Image courtesy Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

Image courtesy Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

Park Board begins work on Water Works

Updated: August 24, 2017 - 10:35 am

Demolition of Fuji-Ya building will begin in September

Work began this month on what park leaders say is the city’s next cultural destination.

Crews have begun to explore and uncover long-buried mill infrastructure near the downtown Minneapolis riverfront in preparation for Water Works, a new destination park site from the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. Park leaders hope the redevelopment project will bolster the already popular area near the Stone Arch Bridge and bring future generations to the Mississippi River.

Park Board President Anita Tabb, who represents the area on the nine-member board, said Water Works will add even more vibrancy to what is becoming the “heart and soul of Minneapolis.”

“It’s a gift to every citizen in this city to have all of this activity going on at this location,” she said at an August press conference. “I think we’re really stepping up as a city in this area.”

To build Water Works, the Park Board will reveal historic stonework from the Bassett, Columbia and Occidental mills, some of which has been visible to parkgoers for years. Much of it is still buried beneath the hills between West River Parkway and First Street South between the Third Avenue Bridge and the Stone Arch Bridge.

While the Park Board has a good idea about what it will find beneath the soil, there’s a reason it is dedicating a phase of work to exploring what’s buried beneath the section of the Mill District. While they expect to find mill walls and possibly old machinery, said Kate Lamers, a project manager and landscape architect with the board, they don’t know exactly where it will be or how it will be oriented, information that’s necessary for final design work.

“When you add it all up there’s quite a bit we know, but there’s a fair amount we don’t,” she said.

Park Superintendent Jayne Miller, who was recovering from an injury sustained playing pickleball, said Water Works will be an "iconic cultural destination." Photo by Eric Best
Park Superintendent Jayne Miller, who was recovering from an injury sustained playing pickleball, said Water Works will be an “iconic cultural destination.” Photo by Eric Best

Beginning in September, the Park Board will remove a decayed and unstable level of the Fuji-Ya restaurant building, which the board has owned for nearly three decades. Lamers said they hope to complete the selective demolition process in January or February next year.

Then in 2018 the board will begin building a new restaurant and park pavilion on the site, which will be home to the city’s first year-round park restaurant. The Park Board has already begun the process of finding and identifying a concessions partner.

The glassy structure will be embedded among the uncovered mill ruins and will feature restrooms and a rooftop terrace. Surrounding the new construction will be outdoor gathering spaces, play areas and improved walking and bicycle connections.

The Park Board expects to open this first phase of Water Works, dubbed the mezzanine phase, in 2019.

The first round of riverfront improvements is possible due to fundraising from the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, the board’s philanthropic partner. Tabb said the nonprofit has come a long way from “pretty much nothing” to jumpstarting Water Works, the first of many landmark improvement projects the foundation is planning to support along the Mississippi River.

The foundation has raised $12.6 million of its roughly $18-million goal so far. Money has come from the General Mills Foundation, the Pohlad Family Foundation grant, Minneapolis Parks Foundation board members and other donors. Part of the foundation’s fundraising efforts will support a trail link and pier project in North Minneapolis.

The funds will cover the first phase of Water Works. Superintendent Jayne Miller of the Park Board said they will figure out another funding agreement with the foundation the second phase, dubbed the riverside phase, which is expected to begin in 2021.

The mezzanine phase will cost an estimated $19.6 million and the riverside phase will run the board $10.2 million for a total just shy of $30 million.

Tom Evers of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation said Water Works will be a place "to capture stories, to tell stories and a place for new stories to come forward." Photo by Eric Best
Tom Evers of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation said Water Works will be a place “to capture stories, to tell stories and a place for new stories to come forward.” Photo by Eric Best

Miller said Water Works will open a “unique and truly special section of the riverfront,” which will bring communities like the Ojibwe and Dakota to the table.

“[Water Works] is a wonderful opportunity to tell more of the complete story of our history and build a park that’s more inclusive in its design, programming and operation,” she said at August press conference.

Tom Evers, the foundation’s executive director, said the project will fulfill an “unkept promise of giving back the river to the city.”

“It’s really a chance to connect ourselves with one of the most powerful forces of nature — the Mississippi River,” he said.