Competing firms laid out in detail their visions for the future in Minneapolis along the Mississippi.
Four competing firms presented their best design ideas this week for enhancing nearly 6 miles of shoreline on each side of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.
More than 400 people watched and applauded as successive proposals came to life on the big screen at the Walker Art Center on Thursday night, and hundreds more viewed videos from the firms posted Friday on the Internet.
They saw state-of-the art illustrations, maps and computer animations showing what the river corridor could become with new boardwalks, public beaches, pedestrian bridges, amphitheaters, art spaces, restored wetlands, greenhouses and urban farms.
The study area, from the downtown Stone Arch Bridge to the city's northern boundary, includes acreage on each side of the river as it flows past some of the city's oldest neighborhoods and industries. It contains about 22 acres of parkland, but most of the area nearest the river is owned and used by companies.
Former Minneapolis Park Superintendent David Fisher was elated by the work. "Wow," he said. "They captured what I think needed to be captured, all of them. They're very good."
One of the challenges was to come up with new ways to connect people to the river, project manager Mary deLaittre said.
All of the firms noted how Interstate 94 cuts off most of north Minneapolis from the river. Some proposed covering parts of the freeway with "land bridges" -- parks and walkways that would lead from places like Farview Park to the shoreline.
Other ideas included restoring or building new islands in the river for migratory birds, and creating back channel areas for canoeing, kayaking and ice skating.
The firms also proposed expanding connections with existing bikeways and walking trails, and new transportation modes such as ferries on the river or streetcars on abandoned railways and bridges.
The firms were asked to present at least one project that could be developed within the next three to five years. Most zeroed in on a new park and urban beach at the 11-acre Scherer Brothers lumberyard that the Minneapolis Park Board purchased last June.
The teams include the Ken Smith Workshop from New York City, Stoss Landscape Urbanism of Boston, Turenscape from Beijing and TLS/KVA in Berkeley, Calif., and Boston.
Their work includes award-winning riverfront and industrial reclamation park projects in Milwaukee, Memphis, Toronto, New York City, London and Shanghai.
A 13-member jury of design professionals and local elected officials will analyze the proposals and announce a winner on Feb. 10. The jury also will select one of the winner's projects to be built in the next few years. Sources and amounts of the funding have yet to be determined.
A road map to the future
DeLaittre said that while the individual projects are important, the larger reason for the design competition was to generate new ideas for the long-term future.
"We're also looking at this as a road map for development of what's going to happen over the next 10, 20, 30, 50 years," she said.
Park Board Superintendent Jayne Miller said that even though the economy has been shrinking, this is the right time to plan for the future.
"This part of Minneapolis is so underdeveloped and underutilized that it actually will help develop the economy for the city," she said.
Whitney Clark, executive director of Friends of the Mississippi River, said that bringing in outside firms enables the city to look at its own river in a new way.
"This part of the river was the industrial backbone of the city when our great park system was built a century ago, so it was missed," he said.
A commitment to connect people in north and northeast Minneapolis to the river is long overdue, he added.
The design competition is part of a broader effort, called the Next Generation of Parks, that will guide development of the Minneapolis park system during the 21st century.
It was funded by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board with help from the Metropolitan Council, and co-sponsored by the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, with the University of Minnesota College of Design and the Walker Art Center as partners.
Each firm prepared a video and related information for its proposal, which can be viewed online at www.minneapolisriverfrontdesigncompetition.com.
Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388