Brainerd community leaders are moving ahead with efforts to revive the city’s riverfront, part of a statewide trend in revamping access and amenities to the Mississippi River.
Nearly three years ago, the City Council approved a plan that included ideas such as developing a riverwalk, plaza and trail connections. Since then, the plan has been bolstered with new energy and ideas.
“A lot of things are coming together,” said Mayor Ed Menk, who’s worked downtown for 44 years. “This is probably the most exciting period of time for this general core area.”
The city will hold a community discussion and take public feedback on the plan from 5 to 8 p.m. Monday at the Northern Pacific Center.
Brainerd, a city of 13,500 about two hours northwest of the Twin Cities, has long been known as a gateway to central Minnesota’s lakes. But until now, it hasn’t taken full advantage of the river that runs through it. And new businesses and renovated downtown apartments and restaurants show it’s not just the riverfront that is changing.
“The river is the anchor,” said Sheila Haverkamp, executive director of the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corporation. “It feels like there’s more momentum than ever before.”
After the river plan was approved in 2015, the city got a three-year, $100,000 grant from the Brainerd Lakes Area Community Foundation to fund planning efforts. This spring, crews will trim dead trees along the riverbank and add banners to light poles to help showcase the riverfront. Officials also hope to add a rustic trail about 400 feet long.
Downriver, the city of St. Cloud last year opened a riverside trail and unveiled plans for a ‘‘destination park,” green space and canoe launch.
In Brainerd, the riverfront committee’s long-term plan includes the elevated riverwalk and plaza, which would turn what is mostly a parking lot into green space for outdoor classes and festivals. The city hopes to open them in time for Brainerd’s 150th anniversary in 2021 — provided there’s funding. In addition to looking for private financing, the city is seeking $2.7 million in state aid this year to fund a trail connection and the design work for the riverwalk and plaza.
“All up and down the river, cities seem to be taking a second look at the river,” said Rod Osterloh, who leads the committee. “In the case of Brainerd, we’ve kind of ignored it.”
The makeover extends beyond the riverbanks. Last year, the economic development agency launched an initiative, River to Rail, to revitalize the city beyond the waterfront by adding commercial, retail and residential projects.
“People can come to Brainerd and pick their own adventure,” Osterloh said.
“We’re trying to help Brainerd see itself in a new light.”