Renovating the refectory at Minnehaha Falls


The Minnehaha Falls Refectory (the building that houses Sea Salt) might be getting a facelift, and right now the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is asking for community input in determining what the improvements should include.

Cliff Swenson, director of design and project management at the Park Board, said, “We need to be good stewards of the building. Sea Salt has an interest in enlarging their space, and we want to meet with the public to see what we’re missing. We want to get the public and private spaces right. We want to know what changes we can make that would benefit the public.”

Last week, the Park Board held an open house at the Refectory, giving attendees a chance to tour the grounds and talk to the design team about renovation options and issues they see with the building.

Refectory Issues

Prior to the meeting, the Park Board identified numerous issues with the building itself, the park grounds, and traffic flow. It has been many years since the building was last renovated, and the roof, walls, ceiling, and other fixtures are showing their age. Also, the popularity of Sea Salt and other park activities, have caused traffic congestion on trails around the building between restaurant patrons, cyclists, and pedestrians.

A Historic Past

In 1903, a pavilion was built on the site to accommodate crowds coming to view the falls and the zoo animals. Park board president Fred Smith wrote that the building did “much to redeem Minnehaha from its unsavory reputation and [made] it a place where women and children [could] visit and enjoy their picnics….” The building burned down in 1904, and the Refectory was built in 1905.

Due to its historic past, the Refectory is listed as a historic site and all renovations will need to go through an approval process. The Park Board is working with historical consultants Hess Roise and architecture firm Miller Dunwiddie, a firm that is also leading the Howe school renovations.

Identified Issues

There were nine issues with the Refectory that MBRP identified:

  1. Exterior maintenance problems include a sagging, aged roof; deteriorating eaves, decking, rafters, thresholds; and cracked stucco.
  2. The fireplace isn’t utilized and is not a historic feature of the building.
  3. Hot plates don’t work and block three historic openings to the building.
  4. Access to the building for food deliveries is difficult to navigate, especially in bad weather.
  5. Kitchen is too small for preparing a high volume of food, and there isn’t enough storage space.
  6. Signage on the building is in poor condition and is difficult to see.
  7. Garage doors lack consistent character and darken the pavilion when they are shut. They aren’t original.
  8. Bathrooms aren’t accessible and are only available if the building is open.
  9. The building’s atmosphere is dark with damaged ceiling tiles and permanently shut dormer windows. Originally the building had high ceilings and was open.

MPRB also identified issues with traffic flow:

  1. Parking and drop-off – there is a lack of handicap parking, tour bus drop-off space is limited, delivery truck access is tight, and more bike parking is needed.
  2. Sea Salt Queuing and paths – there needs to be a defined location for queuing and consuming alcohol. The bike route, pedestrian route, and line for Sea Salt overlap – creating conflicts.
  3. Sea Salt Seating – more outdoor seating is needed with tables that can be moved.
  4. Drainage and soil compaction – root and soil compaction is affecting the oaks near the building, and stormwater doesn’t drain and causes ice issues in the winter and spring.

Provide Input & Learn More

  • Provide input on the Refectory renovations you’d like to see through MPRB’s online survey.
  • MPRB project website.
  • Attend the open house scheduled for September 19th to review design options.

If you like My Broadsheet, help us spread the word and tell your neighbors and friends. Don’t forget you can get these stories and more on Facebook.