Opinion: Ideas for the Minneapolis Riverfront

Above: St. Anthony Falls

Above: St. Anthony Falls


With the kick-off this week of the Central Riverfront Park Master Planning process, this is a timely opinion piece submitted to Mill City Times by John Erwin, President of the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board.

From John Erwin, President, MPRB

The Minneapolis downtown riverfront has incredible potential to become a unique landmark and entertainment zone for our state.  Minneapolis is turning to our long-ignored riverfront as an under-appreciated amenity that could be transformed into something special.  Our generation has the unique privilege to be part of this transformation and to shape it.  We have a supportive political climate, a new and vibrant Minneapolis Parks Foundation, a supportive business community, and new, growing, and engaged downtown neighborhoods with active residents.  Below, I outline five possibilities I believe could make our riverfront and nearby neighborhoods special.

1)    River of the Arts:  How are we going to make Minneapolis’s Riverfront exceptional?  I think it rests around working with our vibrant arts, culinary, and horticulture communities.  I have long thought we could make a ‘River of the Arts’ in Minneapolis as an attraction.  Some years ago I looked into whether a drop down movie screen could be mounted on the Washington Ave Bridge to be viewed from Bohemian Flats on the riverfront.  It can. . . . . we could have our own Minneapolis Film Festival.  Can we bring theater, ballet, and music to the riverfront?  We can . . . .  Boom and Nicollet Island and Gold Metal Park have possibilities.  Can we engage our restaurant community to bring restaurants to the Riverfront at Boom Island, or on floating barges?  We can.  Could we select plants to plant on the Riverfront to create our own festivals such as a Lilac or Crabapple Festival?  We can.  Could our riverfront include labeled native plant communities as an educational tool and to increase wildlife habitat?  It could.

2)    Gold Medal Park:  This incredible park was built by Bill McGuire on City- and Guthrie-owned land.  Bill’s dedication, generosity, and foresight in developing this park should be commended.  Gold Medal Park is now a unique, beloved park serving local neighborhoods and a greater regional community.  It needs to be protected, enhanced and utilized fully.  It is my hope that this incredible park be preserved as a park for perpetuity, and that the neighborhood be able to get involved with its management, and programming.

3)    Lighting St. Anthony Falls:  I have long thought the falls should be lighted.  Look at the incredible attention the Stone Arch Bridge has received since being lit!  Think of how incredible the downtown riverfront would be at night with a lighted falls.  Especially, if the falls were lighted using energy harnessed from the existing hydro facilities.  This is a small project with a big benefit!

4)    A North Loop Park:  The new Park Dedication Fee was established by the Park Board to provide new communities, like the North Loop, with neighborhood parks.  Unfortunately, much of the North Loop has been built up and we have missed funding and opportunities to set aside land to build a park.  Yet, I think it is a critically important time to work with the City and County and private landholders to identify a site that we can all agree on, and for the Park Board to start the process of making such a park a reality.  To wait, risks its’ fruition.  I know that the neighborhood already has done incredible work on this. . . . .those efforts need to be supported and made a reality.

5)    St. Anthony Main and Nicollet Island Enhancements:  St. Anthony Main, Father Hennepin Bluffs and Nicollet Island have languished too long.  The Park Board is engaged with the local community to enhance this area.  We should be innovative!  There is amazing potential in this area!  Can we open some of the hydro tunnels to the public on the eastside?  Should we bring a renovated movie/theater area to Nicollet Island?  What can we do to revitalize the business community at St. Anthony Main more?  Should we add new amenities like exercise stations, food venues and plantings to the east and west sides of the river?  Should we work with the Walker or Minneapolis Institute of Art to bring public art to the riverfront?  Could we have a culinary food festival of sorts?  I would say yes.

As we enter the next decade, lets think ‘outside of the box’ when we think about what can be done with our riverfront.  What can our generation contribute to the long-term benefit of our city in this area?  Other generations gave us the lakes and land around those lakes for public access, another generation the parkway system, and still another the Recreation Center System.  What will our generation’s contribution to our city be?  I suspect it will be the revitalization of our downtown and riverfront.  This is good for the entire city and will broaden our tax base.  The cleanup of the central riverfront which cost $300 million generated >$1.9 billion in new development to date.  Clearly, this was a good investment for our City and State.  It is obvious to me that continued attention and improvement to this area will have huge long-term benefits for our city and its’ residents.

Please be involved, vocal, opinionated, creative, open and engaged as we embark on a very exciting time for our city.  Fell free to call or write me at any time with your thoughts and ideas and please participate in our current citizen engagement process (go to www.minneapolisparks.org to get the meeting schedules) that is helping to vision what could, and should, be done to this incredible area.

John Erwin

Citywide (At-Large) Park Board Commissioner,

President of the Park Board

About David Tinjum

David Tinjum has been writing about, and photographing the Central Riverfront of Minneapolis and it's surrounding neighborhoods since co-founding Mill City Times 4 years ago. He a software entrepreneur, Chair & Co-Founder of the Mill District Neighborhood Association, and a member of the Minneapolis Central Riverfront Regional Park CAC.

3 thoughts on “Opinion: Ideas for the Minneapolis Riverfront

  1. Adam MillerAdam

    It’s interesting to me that this letter makes no mention of the one ingredient that’s essential to make arts, entertainment, culinary and other amenities work: population.

    Obviously the Mill District has added quite a bit of housing over the last decade. But how do we add more and how do we make sure it’s occupied? Without people to dine and shop and browse, none of these suggestions — which are worthwhile and part of the means of attracting population — will be as successful as past attempts.

  2. David Tinjum Post author

    Adam – Here are some housing unit stats in the area bounded by 3rd Ave S to the North and 35W to the South, and 3rd St S to the West and the Mississippi River to the East:

    1,265 – September 2009 (when we moved to the neighborhood)
    1,725 – September 2013
    2,789 – September 2015

    The 2015 number includes units under construction and planned. The numbers reflect a combination of rental and owner occupied. Percentage wise, the area has been experiencing pretty good growth.

    A quick eye ball of the area shows about 4 square blocks combined that could be reasonably expected to be developed over the next several years, factoring in current ownership and use. So there’s still significant room for growth. The Stadium/Ryan developments have already started behind the scenes discussions on several parcels in the area.

  3. Cameron ConwayCameron

    I definitely agree that residential population is the spearhead when it comes to keeping people near the waterfront. I’d argue further that the built environment surrounding the waterfront is critical in establishing it as a destination, more so than any one site. All these ideas are great, but even them all in tandem don’t necessarily make a great place. Waterfront parks are great, but they’re spectacular when combined with other active pedestrian destinations.

    I think the number one thing that is missing in this area is “places to go” of every variety. Clearly restaurants and shops come with population density, but I think it’s really important that the design of infill residential ends up not just serving it’s point in time, but also a greater long term vision for the area. I think it’s a real waste when a new development features no retail but sits along a neighborhood’s premier commercial stretch. It’s really important that the northern lots along Hennepin and Nicollet feature pedestrian oriented commercial space, creating a ‘path’ towards the waterfront. Those streets are already some of the most walkable places downtown, and to not tap into that pedestrian intertia seems pretty foolhardy.

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