guthrie was a cultural icon, a "symbol of our state" that provided national and even international recognition.

The architecturally stunning new Guthrie on the River, as it's being called, may indeed have a Bilbao-like effect on the Twin Cities skyline. Its dramatic 150-foot cantilevered lobby (known as the "endless bridge") will extend over the Mississippi River. The main "thrust" stage (the audience on three sides of the actors), a hallmark of the old Guthrie, will be kept, but seating will be reduced from the current 1,300 seats to 1,100. The new complex will also house a more-conventional 700-seat proscenium theater and a 250-seat flexible-space studio theater for experimental productions. Other amenities include cafes for 500,000 visitors expected annually, and classrooms to help serve the more than 100,000 students who visit annually.

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