Riverfront Vitality Project report: "What gets measured gets done" at Mississippi River

How is the Minneapolis Mississippi riverfront doing?

Back in 2008, city and state officials—realizing the potential for riverfront development—decided to keep track of development-related indicators along the river. They formed a nonprofit corporation, Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership (MRP), to monitor the riverfront and conduct research that will help guide development.

About a year ago, MRP launched the Riverfront Vitality Project, an effort to document the state of the riverfront using five indicators: Economic health, environmental health, cultural resources, riverfront access and public perception.

“Taken together, these indicators provide a broad, yet balanced perspective on where we are today,” MRP Board Chair Thomas Johnson wrote in the introduction to the project report. “When updated annually, the indicators will track the results of public and private investments, providing a clear understanding of where progress is occurring— or not occurring—toward achieving the goals of city and park plans.”

The report, titled Riverfront Vitality Project: What Gets Measured Gets Done, was released at the Second Annual Riverfront Summit Monday, Oct. 7.

Researchers divided the Minneapolis riverfront into three sections: The Upper River, north of the Plymouth Avenue Bridge to the city limits; the Central Riverfront, between the Plymouth Avenue Bridge and the Washington Avenue Bridge; and the Lower Gorge, south of the Washington Avenue Bridge to the city limits.

They defined the riverfront as “the area from the river to the park boulevards, plus another one half mile inland. Where no park boulevards exist an equivalent line was used.” Given that definition, the Upper River has the largest riverfront area with 3.4 square miles. The Central Riverfront has two square miles and the Lower Gorge has 2.8 square miles.

Quoting from the report’s Summary of Findings:

Economic Health

  • In the Central Riverfront, $340 million of public funds generated $1.9 billion of private sector investment, a 560 percent return. These figures tell a compelling story about what public investment can leverage in other segments of the riverfront, particularly the Upper River.
  • During the past 10 years, in comparison to the City of Minneapolis as a whole, properties in the Central River and Lower Gorge saw tax value increases that were 27 percent higher than the Minneapolis average. While properties in the Upper River saw increases, they were 38 percent less than the Minneapolis average.
  • The Upper River and Lower Gorge provide a similar number of jobs with a similar wage distribution. The types of jobs vary considerably, with the Upper River providing more manufacturing jobs and the Lower Gorge segment providing more healthcare jobs. Both areas provide far fewer jobs than the Central Riverfront.

Environmental Health

  • The number of contaminated or historically contaminated sites is much higher in the Upper River and Central Riverfront compared to the Lower Gorge.
  • Fish are known to be generally edible, a sign of a recovering eco-system. However, research on fish population and diversity is very limited.
  • Conditions for aquatic recreation must be monitored. While areas of the river may be safe to swim, bacteria is the most significant contaminant and comes from an aging sewage infrastructure and pet waste that washes into the river during storm events.

Cultural Resources

  • There are numerous historic sites and districts in the study area. Strong preservation efforts have restored significant structures in Central Riverfront’s Saint Anthony Falls Historic District, including the landmark Washburn-Crosby A Mill and the Stone Arch Bridge. Other buildings such as the Pillsbury A Mill are currently being redeveloped.
  • The historical significance of the region along the Upper River remains under-recognized despite its significance to the development of the city as a major transportation corridor.

Riverfront Access

  • For over 1.3 million people in the metro area, the Minneapolis Riverfront is within a 12-minute driving distance.
  • Public access is unevenly distributed throughout the riverfront. The most opportunity for improved access exists in the Upper River.
  • Public transportation exists throughout the riverfront but East-West transportation across the Mississippi is very limited.

Public Perception

  • There is growing national recognition of the importance of the Mississippi River to the City of Minneapolis.
  • Park usage in the Central Riverfront has seen the largest increase of any river segment over the past 10 years. Usage in the Upper River, an area underserved by parks, has remained flat; the usage rate is less than one fifth that of the Central Riverfront.
  • Additional research needs to be done on public perception. Current data is limited to usage counts or intercept surveys for particular segments of the riverfront.

For more information on MRP, visit minneapolisriverfrontpartnership.org.

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    Kerry Ashmore's picture
    Kerry Ashmore

    Kerry Ashmore edits the Northeaster.