Recently, I met with Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board District 4 Commissioner Jono Cowgill across the street from Gateway Park to chat about the current state and future of the park.
Welcome to Gateway Park 🦖
Gateway Park is a plaza located at the intersection of Hennepin Ave and S 1st St and is bordered by two properties, River Towers and Voya Financial, headquartered in the iconic office building designed by Minoru Yamasaki. Both buildings were completed in 1965, three years after the Park Board acquired the land for the new Gateway Park from the city, and two years after the park was completed in 1963.
The 1.66-acre park was designed during the sixties era of urban renewal, and includes mid-century modern features, like wide stair grade changes and a central fountain that runs during the summer.
Unfortunately, the park has been neglected over the years and is currently not fully ADA accessible. Stairs are located on the east (River Towers) and south (Voya) of the site. The fountain was in disrepair for some years, but according to Cowgill, it should be running again once the weather warms after repairs in the past year.
The Park Board has a compelling vision for Gateway Park. In the November 2017 Downtown Service Area Master Plan, Park Board staff recommend a plan that includes an axial path from Washington Avenue to 1st Street, sheltered and open plaza areas at confluence of paths, all paths being fully ADA-compliant, and shelters with seating.
With both sets of stairs residing within the bordering private property, the Park Board will need property owners’ support to realize this vision. The November 2017 estimate for the project was $1,346,361, which is about $1.39 million today, adjusted for inflation.
As a local resident, only two suggestions I would add to the 2017 plan would be removing the coffee kiosk and adding a fenced children’s playground on the open lawn. With three coffee shops within one block of Gateway Park (Starbucks, Whole Foods Allegro, and Penny’s), I don’t think that a staffed coffee kiosk will be viable. Using the $186,000 budgeted for the kiosk on children’s play equipment and fencing could be a major positive for the neighborhood. There are many families who rent in the neighboring buildings, including the Churchill and River Towers. Right now these children ride trikes on the plaza, but don’t have a proper playground. The nearest playgrounds are in North Loop (11-minute walk) and the Downtown Commons (17-minute walk). Both require crossing high-traffic intersections. Having a fenced playground would be an investment in Downtown and North Loop families.
How do we pay for this vision?
One avenue of funding is park dedication funds. When a property is developed, the developer pays into a Park Board fund for improvements and development of local parks. The Park Board has a web map of park dedications, with dots representing each property development paying into the fund. The interactive map allows everyone to see which property developments have funds available and what funds were spent on.
Currently, there is $538,807 of park dedication funds not allocated from recent property developments in the three-block area around Gateway Park. This includes the recently-build Mavericks Apartments across the street from the park. The Nicollet Hotel Block project is across Washington Ave from Gateway Park, and could generate millions in park dedication funds once the development goes through.
Another avenue of funding could be the Park Board’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP). The program funds park improvements, with priority given to parks improvements that serve equity goals. According to Park Board staff:
Gateway Park is a neighborhood park, and is currently ranked #81 in the neighborhood equity metrics. Due to this ranking, it does not yet appear in the CIP. Currently, the CIP funds parks ranked through #44, and we add between 8 and 10 parks each yearly budget cycle.
At some future date, Gateway Park may qualify for CIP funds, but our current best bet is park dedication funds from surrounding properties recently developed or planned in the near future.
The Grander Vision
Of course, Gateway Park has always been part of a grander vision of the Gateway District, connecting Nicollet Mall to the Mississippi River. Standing in the way of that is a half-used parking ramp owned by the United States Postal Service. Note: The Federal Reserve says that the USPS will not allow anybody else to park in their half-used parking ramp for “security reasons”. I am told that USPS will not even agree to meet with the city, let alone negotiate for demolishing the hotel for fossil fuel.
While it is unlikely that any progress can be made north of 1st St, the new United Properties Gateway project on the Nicollet Hotel Block will include some plaza space that creates a connection to the Mississippi.
I am hopeful that the green-ish plaza can be improved over time to be an activated space and essentially a privately-sponsored park. Public seating and amenities would be helpful.
What we really need, however, is a great Gateway Park that is ADA-accessible and supports Downtown and North Loop families.
Watch this space closely, and lobby your MPRB commissioner to use park dedication fees from the area and the upcoming United Properties project on realizing the vision for Gateway Park.