Former Fuji-Ya will yield its riverfront spot to even older landmarks

  • Article by: BILL MCAULIFFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 14, 2014 - 12:11 PM

Archaeological park would be key feature of further downtown riverfront redevelopment.

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The Minneapolis central riverfront as it appeared in 2013.

The remains of the long-abandoned Fuji-Ya restaurant will be torn down and the slope beneath it peeled away to make way for a new park featuring unearthed ruins beneath them as part of the latest Mississippi River redevelopment plan.

TheWater Works Park project will transform an inaccessible hill between West River Parkway and First Street S. — where Fuji-Ya has sat vacant since 1991 — into a park whose centerpiece will be the ruins of a former grain mill and the gate house of the original Minneapolis city water works.

It’s just one part of a long-term overhaul to the Central Riverfront Regional Park that runs along the riverbanks from the 35W bridge upstream to Plymouth Av., and includes or abuts the St. Anthony Main, Guthrie Theater and Mill City Museum areas where numerous apartments and condos have sprung up.

“Now that we have all these new residents down there, people are loving the park to death,” said Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board president Liz Wielinski. “We need to give it a face lift.”

Design for the Water Works project is being paid for and managed by the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, which will partner with the city’s Park Board to raise private funds for Central Riverfront projects, said executive director Mary deLaittre. That group is conducting an online survey through Thursday gauging how people use the area and want to see in a park there.

With funding still in the future, there’s no firm timetable for Fuji-Ya’s dismantling, said park board spokeswoman Dawn Sommers.

Makeovers in the central riverfront area are only part of a much grander undertaking known as River First, which envisions replacing the riverbanks’ industrial roots with parks, trails and residential development from downtown to the city’s northern border.

The stretch beyond the central riverfront, from Plymouth Av. to the city limits, is known among planners as Above the Falls. Already underway there is the conversion of the former Scherer Bros. lumber yard, essentially across Plymouth Av. from Boom Island Park, into a park and residential area. The Park Board also is continuing to purchase land from private owners along that part of the river corridor.

In 2012, the Central Riverfront Regional Park attracted 1.8 million visitors, fourth most among the metro area’s regional parks. (The Minneapolis Chain of Lakes led the way with 5.4 million.) But it’s been only 20 years since the cyclone fences and barbed wire were removed to open the Stone Arch Bridge to pedestrians. And a decade before that, Nicollet Island housed an automotive parts manufacturer and a rock-crushing operation.

Rapid transformation

Wielinski noted that the transformation of the central riverfront from an industrial zone to a recreational, cultural and residential magnet has come about through $340 million in public investment, and $1.9 billion of private investment between 1977 and 2012. It’s also taken a lot of brainstorming, which is continuing. The current master plan for the area was approved in 1989. The update now underway will be finished by spring, then must be approved by the Park Board and the Met Council, which funds regional parks.

“When this originally started, it came out of urban renewal,” Wielinski said. “There were railroad yards, and vagrants on the island. But it was the historic center of Minneapolis. As most people can see, it’s been very successful.”

“I don’t think anything’s ever really done,” Wieinski added. “By the time you get it there it’s time to redo it.”

Other plans for the Central Riverfront park, some closer to reality than others, include better continuity for bike and pedestrian trails; a redevelopment, perhaps including a plaza and restaurant, of the intersection of Portland Avenue and West River Parkway; improved access to the riverbank areas below the Mill City Museum and a reconstruction of Main Street in the St. Anthony Main area.

Controversial piece of land

Some of the grain mill ruins under the Fuji Ya site are also under the parking lot at the north end of the Stone Arch Bridge, along West River Parkway, Wielinski said.

  • related content

  • The Minneapolis central riverfront as it appeared in 1950.

  • The timeless elegance of Fuji Ya, in a 1982 photo

  • MORE INFO

    Go to: www.minneapolisparks.org, under current projects.

    Tuesday: Park Board public meeting on ideas for the Central Riverfront makeover, 6 p.m. at 2117 West River Road.

    Through Thursday: Take an online survey about the Water Works site: mplsparksfounda tion.org/projects/water-works.

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