More than 30 years since a foundational plan for riverfront park development launched huge changes in the St. Anthony Falls area, a new plan takes stock of what’s undone, urges correcting what was done wrong and adds new ideas.
The plan given preliminary approval at the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Wednesday night follows more than $1.2 billion in private investment and several thousand housing units that sprouted along the river since the last parks master plan in 1983. During that period, riverfront development has become de rigueur for big cities that have a river, especially as river-dependent industry has dwindled.
The biggest undone tasks are creating better access to the river and completing an East Bank trail system that exists in some places only to disappear in others, according to Ted Tucker, chair of an advisory committee that developed the plan. Among the proposed new foot and bike access points are the Gateway area at the main Post Office, just downriver of the Third Avenue Bridge, and at 8th Avenue N. in the North Loop.
The plan also urges correcting conditions at Father Hennepin Bluffs Park at the east end of the Stone Arch Bridge to add rest rooms, create a performance lawn, and end the conflict between trails and a bluffside bandshell. It wants more public access to the park pavilion on Nicollet Island, now leased to a private concern.
Among the new ideas are adding a walkway across the river suspended below the 35W bridge, portages at the falls now that the lock is closing, and restoring through a former mill outlet a tunnel for pedestrians between Mill City Museum and the mill basin.
The ambitious plan would cost an estimated $66 million to complete, and covers the river between Plymouth Avenue and Bridge 9 at the University of Minnesota. It comes at a time when the Park Board is trying to make headway on a master plan for the river above Plymouth that’s 15 years old and would cost several times as much.
Tucker said his group’s charge from the board was to set priorities for the Central Mississippi Riverfront Regional Park, but it’s the board’s prerogative to decide among competing areas. “We already have a magnificent park,” he said. But as one exmaple of where an improvement is needed, he cited a need for better circulation patterns on either end of the Stone Arch Bridge, where people don’t know where to go.
Some urged the Park Board’s planning committee to think bigger. “This is a good beginning but we have an opportunity to do so much more,” said St. Anthony West resident Tony Hofstede. “Let’s do something exceptional that will be remembered for a hundred years,” said former politico Dan Cohen.
The group also recommended that the park’s name be changed to the less prosaic St. Anthony Falls Regional Park, which the board balked at doing immediately without more public input. Tucker's group also urged expanding the park’s boundaries, most notably moving the downriver border from the 35W bridge to the next crossing, Bridge 9.
That accomplishes two things, Tucker said. First, it joins the central park to the existing Mississippi Gorge Regional Park, making the riverfront seamless set of reigonal parks. The new areas also become eligible for regional development money if the Metro Council eventually approves the plan. Also proposed as additions to the regional park are part of the main Post Office site, and Star Tribune-owned land on West River Parkway.
Nearly half of the cost would come at the mill ruins area of the West Bank, where a Water Works Park has been proposed with new water features like a weeping wall and a horizontal fountain. Also recommended are two visitor centers with bathrooms -- a new one at Third Avenue and the lock and dam interpretive center -- only three blocks apart. Public agencies are discussing how to operate the lock's observation deck, which has been seasonal, once the Corps of Engineers stops locking operations in June.
Better trails for the East Bank are also proposed, ranging from a long-sought recreation trail connection between SE. Main Street and East River Road to more extensive trails deep below in the East Bank gorge. An unpaved trail up the east side of Nicollet Island would connect Main and Boom Island Park. There’s support for roomier trails paralleling the historic Main Street SE area, and also for continuing trails through a gap at Hennepin Avenue E.
The board also heard pushback from some residents of the Lake Hiawatha area over a proposal in that park’s plan to eliminate a swimming beach; two dozen have commented in opposition. Dozens of other residents have opposed a proposed new road connection on the southwest corner of Lake Nokomis, and the plan was modified for designate the area for further study.
(Photo above: Ruins of the Columbia Mill overlooking West River Parkway and the Third Avenue Bridge are recommended to become open-air play rooms as part of Water Works Park. Photo by Steve Brandt)
The rebuilding of a major street crossing the middle of north Minneapolis will give the North Side another major east-west link for bikers and walkers.
