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Minneapolis Parks Foundation > Common Ground > Projects > Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and Minneapolis Parks Foundation celebrate opening of Water Works

Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and Minneapolis Parks Foundation celebrate opening of Water Works

Riverfront park project recognizes area’s Indigenous and industrial histories and creates outdoor gathering space, playground and improved trail connections next to Stone Arch Bridge

New park pavilion featuring restaurant by The Sioux Chef opens this summer

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) and Minneapolis Parks Foundation are proud to announce that construction on Water Works is nearly complete and the outdoor elements of the new riverfront park project are open!

Water Works was created in Mill Ruins Park, overlooking St. Anthony Falls and the Stone Arch Bridge. The three-acre project brings significant new historic, cultural and recreational amenities to one of the most visited and iconic areas in Minneapolis.

“This is a fascinating site with an influential and complex history, and I’m glad we took the time to create an ambitious vision and execute it well,” says Al Bangoura, Superintendent of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. “I’d like to thank the talented team who worked so hard on this project, and for the support of our partners, including the Minneapolis Park Foundation and its supporters, who appreciate the shared benefit of thoughtfully designed riverfront parks.”

Water Works is designed to reveal layers of untold stories, in acknowledgement of the location as both a spiritual place that has shaped cultural and economic connections for Indigenous people and immigrants, and as the birthplace of Minneapolis’ milling history.

Outdoor Park Features

Outdoor features are ready to be enjoyed by park visitors. A park pavilion and visitor center will open this summer with a new restaurant, Owámni by The Sioux Chef. Outdoor amenities now open include:

General Mills Plaza serves as a gateway to Water Works from West River Parkway. The 1,800 square-foot lower patio features three gas firepits with Indigenous artwork and public seating shaded under a large Cottonwood tree that was preserved throughout construction.

Bank of America City Steps creates a series of terraced green spaces with social seating. A winding, accessible walkway connects the plaza to Columbia Terrace above.

Columbia Terrace offers an upper event area and lawn that will have outdoor seating for Owámni, along with a public walkway, landscaping and green space.

Nature Play Lab is a nature play area for small children at the north end of the site near 3rd Avenue Bridge.

A Mezzanine Lawn offers more space to relax and gather overlooking the riverfront between the play area and the City Steps. Native plants, many with medicinal and edible properties, are planted throughout the site. Signs with information about the plants in both Dakhóta and English language will be added later in 2021. The landscape also showcases immense stone remnant walls from the Occidental and Columbia mills, along with industrial relics unearthed during construction.

A new street/trail connection called a woonerf connects Water Works to Second Street near the play area, creating new access between Downtown Minneapolis and the riverfront. Improved trail connections, walkways, street crossings and lighting on West River Parkway and First Street all contribute toward an improved experience for park visitors.

“The Minneapolis Parks Foundation was honored by the generosity of the community that came together to fund Water Works,” says Tom Evers, Executive Director of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation. “Our collaboration with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board resulted in an inspired new park space that both honors our history while remaining future oriented. Philanthropy is most effective when it’s aligned with the community’s vision and public investment.”

The Parks Foundation provided the majority funding for this project through its RiverFirst Capital Campaign, which raised more than $18 million from philanthropic contributions for riverfront park projects. RiverFirst is a generational vision for transforming areas of once-industrial Mississippi Riverfront into a welcoming place for all people through improved habitat and miles of new interconnected parks and trails.

Other RiverFirst projects include Hall’s Island, a habitat-rich island and gravel beach restored in 2018 after it was destroyed by 1960s industrial expansion, and the 26th Avenue North Overlook, a new river overlook and trail connection that opened last week on the North Minneapolis riverfront.

Stormwater Reuse and Public Art

A stormwater reuse system funded through a grant from the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO) will collect rainwater from the rooftops of three adjacent buildings and reuse nearly 1 million gallons annually for grey water in the pavilion and site irrigation. A collage of dots, each dot representing a gallon of water reused at the site, will create a river-themed artwork along City Steps bench tops, which will also have Dakhóta and English text about the water system and the importance of our relationship with water.

