Tomorrow’s river city emerging today

October 31, 2017 by Tom Evers

If you’ve traveled West River Road through the Mill district or crossed the Stone Arch Bridge these past few weeks, you witnessed the slow reveal of the Basset Mill, hidden for nearly 50 years beneath the former Fuji Ya restaurant. This is the beginning of what will become a new iconic park destination for Minneapolis.

Change is occurring at several sites along the RiverFirst corridor. Like the Water Works site where workers are revealing remnants of past mills, each location is a testament to the generational RiverFirst Vision beginning to emerge in Minneapolis. For nearly a decade, a dedicated coalition of planners, non-profit partners, elected officials and community members have been working to transform the Upper Riverfront. Today, that collective vision is beginning to emerge.

The vision is bigger than the sum of its parts – each location adding a needed component to the Riverfront.

Upriver from downtown, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has initiated the reconstruction of Hall’s Island within the Mississippi River channel. When complete, the 1.5-acre Hall’s Island will provide critical wildlife habitat and establish a protected channel for recreation, as well as a riverfront beach – the first for Northeast Minneapolis.

Further up the river, the City of Minneapolis completed a new bike trail leading from Theodore Wirth Park through North Minneapolis along 26th Ave N and connecting directly with the river’s edge. As the first completed segment in the Great Northern Greenway, the trail is a critical step in the effort to better connect North Minneapolis neighborhoods to the Mississippi River.

And at the 50-acre Upper Harbor Terminal site, the community is providing critical feedback about the potential for an outdoor amphitheater to be the centerpiece of a riverfront district including new businesses, parks, and trails.

These investments will activate the river in new ways, transition from a private riverfront to a public riverfront, and spark a renaissance where the true value of our city – the tapestry of people who have arrived from around the world or remained for generations – come together to define our city as unlike any other.

Work of this magnitude cannot happen without collaboration. Complex initiatives require deep planning, informed dialog, and ongoing cooperation among multiple public and private agencies and the communities we serve. Through thoughtful partnership, good ideas are shaped into transformative investments, like those unfolding at Water Works, Hall’s Island, and the Great Northern Greenway.

Big ideas also require transformative investment. The RiverFirst Campaign was launched to bring additional philanthropic resources necessary to completing this vision.  In the past two years, we have raised nearly $13 million toward our $18 million goal to complete the first phase. Paired with similar funding from public sources, the RiverFirst Capital Campaign will result in transformative change connected directly to three riverfront neighborhoods – Downtown, North, and Northeast. When paired with efforts to redevelop the Upper Harbor Terminal, a reimagined Lock and Dam, and other key riverfront sites, these efforts will drastically improve how the Mississippi River is connected to our lives.

The Minneapolis Parks Foundation is committed to the vision and will continue to work with the Park Board and City to realize the completion of our park system as Horace Cleveland and Theodore Wirth once imagined, and every resident in Minneapolis today, deserves: Neighborhoods that are truly connected to the river through exciting new parks for everyone. In most cities, each of these accomplishments alone would stand out as spectacular; together, they will be truly transformative.

Featured image: Hall’s Island site today, courtesy MPRB

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