The renovation this year of some portions of 26th Avenue N. and the reconstruction next year of others will leave a revamped and narrower street from Wirth Parkway to the Mississippi River. It will have eight-foot-wide bikeways and five-foot-wide sidewalks, with a six-foot boulevard separating bikers and walkers from the street.
Those changes will leave the street about 10 feet narrower from curb to curb than now, according to Jeff Handeland, a city engineer.
The off-street bike path will replace a crumbling on-street bike lane. “It is really bad,” said Georgianna Yantos, a resident who lives a block off 26th. “The road is so broken up. There are so many potholes.”
The new bike and walking paths also potentially open up new access to the river. Representatives of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board are planning to contact owners of the Lafarge cement plant about whether they’d be willing to grant an easement over part of the plant’s riverfront property, according to Cliff Swenson, a Park Board manager. That would allow 26th to connect with the West River Parkway recreational trails at Ole Olson Park. The Park Board would also need to negotiate a crossing of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, Swenson said.
The River First plan adopted by the Park Board in 2012 also calls for an overlook at the river end of 26th. The Park Board will first determine who owns that property, Swenson said.
Plans approved this week by the City Council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee divide the project into two phases. This year’s work will start in the summer, and renovate the street between Wirth and W. Broadway Avenue, and also between Lyndale Avenue and N. 2nd St. That portion will be ground down extensively and repaved. The midsection of the route between Broadway and Lyndale, and also a short portion from 2nd to the river will get a more thorough reconstruction next year. Both will get extensive curb and gutter replacements, Handeland said, especially on the street’s north side where the bike path and boulevard replace space now occupied by the street.
Yantos said that area residents, who have been planning for years for a revamped street, would have preferred more separation between the bike and walking trails, which will be side by side. One purpose behind the changes is to give more boulevard to the street to make it more pleasant for biking and walking.
Another North Side bike advocate, Alexis Pennie, said the city’s design falls short of resident aims, especially in separating the off-road paths, and crossing Washington Avenue N.
The entire project will cost an estimated $8.7 million, with this year’s work accounting for $3.4 million. Property owners will pay $680,000 in assessments for this year’s work, a standard practice for street improvements. The bulk of the cost will be paid by almost $2 million in city bonds that will be paid off by city taxpayers. State aid will cover the remaining $805,000.
The revamped trails will join several other North Side bike routes that span all or most of the city’s width. They include Plymouth, Lowry and Dowling avenues, and paths along Victory and Webber parkways.
Minneapolis park officials struck a deal with the Metropolitan Council on Friday that will allow for a bridge over the Kenilworth channel in Minneapolis for light-rail trains, a significant development in what had been a polarizing fight.
The deal between the Metro Council and Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board removes one of two major remaining obstacles to the project. The other is a lawsuit brought by area residents.
“Thanks to the diligent work of the Park Board and project engineers, we now have a path forward for this critically important transit investment, which is a vital link in the 21st century transit system we will build here in the greater Twin Cities metro,” Council Chairman Adam Duininck said. “The Council is pleased to have the Park Board’s support for bridging the channel.”
The deal also reimburses the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board up to $750,000 for its already incurred costs for studying the alternative of a tunnel under the channel, other costs related to the project, and for costs involved with the future Bottineau rail line, which also crosses parkland the board controls.
In return, the deal to be acted on Wednesday by the Park Board drops the tunnel alternative that its engineering consultants determined to be a feasible alternative to a bridge that which park commissioners argued would be more intrusive on recreational users of the area.
"The Park Board is very optimistic about the new, more collaborative efforts for the ongoing work on the Southwest Light Rail, the Bottineau Line and any future mass transit that may impact parkland in the metro area," said Park Board President Liz Wielinski.
The resolution park board members will vote on declares that despite that feasibility, insisting on a tunnel wouldn’t be prudent because it would delay the Southwest line and drive up costs.
Feasibility and prudence are the two key factors under federal law that governs when transportation projects may disrupt parkland or must find alternatives.
Two major cross-city arteries on the South Side will get one-way protected bike lanes this year under a plan that’s being recommended by city transportation planners.
