Imagine a mile-long pedestrian promenade just above the Mississippi River, accessible from both banks — an expansive walkway that runs under the historic Stone Arch Bridge for spectacular, up-close views of St. Anthony Falls.

A proposal to create what its planners are calling “Wishbone” was presented to the Hennepin County Board this week by Commissioner Mike Opat to get the board and the public thinking about the possibilities. It’s an impressive use of public space that deserves a serious airing. Closer access to the river — particularly near the Mississippi’s only waterfall — is an attraction that could draw locals, tourists and other visitors to the site for years to come.

Opat has been working with the walkway’s designer, RSP Architects, for more than a year. And he’s met with a variety of possible stakeholders, including the city, Minneapolis Park Board, Minnesota’s Indian tribes, federal agencies, environmentalists and Xcel Energy, which runs a nearby power plant. He said that the walkway could be something like New York City’s High Line, the popular 1.45-mile elevated linear park along a former rail line on the west side of Manhattan.


A video presentation about the Wishbone proposal:

The commissioner offered a “very preliminary” cost estimate of $50 million to $100 million and said the county could be a partner, but not necessarily the lead, on the project. The leadership role would likely be taken by Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, which could hold public hearings on the proposal.

Michael Schroeder, assistant superintendent of planning for the Park Board, said Wishbone is “not inconsistent with our plans for the riverfront or the river in general.” He noted that others have presented ideas for that stretch of the river as well, including Friends of the Lock and Dam. Last fall, that group announced it had raised $5 million for a plan to remake the area into a visitor center with boat access, riverfront dining, underground parking and event space.

Dave Norback, president of RSP Architects in Minneapolis, said he designed Wishbone to better connect the city to the river. He believes the timing is right for the project because the federal government closed the lock and dam, major industry has moved out, and the riverfront area is growing with more residents and small businesses.

Opat told an editorial writer that he and the architects envision a design that includes a range of programmable spaces for public use. Places, he said, where gatherings like yoga classes or book clubs could be held, where wedding vows could be exchanged with St. Anthony Falls as a backdrop, and where artists could set up easels. The site could also house nature and Native American interpretive centers with information about city, river and tribal history.

Questions remain about numerous project details, including who pays for construction and ongoing maintenance and oversight. Still, the idea is worth the community’s careful consideration. As Opat told a Star Tribune news reporter, “Great cities have great public spaces.”