Recently the City of Minneapolis Art in Public Places program issued a Call for Artists to apply to design and create more public art to be incorporated into Water Works. The artwork will celebrate the histories, languages and vibrant cultures of Indigenous and Dakhóta people and honor the two nearby sacred Dakhóta sites – Owámniiyomni (St. Anthony Falls) and Wanáǧi Wíta (Spirit Island) – destroyed in the 1960s to make way for the nearby lock and dam.

“Water Works is an impressive project that vastly improves one of the busiest areas of our park system, while providing a place for us to better understand the layers of history on the riverfront,” says Jono Cowgill, MPRB President and District 4 Park Commissioner representing Downtown Minneapolis. “There’s a lot of exciting momentum for riverfront parks and trails in Minneapolis right now and I look forward to continuing our work with the support of a generous network of partners.”

Water Works Pavilion and Visitor Center

The two-story park pavilion and visitor center is located at 425 West River Parkway. It showcases carefully excavated mill remnants from the Bassett Sawmill, which was built in 1870 and burned in 1897, and Columbia Flour Mill, which was built in 1882 and collapsed in 1941. The site also housed Fuji Ya Restaurant from 1968 to 1990.

On the lower level of the pavilion, visitors will enter through an arched glass doorway into the two-story Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation Atrium and be greeted by a welcome desk staffed by MPRB employees. The Lenzmeier Family Foundation Classroom will host events and community programs, and accessible bathrooms and a water fountain and water bottle filling station will be available for park users. A public elevator and stairway in the lower river level of the pavilion will help accessibility between the upper and lower levels. The stairway was built using wooden beams salvaged from the Fuji Ya building.

The upper level of the pavilion will host a new four-season restaurant called Owámni by The Sioux Chef that will offer dine-in and take-out Indigenous cuisine. The Sioux Chef also plans to create events and educational opportunities to elevate Indigenous voices as part of its larger mission to promote Native American cultures, honor plants and natural resources, and foster a vibrant Indigenous food movement.

Six public restrooms are included across both floors. The building includes other supportive features such as a quiet room for nursing or prayer needs, a wudu foot washing station and an adult-sized changing table to support use by seniors and people with disabilities.

The pavilion and site meet B3 sustainability guidelines for energy efficiency, emissions and air quality, bird detectable glass, landscape treatment, and material sourcing. Both the building and restaurant will open this summer. Stay tuned for more details.

Site History

People have gathered at Owámniiyomni (St. Anthony Falls) for thousands of years. It was a prime place for encampments by the Dakhóta, Ho-Chunk, and Ojibwe due to the proximity to a place of spiritual power, traditional routes, and locations for harvesting foods such as maple sugar and cranberries. After the Euro-American settlement of the cities of St. Anthony and Minneapolis, Native peoples continued to stay at the Falls through the 1860s, when they were forcibly relocated to reservations.  Today, this area is still a sacred destination for Native people across the country.

Minneapolis grew around industrial development on the Mississippi River. Loggers gathered for work at the city’s saw mills, then some of the world’s largest flour mills were built, harnessing the power of the river as the city continued to grow.

The decline of riverfront industry in the mid-20th century was followed by a central riverfront revitalization, led by the Fuji Ya restaurant. When it opened in 1968, Fuji Ya was the first new building in an abandoned industrial area of Minneapolis, spurring the beginning of a riverfront redevelopment period that continues to this day. Fuji Ya moved in 1990 and the MPRB bought the site in an era of riverfront park development that saw the Stone Arch Bridge transition from railroad to pedestrian and bike use, an expansion of trails on West River Parkway and the development of Boom Island Park.

Project Partners

Many project partners worked tirelessly to complete this immensely complicated endeavor. The MPRB, Parks Foundation, MWMO and City of Minneapolis all contributed toward funding the project. A multidisciplinary technical team with expertise in cultural resources, programming, engineering, design and construction brought Water Works to life:

  • Damon Farber Landscape Architects
  • HGA Architects and Engineers
  • H+U Construction
  • Barr Engineering
  • McDonald & Mack
  • Kimley Horn
  • 106 Group

The MPRB and Parks Foundation would also like to thank community members, community liaisons and local organizations that contributed to the project: Mona Smith, Healing Place Collaborative, St. Anthony Falls Heritage Board, Carrie Day Aspinwall, Abdimalik Mohammed, and Michelle Mills.

Video from the May 20 opening event, including special opening and closing performances from the Native Pride Dancers, will be available by June 1.

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