Planning a power park

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July 19, 2013 // UPDATED 4:20 pm - July 23, 2013
By: Sarah McKenzie
The Water Works site is home to the former Fuji Ya restaurant building, which has been vacant since 1990.
By Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie
Design team selected to transform a stretch of downtown’s riverfront home to former Fuji Ya restaurant

The team recently tapped to design the Water Works park on downtown’s central riverfront envisions a “power park” for the site.

Minneapolis park and community leaders recently selected SCAPE and Rogers Marvel, two New York City-based architecture firms, to design a new park for the area formerly home to the Fuji Ya restaurant at 420 1st St. S. near the Stone Arch Bridge.

Kate Orff, a landscape architect and co-founder of SCAPE, reflected on the park’s potential in a piece posted on the Minneapolis Parks Foundation’s website. “Water Works was a site where energy was generated from the currents and it will be a ‘power park’ in the future in every sense of the word — from both the falls and the active and engaging public events and activities on its edges,” she wrote.  

In a recent interview Orff, who also serves as an assistant professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, said the goal is to create a park with better connections to downtown and the riverfront while honoring the area’s rich history and natural resources.

The team will start working on design ideas in August and plans to meet with several stakeholders to generate ideas for the park. The goal is to have a schematic design to present to community leaders by spring of 2014.

“It’s urban design, culture and river ecology kind of collided — making space for both could make it a nationally important project,” she said.

The design team will collaborate with several local partners on the project, including Minneapolis-based SRF Consulting, an engineering and planning firm, and park planners working on the master plan for the Central Mississippi Riverfront Regional Park — an area that includes parkland on both sides of the river between the Plymouth Avenue Bridge to the north and the I-35W bridge to the south. The area draws 1.6 million visitors a year, according to the Minneapolis Parks Foundation.

Water Works is also part of the RiverFirst initiative — a collaborative project of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, city’s Park Board and City of Minneapolis with the goal of revitalizing the riverfront with several new projects. In addition to Water Works, six other projects have been identified as priorities for the first phase of RiverFirst: a new park at the former Scherer Bros. lumber site north of Boom Island, a new Gateway Park north of the Central Library, new wetlands along the upper Mississippi riverfront, new greenways in Northeast and North Minneapolis, new riverfront trails and bridges and new river islands.

If all the projects move forward, RiverFirst would be the largest addition to the Park Board’s holdings since the park system was created 120 years ago, said Mary deLaittre, executive director of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation.

“[The Mississippi] is one of the three great rivers of the world, and we want to reorient this city toward the river,” she said.

A celebration for the future park at the Scherer Bros. site is set for Friday, July 26, 6 p.m. to sunset. Dubbed “No Name” Park for the event, the community is invited to an event featuring food trucks, music and a suggestion box with name ideas for the park at the former Scherer site just north of the Plymouth Avenue Bridge.

“We are very excited that the RiverFirst initiative is moving forward,” said Kathleen Boe, interim executive director of the Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership. “Without the enthusiastic input and support from the surrounding communities the RiverFirst initiative wouldn’t be where it is today.”

Purchased by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board in 2010, ideas floated for the park include creating a new beach, an area for kayaking and the recreation of Hall’s island.

History of Water Works site 

The area formerly home to the Fuji Ya restaurant near the corner of 1st Street South and 5th Avenue South got named Water Works because the area was  home to the city’s first water pumping stations, which providing the city with drinking water and water for the city’s firefighters.

The site has many layers of history. Dakota and Ojibwe people were the first settlers in the area. They were drawn to St. Anthony Falls, which was considered a sacred place. By the 1850s, lumber and milling businesses had moved to the area, using the falls for a power source. The city was a world leader in flour production for nearly five decades.

The most recent active use for the Water Works site was the Fuji Ya restaurant. It was in business from 1968 until 1990. A condo proposal called the Wave was floated for the area in 2004, but the Park Board decided against selling the land to the developer behind the project.

The funding strategy for the Water Works park is still being finalized, deLaittre said. Thirty percent will likely be financed through private donations and the rest will come from public sources.

Andrew Caddock, a project manager for the Park Board and a member of the selection committee that chose the design team for Water Works, said there are three important goals for site. First, it needs to be better connected to downtown and the riverfront; it needs to express the various histories that have been part of the area; and it needs to be a more vital spot that is part of the life of the city.

Matt Tucker, an assistant professor of landscape architecture at the University of Minnesota who also served on the selection committee, said he’d like to see the site simplified so the emphasis remains on its impressive surroundings.

“The power of that place is the falls, the skyline and river,” he said. 

Kjersti Monson, director of long range planning for the City of Minneapolis, echoed Tucker and Tucker. She said the project will help raise the river's profile. 

She said it needs to be a "living park," not a "dusty memorial."

"I see this site as being an identity-making site for the city. In many ways it's the reason the city exists," she said. "Those falls were what drove the mills and the river is the economic engine of why a city happened here."

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Upcoming event: Above the Falls riverfront biking and walking tours

When: Aug. 12, 6–8 p.m.

Where: along the riverfront in North and NE Minneapolis

What: The Friends of the Mississippi River is teaming up with Park Board ecologists and planners on a walking and biking tour to discuss planned riverfront improvements just north of downtown. Both events are free and will end with a showing of the movie, “The Adventures of Huck Finn,” around 8:30 p.m. at the Scherer Brothers site just north of the Plymouth Avenue Bridge.

More info: www.fmr.org