Greening Downtown

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February 28, 2011 // UPDATED 8:36 am - February 28, 2011
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter
// Business community pitches plan for new park linking Downtown core to riverfront //

Several business leaders have proposed a plan to green Downtown by creating a park that would stretch from the center of the city to the banks of the Mississippi River.

David Wilson, Accenture’s managing director in Minneapolis, presented the plan to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Feb. 16 on behalf of a panel made up of executives from several Downtown businesses, including Target, Piper Jaffray, Accenture and many others.

“Unfortunately, when you look at the Downtown core, except for along the riverbanks of the Mississippi, there really is a shortage of parkland in the Downtown Core that is now home to almost 33,000 residents as well as hundreds of thousands of workers who come to work Downtown every day,” Wilson said.

The goal is for the park to start near the light rail stop at the corner of 5th Street and Marquette Avenue and narrowly work its way toward the area just north of the Minneapolis Central Library where it would widen into two lots on either side of Nicollet Mall. The park would then follow along the east side of Hennepin Avenue to the river.

“It could be thought of as a green corridor that stretches from the central business district core all the way down to the Mississippi riverfront,” Wilson said.

Wilson said the businesses are aiming for a public-private partnership to acquire, build and maintain the park.

Mayor R.T. Rybak said he is and has been a long supporter of the concept, but said the city could not write a check for the project.  

“This is not a project that can be led financially by the city,” he said. “It is one that I as mayor have been a strong champion of and will be part of both fundraising and breaking down government barriers.”

What he means by breaking down barriers is working with the Metro Transit officials to acquire and construct the first phase of the proposed park. There is a parking lot on the east side of Nicollet between 3rd Street and Washington. Metro Transit uses that space as a turnaround and staging area for buses.

“My office and I have been very engaged in some of the details that have to take place to make this possible, especially getting the Metropolitan Transit Commission to move their buses off this site,” Rybak said.

The lot across the street is the Cancer Survivors Park, owned by Marquette Plaza and leased by the city.

Wilson said acquiring those two properties and developing them would cost $8–$10 million.

The second phase is to acquire and develop the property near the light rail station.

The third phase includes acquiring a number of properties leading down to the river, including a piece of land from the U.S. Post Office in order to tear down a parking garage that blocks Downtown from the river.

“We think this is a multi-year project that could take five to 10 years to ultimately complete all the way down to the Mississippi Riverfront,” Wilson said.

The plan, Rybak said, is part of a much larger vision for the city to create a green swath of parkland that runs from the riverfront on the east side of the river, through Downtown, down Nicollet Mall, to the Loring Greenway and ending at the chain of lakes.  

“Every generation of Minneapolitan has has left a legacy mark on our park system,” Rybak said. “I believe this generation’s will be the vision of connecting the lakes to an expanded riverfront via the center of town.”

City Council member Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) said the city must first control property taxes, fund police and firefighters, fix potholes and take care of existing parks before putting any money toward a new park. Still, she liked the vision.

“It’s always good to think big and a greener Downtown has been something I have worked on for years,” she said.

Wilson said the park would be benefit Downtown economically.  

“We have found that Downtown parks increase property values, increase interest in development and frankly, for companies like mine, it make it easier for us to hire and retain top talent who we often are recruiting to the Twin Cities from cities across the country and the world,” he said.  

Reach Nick Halter at nhalter@mnpubs.com.