Robert Jorvig, first Metropolitan Council head, dies at 99

Janet Moore, Star Tribune
·3 min read

Though Robert "Bob" Jorvig wanted very much to celebrate his 100th birthday, he died peacefully just a month short of that milestone.

Even so, he lived a full life as a public servant — including service as the Metropolitan Council's first executive director — and as a family man and outdoors enthusiast.

His career in the public and private sectors spanned four decades and left a profound imprint on the Twin Cities' landscape, starting with his first job with the St. Paul Planning Commission in 1949.

"He was a design guy," said his son Tom of Minnetonka.

Jorvig served as executive director of the housing and redevelopment authorities of both Minneapolis and St. Paul and as Minneapolis city coordinator.

He also held leadership roles at the Greater Metropolitan Housing Corp., a nonprofit founded in 1970 to address the shortage of affordable housing, and as president of Cedar Riverside Associates.

Born March 14, 1921, in St. Louis Park, Jorvig graduated from St. Louis Park High School and the University of Minnesota, where he received a degree in landscape architecture. There he met his future wife of 66 years, Barbara South.

Jorvig served as an officer in the Marine Corps during World War II. After the war, he earned a master's degree in urban planning from Harvard University — where despite the Ivy League props, his family said, he always considered himself a Golden Gopher.

Jorvig resumed military service in the Marines during the Korean War and fought in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in late 1950, a brutal conflict amid punishing winter conditions. For his service, Jorvig was awarded a Bronze Star as a member of the Chosin Few.

As head of the Minneapolis Housing and Redevelopment Authority in the late 1950s, Jorvig championed the redevelopment of the Gateway District in downtown Minneapolis. One of the largest urban renewal projects in the United States, more than 200 buildings were felled, many of them skid row flophouses, saloons and pawnshops.

The idea, in Jorvig's view, was to retain and attract jobs and businesses in the city as more of them migrated to the suburbs. But caught up in the effort was the Metropolitan Building, the city's first skyscraper and an architectural icon. Despite a long legal battle spurred by preservationists intent on saving the Met, the building was torn down in 1961.

"The city was getting older and there was a sentiment that things were moving to the suburbs and downtown was less desirable," Tom Jorvig said.

When the Met Council was formed in 1967, Jorvig was named its first executive director. The council set its early sights on creating regional sewer and park systems.

Jorvig "left his indelible mark on the agency in its formative early years," Met Council Chairman Charlie Zelle said. "To this day, the council remains focused on priorities he set of efficiency, public engagement and results. Bob recognized the role of sound planning in the development of a growing, competitive region, a goal he pursued and led with enthusiasm, devotion and a steady hand."

Tom Jorvig said his father maintained a calm demeanor when projects encountered controversy: "He always said when people work together, even if they were from opposite sides, they could make the best decision."

Jorvig enjoyed many hobbies, including downhill skiing, camping, roller skating, travel, photography and videography, and spending time with family and friends.

He was preceded in death by his wife. In addition to his son, survivors include a daughter, Holly, of Rifle, Colo.; five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. A private service is planned.

Janet Moore • 612-673-7752 • @ByJanetMoore