The City of Minneapolis will seek the public's help in designing the new Downtown East Commons at an open forum Tuesday evening.

The 4.2-acre park is meant to be a fixture of the Downtown East redevelopment project by Ryan Cos. The developer will do basic soil and seed prep before turning the two blocks over to the city and its San Francisco-based landscape architect, Hargreaves Associates. 

Artist rendering of Downtown East Commons

Bounded by Park Avenue, 4th and 5th Streets and a proposed building that abuts 5th Av. S., the public space will have to balance a variety of interests.

"Hargreaves and the city’s job is to come up with a design for the Commons that is for almost everybody in terms of all the uses. And at the same time it has to be a clear, legible and compelling design that people get attached to and that it attracts the funds we need to sustain it in the future,” said Peter Brown, a consultant to the city. 

Minneapolis residents, workers and visitors can offer their input at Mill City Museum Tuesday, Feb. 24 from 6-7:30 p.m. And for those who prefer a more private response, the Hargreaves team has set up an online survey to gather feedback.

The park is currently a blank slate. Hargreaves hopes to capture and reflect Minnesota culture in its design.

"We really think this is a great opportunity for placemaking," said Mary Margaret Jones, senior principal at Hargreaves. "And, yes, we will be zoned. We have Ryan’s residential building at one end and the stadium at the other end. We can already imagine a park that moves from passive to more active. We are diving in. We are getting more information. We are understanding more of the special event needs. We are understanding the public.”

Jones has ties to Minneapolis. Her husband lived in the city when they first started dating. 

"I would come to visit and we would ride bikes along the river and across the Stone Arch Bridge, so I know the river well," she said. 

The challenge though for her and her team will be to satiate an abundance of needs. 

The Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA), Metro Transit and Hennepin County are all stakeholders, in addition to the general public that wants leisure, recreational and artistic uses.

An agreement between the Vikings and the city gives the football franchise access rights to areas of the park on game days, as well as a number of other days. City officials are quick to point out that even on event days, the Commons will be open to the public while VIP tents, beer gardens or other ticketed space may be used exclusively by the Vikings or MFSA. Here's the agreement breakdown:

Western block: Up to 20 event days total

- 10 Vikings game days

- 10 Vikings other-event days

Eastern block: Up to 60 event days total, plus time that may be needed for setup and takedown

- 10 Vikings game days. Portions of the eastern block can be used the day before and after Vikings game days for the specific purpose of setting up and taking down tents.

- 10 Vikings other-event days

- 40 event days for the MSFA

To balance these diverse uses, “there will probably be some combination of soft and hard landscapes and probably some features, but we don’t know what those will be yet," Brown said. "It's going to be a blank sheet of paper. We want the public to tell us everything they think it's going to take to make it great. Hargreaves will then go away for 3-5 weeks and come back in early April with some big-idea sketches. Then we talk about those in public setting. Then, we narrow those down."

This is the first of three public meetings scheduled before the design is finalized in May.

The goal is to have the final park vision operational by the end of 2017, but an interim park will be completed in 2016 ahead of opening day at the new stadium. 

"Our goal is to make some improvements on Ryan's grass and seek in order to make a good interim park," Brown said. 

In order to realize this dream, Greening Downtown Minneapolis (GDM) -- a new nonprofit organization formed by the Minneapolis Downtown Council -- has to raise $18 million, which is Hargreaves' cost estimate.

Ryan Cos. has a vested interest in the park's success since its five-block residential, retail and office development will directly benefit from a vibrant park. The company kicked off the fundraising campaign by pledging $200,000, but GDM has a long ways to go.

"The land is owned by the city, but we have to raise all $18 million," Brown said. "We hope that there are some interested institutions and organizations that are going to see the benefit in supporting that work.”


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