The Mississippi River flows south to the Gulf of Mexico, connecting Minnesota with the rest of the world. Small wonder, then, that designers who will come up with an integrated vision for the 5.4 Minneapolis river miles from the Stone Arch Bridge to the city limits, could come from anywhere else in the world.
The design competition website scored 3,600 hits from 83 countries and there were 63 entries by the Oct. 13 deadline. A short list will be chosen by Nov. 1; those proposers will develop some ideas over the winter and a final team will be selected Jan. 21. It’s just one of several initiatives underway by the Minneapolis Riverfront Corporation and its partners. Formed in 2008, it is a non-profit organization with 23 board members from government, business, community, parks and others. Its name may change in a board action coming just as this newspaper is distributed, but for now we’ll refer to it as MRC.
The Above the Falls Master Plan for revisioning the riverfront involved hundreds of people over several years culminating in 2000. By 2008, some might say figuratively, it was stuck like a logger’s deadhead at the river bottom. The City of Minneapolis is now reviewing the plan’s land use policies (which called for, among other things, many condominiums in various spots). The world’s financial picture has changed and to raise awareness of the importance of these decisions for future generations,” according to their news release.
As if raising that deadhead, solid old growth lumber, from the water that preserved it, MRC hired executive director Cordelia Pierson in May 2010 and the group has been working on several initiatives. Third Ward Council Member Diane Hofstede chairs the group, and Council Members Kevin Reich and Council President Barb Johnson (First and Fourth wards) are members. (Full list at mplsriverfrontcorp.org)
To re-start work on implementing the Above The Falls plan, original or modified, the MRC chose priorities. They brought residents, business people, and other potential financial and intellectual contributors on a beautiful Mississippi Queen boat ride ending as the sun set over the river Oct. 12, explaining the various initiatives along the way, as well as telling individual and corporate stories. Pigeons lined up on the round yellow tie-ups in the middle of the river near the locks. A passenger photographed an unobstructed view of the Grain Belt beer sign. A jaunty boat bobbed at the shoreline outside Grove Street Flats on Nicollet Island, and a commuter train whizzed over an otherwise seldom used rail bridge. A speaker pointed out an excessive use of rip-rap, boulders all the way up the riverbank, and another area that was meant to be more natural but had started to wash out. We heard dozens of details washed down with beverage and an ample hors d’ oeuvres provided by eight local restaurants.
Doug Snyder of the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization pointed out the land they purchased for their new office, the former IBEW hall on Tony Jaros’ River Garden bar, with whom they will be sharing parking.
Drifting by the Scherer Brothers site at Plymouth Avenue, recently acquired for park land and other development, it was mentioned that this used to be Hall’s Island, and that the filled-in channel might be reopened.
Ah, but back to the MRC’s priorities. Pierson said one of her goals is to work with interests in Northeast and North Minneapolis on advisory groups to help the areas identify more with the river, a “Neighbors to the River” program for which MRC is seeking funding. “We hope residents can get to understand they are an integral part of the river. Together we can identify which lateral connections to the river are most important; it might be 27th or 22nd on the Northeast side, for example,” Pierson said.
In addition to those “green connections,” the advisory groups would be involved in the city’s review of the Above The Falls master plan and help the designers. Pierson said she hopes these advisors will also enjoy working on interpretive historic plans, somewhat like the Old Highland neighborhood in North Minneapolis recently completed.
Two examples of Minneapolis Riverfront Corporation’s current activity: 1. MRC is leading a team figuring out if it’s feasible to restore the East Bank Falls below Father Hennepin Bluffs Regional Park, where a crumbling stairs and overgrown brush prevent viewing the river at a spot where water once flowed. Restoring this channel would be a way to show what the rest of the river would look like if the falls weren’t cascading over the concrete apron that keeps the amenity from migrating further upstream.
Minneapolis Riverfront Corporation Executive Director Cordelia Pierson with board members John Crippen and Edna Brazaitis. 2. There is also a team working on reuse of the Fuji-Ya site, now that the Minnesota Supreme Court has denied review of a developer’s lawsuit regarding that site. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, which owned the site, had decided about 10 years ago to sell it off as excess property. A development deal had been struck, but the developer sold its interest before the sale was finalized, to another developer with plans that then weren’t acceptable to the park board, which refused to complete the sale. The developer sued, but lost at every level including a petition to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
MRC’s behind the scenes job is largely to serve as a champion fostering coordination between agencies and cities to apply for big-picture funding that no single agency can secure on its own. Such funds will make implementation of Neighbors to the River’s priorities possible, Pierson said.
For more information on the MRC and related river activities, see the website mplsriverfrontcorp.org, email Cordelia.Pierson@ gmail.com or phone 612-465-8780, Ext. 212.