Images courtesy Minneapolis Parks Foundation

Images courtesy Minneapolis Parks Foundation

Park Board unveils new Water Works concepts

Updated: May 22, 2017 - 3:57 pm

Proposed riverfront park now combines pavilion with historic mill infrastructure

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board recently unveiled new concepts for Water Works, its proposed destination park that is designed to transform the downtown Minneapolis riverfront over the next several years.

Among the biggest developments in the project is a park pavilion, which instead of a stand-alone structure near Mill Ruins Park is now planned to inhabit what’s left of the Bassett Sawmill and Columbia Flour Mill. The mills are buried beneath the Fuji-Ya building, a former restaurant located between First Street and West River Parkway just east of the Third Avenue Bridge, which is slated to be selectively demolished as the first step in building Water Works.

The more detailed design from Damon Farber Landscape Architects and HGA Architects shows the pavilion as a one-story building with a rooftop deck, large glassy windows and restored mill perimeter walls.


Tom Evers, executive director of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, said they’re planning the building be used as a restaurant similar to Sea Salt Eatery, a seafood restaurant that anchors the Park Board’s Minnehaha Park in South Minneapolis. The current plan for the concept at Water Works, which the board has yet to find a restaurateur to operate, is to make it the first year-round restaurant in the city’s park system. The pavilion would also have several bathrooms, an elevator and office space. It would keep the same hours as the park.

The change came after further investigation into remnants of the mill, which were unexpectedly rich and intact. Rather than simply demolish the Fuji-Ya building and partially expose the infrastructure, Evers said they would rather activate them and weave in their history into Water Works.

“Living cities need to respect places of power by both honoring the past stories that unfolded before and making room for new stories to emerge, giving voice to communities that may often be left unheard. This is true for Water Works,” he said in a statement.

Evers said Water Works will be a place where people will be able to add their own stories with the reopening of the historic infrastructure to the public.

“This is a place where stories have always been told and created in our city,” he told The Journal.


Estimated costs for the project have grown to just under $30 million. The foundation, the board’s philanthropic partner tasked with fundraising for Water Works and other RiverFirst projects, estimates the first or “Mezzanine” phase will come with a price tag of $19.6 million, a nearly $3-million increase from previous estimates. So far, the nonprofit has raised $12.3 million in committed donations and gifts from groups like General Mills, its board members and private donors. Other funds will come from the Park Board and additional fundraising.

A second phase, which is estimated to cost $10.2 million, would focus on overhauling the riverfront and creating connections to the water. The new concepts show improvements to West River Parkway, a kayak launch and more greening, among other changes.

It’s the goal of the board and foundation that Water Works build on the growing popularity of downtown’s riverfront area. As part of the Central Mississippi Riverfront Regional Park, the area is one of the most-visited places in the state’s regional park system with more than 2.5 million annual visitors, a number that has ramped up in recent years.

“We hope it continues to grow,” Evers said.

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Crews will begin to deconstruct the Fuji-Ya building later this year, perhaps as early as this summer. Construction on Water Works is slated to begin early next year. The board expects to open the first phase in 2019.

A survey on the updated concepts is available through Sunday, May 21 at The Park Board is expected to vote on the updated plans this spring.

Water Works is among several projects that the Park Board is planning to transform parkland on both ends of the Mississippi River into new destinations. It is already vying for approvals to restore Hall’s Island in Northeast Minneapolis. That project calls for developing the former Scherer Lumber Bros. site near the Plymouth Avenue Bridge into an eight-acre park with a rebuilt island for wildlife habitats and a visitor pier.

Along the upper riverfront, the board and foundation are planning the Great Northern Greenway, what the two call a critical trail link and pier at the end of 26th Avenue in North Minneapolis.

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