A corner of the sprawling Ridgedale Center parking lot in Minnetonka might be transformed into a park, with room for gardens, concerts and a farmers market.
The park, nearly 2 acres in size, could also encompass within the next few years an open lawn, plaza with a stage, fountain, play area and public art. Officials want to create a community gathering spot for everything from concerts and outdoor movies to kite-flying, outdoor yoga and quiet contemplation.
The idea of transforming a chunk of mall parking into a park "is pretty unique, which is great," said Carol Hejl, Minnetonka's park and trail planner. "I think it's fairly forward-thinking and could be a new precedent or a new model."
The general concept for the as-yet unnamed park, to be built on land donated by developer Trammell Crow and High Street Residential, has received the go-ahead from the Minnetonka City Council. Initial ideas for the park include a stage, hammocks, a winter skating rink and possibly a warming house, and public art that doubles as children's play equipment.
"We're thrilled to be part of this," said Grady Hamilton, managing director for the Midwest unit of Trammell Crow and High Street Residential, which is building a 168-unit apartment complex for seniors that's scheduled for completion in late summer 2020.
"The addition of the park is an environment that I think is going to be quite a change for the generations that preceded it. ... It's an exciting way of integrating residential use with commercial and retail uses that exist," he said.
In addition to shops and restaurants, the location is also near a YMCA, a public library and a hotel.
The project will include improvements to Crane Preserve Park, an undeveloped and rarely used wetlands area just east of Ridgedale. Plans involve clearing the area of invasive species such as buckthorn and scrub brush, adding a dock and picnic shelter, and encouraging kayaking and canoeing. Updated stormwater management features would be added to both parks.
The city's 2019-23 Community Improvements Program, which the City Council approved last year, includes a description of the project and cites a $4.4 million cost. That's a tentative estimate, city spokeswoman Kari Spreeman said. The actual cost won't be clear until design details are firmed up and approved, she said.
Meanwhile, the reconstruction of Ridgedale Drive from an unadorned four-lane mall beltway into a pedestrian-friendly two-lane parkway has already been approved and is underway. Construction of the first phase is expected to be finished by October, with completion of the project expected next year, Spreeman said.
City officials collected public input about the new park with meetings, surveys and at a music event in the Ridgedale parking lot, where visitors were asked what they'd like in terms of amenities, activities, even its vibe. "We asked, 'What do you want to feel like in this park space?' " Hejl said.
The park is part of a long-term plan for transforming the Ridgedale area, not just the mall but also surrounding retail clusters, into a mixed-use community with higher-density housing and a bike/pedestrian-friendly design. The city would like to see similar developments around commercial nodes throughout Minnetonka, said Community Development Director Julie Wischnack.
In 2008, a team from the University of Minnesota's College of Design published designs for developing the Interstate 394 transit corridor. On the team was Ralph Rapson, the famous Minnesota architect of the former Guthrie Theater and Rarig Center, who died that same year.
The U report characterized the Ridgedale area as made up of "[v]ast parking lots, busy roads, and great distances" and called it "not a well-organized, cohesive place … It is an environment not conducive to walking, biking, or using transit."
To go back even further, a multifaceted community space is roughly what Southdale architect Victor Gruen said he had in mind when he designed the nation's first fully enclosed shopping mall in 1956.
"There will be places here for meetings and concerts and galleries of paintings to look at and rooms where classes can be held and places to eat," Gruen said. He later expressed disappointment with typical shopping malls, lamenting in 1978 "the ugliness and discomfort of the land-wasting seas of parking."