Minneapolis park officials are embarking on a dramatic new plan to reshape the city’s downtown riverfront, a chance to tie together trails and park space while sparking a generation’s worth of development along the Mississippi River.

The new outline for parks and trails comes 30 years after the foundational plan for riverfront park development, which launched massive changes in the St. Anthony Falls area. The new plan targets what remains undone, urges some corrections and adds a host of new ideas aimed at making the riverfront more appealing.

“Let’s do something exceptional that will be remembered for a hundred years,” said longtime community activist Dan Cohen.

The plan that received preliminary approval from the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board on Wednesday night comes after more than $1.2 billion in private investment and several thousand housing units have sprouted along the river since 1983. Minneapolis is part of a growing number of riverfront cities that have devoted significant attention and money to revamping their waterfronts as river-dependent industry has dwindled.

Minneapolis park officials are wading deeper into what has been a wrenching struggle to strike a balance between creating ample outdoor trails and parks with the desire to encourage waterfront development and housing, which can bring new residents, amenities and tax dollars.

The plan tackles some of the biggest undone tasks, like creating better access to the river and completing an East Bank trail system that seems to disappear in some places, said Ted Tucker, chair of an advisory committee that developed the plan.

Among the proposed new foot and bike access points would be at the Gateway area at the main Post Office, just downriver from the 3rd Avenue Bridge, and at 8th Avenue N. in the North Loop.

The plan also urges correcting problems at Father Hennepin Bluffs Park at the east end of the Stone Arch Bridge. The plan includes adding restrooms, creating concert and performance space, and rerouting trails that now run through a bluffside bandshell. Park officials also want more public access to the park pavilion on Nicollet Island, now leased to a private entity.

Among the new ideas are adding a walkway across the river suspended below the 35W bridge, portages at the falls now that the lock is closing, and restoring a tunnel for pedestrians between the Mill City Museum and the mill basin.

The plan would cost an estimated $66 million, and covers the river between Plymouth Avenue and Bridge 9 at the University of Minnesota. It comes at a time when the Park Board is trying to make headway on a master plan for the river above Plymouth. That plan is 15 years old and would cost several times as much.

Tucker said his group’s charge from the board was to set priorities for the Central Mississippi Riverfront Regional Park, but it is up to the board to make the decisions among areas competing for approval and money.

“We already have a magnificent park,” he said.

A top priority for Tucker is better circulation patterns on either end of the Stone Arch Bridge, where people don’t know where to go.

Some urged the Park Board’s planning committee to think bigger.

“This is a good beginning but we have an opportunity to do so much more,” said St. Anthony West resident Tony Hofstede.

The group also recommended that the park’s name be changed to the less prosaic St. Anthony Falls Regional Park, which the board balked at doing immediately without more public input.

Tucker’s group also urged expanding the park’s boundaries, most notably moving the downriver border from the 35W bridge to the next crossing, Bridge 9.

That accomplishes two things, Tucker said. First, it joins the central park to the existing Mississippi Gorge Regional Park, making the riverfront a seamless set of regional parks. The new areas also become eligible for regional development money if the Metropolitan Council eventually approves the plan. The plan wants to add to the regional park, including part of the main Post Office site, and Star Tribune-owned land on West River Parkway.

Nearly half the projected cost would come at the mill ruins area of the West Bank, where a Water Works Park has been proposed with new water features like a weeping wall and a horizontal fountain. Also recommended are two visitor centers with bathrooms — a new one at 3rd Avenue and the lock and dam interpretive center — only three blocks apart. Public agencies are discussing how to operate the lock’s observation deck, which has been seasonal, once the Corps of Engineers stops the lock’s operations in June.

Better trails for the East Bank are also proposed, ranging from a long-sought recreation trail connection between SE. Main Street and East River Road to more extensive trails below in the East Bank gorge. There also is support for roomier trails paralleling the historic Main Street area, and also for continuing trails through a gap at E. Hennepin Avenue.


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