The Mississippi River flows past the dead end of 26th Avenue in north Minneapolis, beyond the railroad crossing, the cement factory and the rumbling concrete trucks.
But the shoreline is closed off to the public, obscured much like the rest of the riverfront in this part of the city. That will change next year with a new overlook, the first public amenity on the river for the North Side in almost 20 years.
Minneapolis officials announced the $1 million project at the site Tuesday, describing it as the first phase of a long-term effort to connect both sides of the river. The project is led by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, the board’s philanthropic arm.
“Downtown, south and southwest Minneapolis enjoy nearly complete and uninterrupted access to its waterfront,” Minneapolis Park Board Superintendent Al Bangoura said. “We strongly believe that north and northeast deserve the same level of access.”
The circular overlook will be built on what is now a small dirt lot littered with plastic bottles and other trash, where the river view is covered by trees and chain-link fencing. Its main feature will be a tall, slanted pole at the center of the base, a “beacon” that officials hope will draw people to the site.
The overlook will be the destination point for a bike trail that begins more than 2 miles away at Theodore Wirth Regional Park and goes down 26th Avenue. The project will break ground this fall and open next summer.
“Next year, this fenced off, dilapidated dead end behind me will have been transformed,” Bangoura said.
Minneapolis City Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, whose district encompasses this part of the city, said he felt as if he couldn’t get access to the river while growing up on the North Side.
This project, he said, will “provide a place where folks can feel like the river is not some faraway place that they have to traverse miles for.”
The last time a section of the riverfront was opened to the North Side was 2002, with the purchase of Ole Olson Park just south of the overlook site, said Janette Law, communications director for the Minneapolis Parks Foundation.
The $1 million for the overlook project was raised through private and corporate donations, Law said. Since 2015, the Parks Foundation has reached 93% of its $17.9 million fundraising goal for the overlook project and Water Works, an overhaul of parkland beside the Stone Arch Bridge also set to break ground this year.
In the future, park officials hope to connect the overlook and Ole Olson Park to the other side of the river in northeast Minneapolis in a project they’re calling the Great Northern Greenway. A major redevelopment of the Upper Harbor Terminal site in north Minneapolis, expected to begin in a few years, will also create new parkland.
Chris Linde, who lives in northeast Minneapolis, biked to Tuesday’s announcement. He is an advocate for the Great Northern Greenway trail and has pushed for the city to connect both sides of the river for pedestrians and cyclists.
“It breaks up a lot of this industrial and it kind of opens it up to the public,” he said of the overlook. “River access for North, it’s a great thing.”
Linde, 49, hoped residents are able to look past the industrial activity and find their way to the overlook. “I think the beacon aspect of it … will be a visual reminder that there is something here,” he said.