The General Mills Foundation announced Wednesday that it’s giving a $3 million jump-start to Mississippi River park projects in Minneapolis, chiefly a new waterfront park near the west end of the Stone Arch Bridge near where General Mills was founded 150 years ago.

The donation will accelerate a private fundraising effort to start work on priority projects outlined in the RiverFirst initiative by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and Minneapolis Parks Foundation.

The key project is Water Works Park, envisioned as a destination showplace at the Stone Arch Bridge’s west end. The planned first phase of that will bring a new visitor center next to the Third Avenue Bridge, reuse of 19th-century mill foundations and other features between W. River Parkway and S. 1st St.

The cost estimate for Water Works Park plus a smaller plan for a river link for the North Side at 26th Av. N. is $31.3 million, and the Park Board hopes to cover about half that with private donations. With the General Mills contribution, the Minneapolis Parks Foundation has raised just over $9 million for the projects.

The Water Works project would get $2 million of the General Mills Foundation donation, with $850,000 devoted to the 26th Avenue work and $150,000 for the park planned at the former Scherer Bros. lumberyard upstream from the Plymouth Avenue Bridge.

The 26th Avenue project includes an overlook at the river and a trail connection from 26th to W. River Parkway. The intent of that project is to increase North Side access to the river and its trail system.

A city project this year will complete the reconstruction of 26th from Wirth Park to the river with a side path for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Supporters hope to begin the first phase of Water Works Park in 2017 and complete it in 2019. A second phase would follow between the parkway and the upper St. Anthony Falls lock and dam. Park officials hope to begin that phase in 2021 and complete it in 2023.

Fundraising to date has been sufficient to trigger the hiring this year of a consultant to further develop plans.

Both practical and historic

Water Works Park includes a seepage wall to handle storm runoff and a shallow cascading slope that could be wet for children’s play or dry for concerts. Another feature would unearth part of the gatehouse for the canal that powered mills, while still another would run bike and walking trails over the river nearby.

General Mills got its start just down the street from the proposed park 150 years ago when Cadwallader Washburn launched a flour milling company that, with cross-river rival Pillsbury, made Minneapolis into the world’s largest flour milling center for decades.

Consolidated in 1928 into General Mills, an agglomeration of dozens of smaller companies, the company closed its mill at St. Anthony Falls in 1965 and now is based in Golden Valley. It eventually swallowed Pillsbury as well.

“None of this would have been possible without the river behind us,” said Ken Powell, chief executive and board chair at General Mills, at the riverfront announcement.

Mayor Betsy Hodges quipped: “At least once a century General Mills transforms the river.”


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