Images courtesy Minneapolis Parks Foundation

Images courtesy Minneapolis Parks Foundation

Park commissioners approve new Water Works plan

Updated: June 23, 2017 - 10:56 am

New park site would include the park system’s first restaurant open all year

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is finalizing a plan for Water Works, a new destination park site that will begin to overhaul the downtown Minneapolis riverfront later this year.

The Park Board’s Planning Committee unanimously voted June 7 to approve a revised plan for the project, which would bring a new glass building and the park system’s first year-round restaurant to an area along West River Parkway just east of the Third Avenue Bridge.

The new plan, as unveiled earlier this spring, raises the price tag of Water Works to about $30 million, including about $19.6 million for a first “mezzanine” phase that includes the one-story restaurant pavilion. So far, the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, the board’s philanthropic partner tasked with fundraising for the project, has raised about $12.5 million in committed donations and gifts.

A second phase would cost about $10.2 million. Tom Evers, the foundation’s executive director, plans to wrap up a fundraising campaign for the first phase in December.

The pavilion would be embedded into what’s left of the Basset and Columbia mills buried beneath the Fuji Ya building, once home to the state’s first Japanese restaurant. The Park Board may move to demolish much of building as early as this September.

An updated version of Water Works calls for a glassy restaurant pavilion embedded in preserved mill ruins. Image courtesy Minneapolis Parks Foundation
An updated version of Water Works calls for a glassy restaurant pavilion embedded in preserved mill ruins. Image courtesy Minneapolis Parks Foundation

In addition to an undetermined restaurant, the pavilion would be home to bathrooms, meeting space and a green roof. To increase access to the riverfront, it would have a glass elevator to bring people down from First Street to West River Parkway.

Around the building, the board is planning a series of trails and sidewalks to further connect Minneapolis residents to the increasingly popular area near the Stone Arch Bridge and Mill Ruins Park. As part of the Central Mississippi Riverfront Regional Park, the sliver of parkland is one of the most-visited places in the state’s regional park system with more than 2.5 million annual visitors.

An important piece of Water Works is balancing the history and stories of people who came to the riverfront during the city’s heyday and the future residents of its growing downtown.

“It’s a place where people come to gather and a place for telling stories — the stories of the past, but also making your own stories when you’re here,” said Janette Law, the foundation’s director of communications and strategic partnerships.

In addition to the legacy of milling and manufacturing, Evers said they’ve been uncovering the history of the area’s African-American workers and Native American communities.

“We know this is one of the most culturally enriched places in Minnesota,” he said. “What we’re standing on now has been rebuilt many times over.”

Other additions to the six-acre site include improvements to West River Parkway, a kayak launch, an entry plaza from the street and places for small performances spaces. The board also plans to extend a walking bridge from the site to the Stone Arch Bridge.

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The project would connect with a woonerf — a shared street or plaza for pedestrians, cyclists and cars — between the Abiitan Mill City and Mill City Quarter communities. The site, which would host much of the closest parking to the restaurant pavilion, was dedicated to public use under a park dedication ordinance.

Previous plans for Water Works showed a stand-alone café pavilion, but that changed after a contractor found significantly more intact mill ruins left beneath the Fuji Ya building. Changes, which are anticipated to be financed by private contributions, were well received by park commissioners.

“I truly think that this is a better project all round,” said At-Large Commissioner Meg Forney, who chairs the board’s Planning Committee, at a June 7 public hearing.

Construction on the park is slated to begin next summer or fall and be completed in 2019.

The board is requesting expressions of interest from food vendors to run the restaurant at Water Works.



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