Schematic concepts of the restored Hall's Island and proposed park Credit: Photo courtesy of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

Schematic concepts of the restored Hall's Island and proposed park Credit: Photo courtesy of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

Park Board begins final design work to restore Hall’s Island

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board approved a services agreement Sept. 2 to draft plans to restore Hall’s Island and develop a new park in Northeast Minneapolis.

The $722,000 deal with Tom Leader Studios contracts design, engineering and construction administrative services for the first development phase of the project, a significant part of the board’s RiverFirst Initiative.

As part of the first of two phases, the Berkeley, Calif.-based landscape architecture firm will draft construction documentation for the nearly 4.4-acre island and a proposed park on the former Scherer Bros. Lumber site, just upstream from the Plymouth Avenue Bridge. Hall’s Island disappeared in the 1960s when it was filled into the east bank of the river. 

The Park Board must complete the final designs before submitting to the two permitting agencies, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which need to sign off on the project before the board can move forward with construction, planning amenities and more community engagement.

Tom Leader Studios, which the board first hired in 2012 to create schematic designs for RiverFirst, split the project into three parts: Hall’s Island, the proposed park site and a parcel that the board has slated for development.

The first phase will include the building, excavating and grading of the new Hall’s Island; planting permanent vegetation on the island as a habitat for migrating birds and creating aquatic habitats for fish and mussels.

Plans for this construction phase don’t call for future amenities like boardwalks, bridges or terraces, though the firm will design the groundwork for future bridges to the island. A second phase with community engagement would detail the park’s amenities.

The firm will also put together documentation for creating the beginnings of the future park and a developable parcel on the Scherer site as part of the phase.

In July, the board rejected a proposal from Graco Minnesota Inc. to expand its nearby headquarters onto the approximately 3.6-acre parcel. The industrial abrasive manufacturer proposed two 50,000-square-foot office buildings and a 133-stall surface parking lot for the riverfront land.

Michael Schroeder, assistant superintendent of Planning Services, told commissioners during the meeting that staff will bring a new planning and public input process for the park site and developable parcel before the board in early fall. 

The board contracted out Barr Engineering for nearly $600,000 beginning last August to consult staff on the environmental review and permitting process for recreating Hall’s Island, which is currently underway. Because the project will change more than an acre of the Mississippi River, an environmental assessment is required.

The Legislature passed a bill in May 2013 authorizing construction of Hall’s Island as a natural habitat island. The board must create the island within six years after the bill’s June 2014 filing date.

Park staff said they expect to finish the review process by next spring with construction bids going out shortly after. Construction on the first phase would begin in the fall of 2016.