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Parks – revealing stories through placemaking

Courtesy MN Historical Society

Minneapolis is a city layered with stories and history – some yet to be uncovered, some being seen in a new light. With new discoveries, we can change how we look at our city and understand our past.

For the past 5 years, the Minneapolis Parks Foundation and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board have been diligently exploring the Water Works site in preparation for its transformation from a slope of untended trees and deteriorating buildings, into a place for all people to experience the Mississippi River and St. Anthony Falls for inspiration and as a place of arrival.

Last year, due to the early success of the RiverFirst Capital Campaign, we initiated the final Water Works design process and hired a team led by Damon Farber Landscape Architects and HGA Architects to bring the approved concept to completion. Working with expert cultural and historic consultants, we are beginning to better understand how this site fits into the stories of many cultures and people that have traversed and settled in the region. Birthplace of the city’s milling history, St. Anthony Falls is also a spiritual place that has shaped cultural and economic connections for indigenous people and immigrants.

One of the site’s most recent chapters includes the location of the original Fuji Ya Restaurant. Placed on historic remains of the long-shuttered Basset and Columbia mills, the restaurant brought people to the riverfront as guests and diners rather than rail workers and millers. It was, perhaps, to many, the first glimpse they had of the power of the falls as they pass between the towering Washburn Mills on the West Bank and the Pillsbury A Mill to the East.

Today, beneath the now-deteriorated former restaurant and the surrounding land, rests lesser-known stories. This land has seen many changes and more is being learned as we connect to people whose memories remain tied to distant pasts.

Prompted by new information uncovered through the historic and cultural analysis, we have prepared an evolved concept that better incorporates some of the history while remaining faithful to the approved plan for the Central Riverfront. The design team, together with staff from the Park Board and the Parks Foundation, will share this information at community open houses on Monday, May 1, and Tuesday, May 2. (Please see this post for detailed meeting information.)

With your feedback and support, we hope to initiate construction of this new parks site for all to enjoy and celebrate our glorious riverfront and its deep ties to the many histories that have been woven into our city.

Please join us and provide your support and suggestions as we complete this final stage.

To learn more about what we discovered, you can also download the Water Works Interpretive Planning document.

Featured image: Water Works site, c. 1899, courtesy MN Historical Society

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