B.F. Nelson becoming a park

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September 28, 2009 // UPDATED 8:49 am - September 28, 2009
By: Cristof Traudes
Cristof Traudes
// An update on Northeast’s long-awaited Mississippi River destination //

For more than two decades, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has owned a stretch of land on the Mississippi River it calls B.F. Nelson Park. But it hasn’t been much of a park, spending most years recovering from a past mired in industrial usage.

Now, however, it looks like some change is on the horizon. Here’s an update on all things B.F. Nelson.

First, some background

The Park Board got B.F. Nelson from the Minnesota Department of Transportation in 1986 as surplus property. Because of its history of industrial use — it’s named after the B.F. Nelson Manufacturing Company that once stood there — the site was badly contaminated. A 1993 plan, however, calls for it to be developed as serene green space.

Change has come slowly, thanks to the ever-influential money effect. The Park Board’s budget has been tight for years, not particularly friendly to a project that a 2004 estimate tagged with a $4.6 million cost.

What’s the main goal?

The ’93 plan paints a picture of B.F. Nelson that’s light on frills, heavy on green space. It’s overall expected to be a nature-centric kind of park — no ball fields, etc. Rather, it’ll be a spot for benches and picnic tables, a canoe landing and an interpretive facility. The plan further includes bicycle and pedestrian trails, a wildlife overlook and an art park.

The park won the “unbuilt works” award earlier this year from the Minnesota Chapter of the American Landscape Architects.

What’s already done?

The Park Board in 2006 received a $200,000 cleanup grant to deal with B.F. Nelson’s environmental issues. In 2007, remediation work was completed, during which as much as 2 feet of new soil was placed across the property.

In 2008, work began to really turn B.F. Nelson into a park. This year, crews stabilized the riverbank, landscaped and seeded. They also put in the footing of the Pioneer Statue, a 1930s-made landmark that formerly stood in Downtown and currently can be found at Marshall and 5th avenues, just across the street from its future location.

What’s next?

First, a citizens’ advisory committee.

Its 13 members, expected to be appointed soon, will mostly look into the future of B.F. Nelson’s neighbor, the already developed Boom Island. Part of that mission, though, is to consider merging the two.

“I think all along (that’s an idea) that’s been in the back of everybody’s minds,” said Nick Eoloff, B.F. Nelson’s project manager.

Boom Island has picnic shelters, an aging playground and the launching point for Mississippi River cruises. A developed B.F. Nelson has long seemed like merely a logical extension of Boom Island, Eoloff said.

“Why aren’t they one?” he said. “Just because we didn’t purchase them at the same time.”

Once the committee’s work is done — probably mid-winter, Eoloff said — significant steps are in store for 2010. Next on the to-do list: paving trails, building a parking lot and moving the Pioneer Statue onto the footing.

Why is the ball rolling now?

Money has started to arrive. Through the Metropolitan Council, the Park Board received $1 million to do work on B.F. Nelson and Boom Island in 2010. Eoloff said there also is expected to be an influx of about $1 million because of last year’s adoption of the state constitutional amendment that designates a portion of taxes for the environment. In 2012, Eoloff said he expects another $1 million from the Met Council and another $2 million from taxes.

What can residents do?

The St. Anthony West Neighborhood Organization has been key in getting some movement on B.F. Nelson under way. Every year, it holds a pair of neighborhood fundraisers to benefit the park.
It raised $15,000 just last year.

This year, the events are:

— “An Autumn Eve in Historic Northeast,” 7 to 11 p.m. Oct. 3, Elsie’s Banquet Room, 729 Marshall Street NE. Featured will be wine tasting, food samples, live music and a silent auction. Advance tickets are $25; tickets at the door are $30. Call Pete Gamades, 310-6151, or e-mail gama0006@umn.edu.

— 5K run/walk, 9 a.m. Oct. 10, Boom Island, 700 Sibley St. NE. The registration fee is $20 by
Oct. 6, $25 on race day. Register at stawno.org or active.com.