Adding one-way lanes to E. 26th and 28th streets won out over an alternative that would have installed a two-way protected lane on 26th. They’re part of a street resurfacing planned this year.
The protected bike lanes will offer a seven-foot-wide biking lane plus a seven-foot space lined with flexible plastic posts buffering the lane from motor traffic. The two streets now have no dedicated bike space.
The proposal covers 32 blocks on the two streets lying between Portland and Cedar avenues. That stretch such includes major businesses as Wells Fargo and the Chicago Avenue medical complex. Additional planning will flesh out the design between Cedar and Hiawatha avenues.
The proposal stops at Portland in part because of a scheduled replacement of Interstate 35W bridges on the two streets. A draft city plan for protected bike lanes recommends continuing the protected lanes west to Hennepin Avenue by 2020.
The bike lanes will be accommodated by removing a lane or travel or by removing parking during peak travel periods.
The resurfacing project has already asked area residents in open houses what other changes they’d like to see on the two streets from the project The proposed design would add six medians at intersections – four on 28th and two on 26th – so that pedestrians have a refuge partway across.
Simon Blenski, a city bike planner, said the proposed design goes back to major institutions, neighborhoods and pedestrian and biking representatives for a final review. Some who attended earlier sessions with the city opposed removing parking or traffic lanes, but others advocated for making it reach major employers, schools and parks by bike.
But the issue of what happens to the garden’s Cowles Conservatory remains undecided.
The latest iteration of the revamped garden proposed by a consultant team trims a $15.1 million version of the renovation to $10.6 million. That’s closer to a project budget estimated at $10 million.
The budget cut means changes like more concrete and less crushed granite for the garden’s footpaths. That’s good for people in wheelchairs but some advisory committee members dislike the aesthetic impact. Other examples of budget-balancing cuts are the deletions of a set of granite steps from a Lyndale Avenue stop, and one of two sloping walks from Lyndale.
The advisory committee to the Park and Recreation Board met thinking the meeting was its last. But the fate of the conservatory and a potential narrowing of Vineland Place will bring them back again next month.
No one expects the conservatory to vanish. But under a mandate to make the park more sustainable, major changes to slash its energy use are likely.
The two options discussed this week would keep glass in the conservatory tower with minimal heat but make its wings open-air, or alternately, remove the glass from the entire structure.
According to the Park Board, the entire garden produces about $30,000 in income, much of it from rentals for weddings and other events. But the conservatory alone costs $80,000 to $100,000 to heat.
One option would be to cut the amount of space heated to just the tower, and cut the heat to about 50 degrees. Or the building could be stripped of all its glass, reinforced against wind and used seasonally. Panel member Craig Wilson said some neighbors are distressed at the latter possibility because they see it as a winter oasis. He also wondered if a metal skeleton would rain bird droppings.
Project planners have hired a consultant to help them determine potential use of the conservatory, which they hope will help the group make a decision on how much it should be deconstructed. Some $1.5 million has been budgeted for the conservatory, part of which would likely be used to improve the stability of the building’s floor.
Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who chairs the advisory group, said she’s captivated by the potential of an open building, which she said could be wrapped in fabric to increase its utility. “I think it it is incredible, and puts us on the map in the new North,” she said.
One change from the previous design is the addition of a concrete walkway southwest of the park’s signature “Spoonbridge and Cherry” sculpture where aerial photos show the heaviest foot traffic. Consultant oslund.and.assoc. also added more north-south walkways between the three sculpture pads they propose in the far northern section of the garden.
These boardwalks will run over meadows of hydrophytic plants, those capable of standing in water for several days while the precipitation drains into a cistern that will be pumped to water vegetation during dry periods. Consultants portray this meadow as a canvas to be painted in drifts of colorful water-tolerant plants.
Also on the panel’s docket for a final meeting is a discussion of future narrowing of Vineland, which separates the garden from the Walker Art Center. The current width was described as appropriate for emptying the Guthrie Theatre, which had a capacity as high as 1,400 when it was located on Vineland. But a narrower street would make it easier for pedestrians to cross between the museum and garden, the group was told.
The proposal is expected to get a public hearing at the Park Board in April, with construction beginning later this year.
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