RiverFIRST: 45 days to comment


The upper river projects could cost less than what’s been invested in making downtown Minneapolis what it is today. And they can be done, said Candace Damon, vice chairman of HR&A Advisors.

HR&A, consultants from New York, laid out possible tools for financing the recommended first steps in the refined RiverFIRST proposal for the upper Mississippi River area. The plan was submitted to the public and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board this past week.

Heading into a 45-day public comment period, with comments to be addressed to the park board, the winners are, as explained at a public meeting Sept. 20:

A riverfront trails system, $52 million estimated to create a variety of circulation loops on either side of the Upper Mississippi River, $15 million more for “knot bridges” that adapt the current river crossings to bring pedestrians and bikes closer to the water. “Circulation” also extends to creating cell phone apps so park and trail users can learn more about their environment.

Included in the trails are greening improvements to 26th Avenue and 28th Avenue north, creating a framework that signals the importance of an eventual land bridge to cross I-94 and bring Farview Park all the way to the river. Park planning director Bruce Chamberlain said they have already put in for a grant looking for money for 26th Avenue.

Tom Leader, of Tom Leader Studio, said there are things in the way of getting the land bridge done, but to “setup for later infill is an emotional response to the North Side.”

Biohavens, the floating islands that re-sculpt and slow down the water flow, creating areas for safer recreational non-motorized boating as well as encouraging wildlife and cleansing plant life, are estimated at $10 million. Scherer Park, which has been re-imagined in combination with the planned Sheridan Park and veteran’s memorial, and lower-rise housing than first planned: $23 million.
The last priority of this first batch would be the North Side Wetland Park at $45 million.

Tom Leader Studio and Kennedy Violich Architecture teamed up, with several local assistants, to produce and refine the RiverFIRST proposal. Sheila Kennedy stated, “We think, the whole team is united, that these are achievable. It doesn’t mean other parts of the plan aren’t important.”

Gateway Park, a project that would put a water-oriented feature right outside the downtown library’s front door, was briefly mentioned. The brainchild of Trust for Public Land, the consultants recommended they keep going and take full responsibility for developing it.

Mortenson Construction helped estimate the costs. To the total $145 million, add $30,000 as a 20 percent contingency for unforeseens, that’s a $175 million price tag. It compares, said Danny Fuchs, Director of HR&A said, with $290 million invested over the years in Minneapolis’ downtown redevelopment.

“Great ideas, great designs, great leadership attracts capital,” to get things built, Damon said, listing six basic sources that can be used or applied for. While not discounting the complicated nature of raising the $145 million, she said, “It’s the operating funds that will be a challenge. This is not downtown, these are not affluent neighborhoods, this is not a city projected for long term growth.”
Fuchs explained that real estate proceeds such as ground lease payments, housing improvement areas, and special assessment districts are typical tools for operating public amenities like parks and trails. A high rise in one area supports a large area of parkland with the property taxes it pays. That’s one reason to allow a higher-than-ideal building rather than insist on low-rise buildings, which gobble up a lot of land while not yielding much in taxes.

Ongoing costs can also be partially offset by earned income from food and beverage concessions, events, and promotions.

An audience question highlighted a new recommendation, for concerts on a barge docked on the river next to a natural amphitheater created by building up dredged material near an existing grain elevator on the Northside just south of Dowling.

Linda Mack asked for a definition of  “mixed use.” Fuchs said it’s deliberately vague, that in the 20 years or so that it will take to implement the plan, market conditions will determine what kinds of uses make sense at the time.

Other audience comments:

  • Malcolm, a member of the American Indian tribe associated with Spirit Island, offered to connect RiverFIRST to his people, and commented about creating affordable housing for baby boomers.
  • From Lind Bohanon, “the Camden Bridge is a gateway for a lot of trails, to the North,” and the plan said little about that area.
  • “We know the best laid plans tend to slip. Think of compacting the time frame, be more aggressive, make it a 10 year plan instead of 20.”
  • Irene Jones asked about Asian carp, and the public response so far, to close locks to keep them from getting further upstream. City Council Member Diane Hofstede answered that she thought they should find some other way to deal with the invasive fish, that we won’t be closing any locks.


Next steps: While in a couple of instances, Chamberlain said the park board was going ahead with grant proposals, he anticipated about a nine-month time frame for the board to get public comment through its own processes and make decisions on what to pursue. When they budget for 2012, that would be the first opportunity to put the simplest of tools in place (special levies, for example). Board chair John Erwin said “we will need to go to the city and council to involve them [and see what they are willing to do] early before making a final decision.”

A factor in seeking that collaboration is the city’s review of the Above the Falls plan, which had been forecast to be ready September 27. A forum is scheduled on that evening, 5:00-6:50 p.m. at the park board headquarters, 2117 West River Road, to talk about the findings so far. City planner Tom Leighton said they’ve been asked to refine financial scenarios for the area around Port of Minneapolis, which will now take until December to complete.

For the newest draft RiverFIRST proposal, and to submit comments about the plan, go to the website minneapolisriverfrontdevelopmentinitiative.com.