Riverfront plan features parks, trails

  • Article by: TOM MEERSMAN
  • Star Tribune
  • September 21, 2011 - 10:15 PM

The upper Mississippi River corridor in Minneapolis could have three new parks underway in the next five years, along with a reclaimed wetland area and miles of new bike and walking trails, according to an ambitious and costly plan presented to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board on Wednesday.

The riverfront proposal is the work of a design team hired by park officials in February to create a 21st-century vision for the area, which runs 5 1/2 miles on both sides of the river from downtown to the city's northern boundary. It includes some of the city's oldest neighborhoods and industries, some of which cut off access to the river.

Park Board President John Erwin was undaunted by the estimated cost of the project, $145 million to $175 million, amounts made public for the first time this week.

"You have to be bold when you do something like this, and I think it's very possible to do the dollars," he said, adding that possible funding sources to buy and improve the land include sales tax dollars, donations and pollution cleanup funds.

Long-term operating costs could be offset eventually by higher taxes from the more valuable property that would be developed along the corridor, he said.

The California- and Boston-based firms that make up the design team recommended that all five projects get underway at the same time. The team also said that none would undermine or "wipe out" current industries or businesses in the area. The proposals are:

• Six miles of new walking and bicycling trails on both sides of the river, from the Plymouth Avenue Bridge to Camden Bridge. The trails would cross public parkland and private property, and some stretches would need land purchase or easements for access. In some cases the trail could be elevated above industrial land. New trails would also be attached to three railway bridges, one of which would be converted to exclusive bike and pedestrian use.

• A new park and beach along the river. The former Scherer Brothers lumberyard, recently purchased by the park board, would become a seven-acre park with four acres of adjacent property for residential housing or other private development. The park, on the east side of the Plymouth Avenue Bridge, would become a focal point for kayaking, biking and other recreation.

• Northside Wetlands Park. The project would re-establish 25 acres of historic wetlands on a portion of the 48-acre site currently used as the city's upper harbor terminal. The port facility that handles coal, steel coil and other products would be consolidated to make room for the wetlands.

• Downtown Gateway Park. The project would turn several blocks of surface parking lots into green space between the Minneapolis Public Library and the riverfront. The goal is to establish a park to link Nicollet Mall and downtown with the river at the Hennepin Avenue Bridge.

• Floating islands. The proposal would create six large clusters of "biohaven islands" made from recycled foam that would float near shore and be covered with soil, plants and shrubs. The islands would be anchored, and would provide channels for kayaking and habitat for migrating birds, native mussels, turtles and other wildlife.

Jeff Skrenes, housing director for the Hawthorne neighborhood, said he liked proposals to reconnect his community with the river through improved trails, such as the 26th Avenue North Greenway. "It's one of the best infrastructure developments that north Minneapolis has seen in a generation or more," he said.

John Anfinson of the National Park Service said that reconnecting people with the river and restoring natural ecosystems are laudable goals but that a key question will be what kind of non-park development will be allowed along the river to pay for the operating costs of an expanded park system.

"The devil's in the details," he said.

The park board on Wednesday authorized a 45-day public comment period for the plan. It will make decisions about what elements will move forward in late November or December.

Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388

© 2018 Star Tribune