Embracing the Mississippi

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June 20, 2011
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

Plan for kayak park at former Scherer Bros. Lumber Co. site among big ideas envisioned for riverfront

Imagine jumping into a kayak at a picturesque new park on the Mississippi just north of Boom Island.

Might seem like a farfetched daydream, but it is just one of many ideas a design team charged with concepting redevelopment opportunities for the riverfront is promoting.

The design team working on the plan known as RiverFirst will be presenting its latest ideas for a 5.5-mile stretch of the riverfront at a community meeting June 22 at the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board headquarters. The project area spans both sides of the riverfront, from the Stone Arch Bridge to the city’s northern border.

The first phase of the RiverFirst project, designed to be completed within five years, involves a plan for a kayak park at the Park Board-owned former Scherer Bros. Lumber Co. site.

The vision for Scherer Park calls for recreating Hall Island north of the Plymouth Avenue bridge for kayaking and other forms of recreation, said Tom Leader, principal of the Tom Leader Studio, a Berkeley, Calif.-based landscape architecture firm collaborating with KVA, a Boston-based design group, on RiverFirst.

There would be beaches, a community arts center and possibly housing nearby, too.

Leader called the park the “wow” piece designed to generate excitement and momentum for future development projects.

The overall goal of RiverFirst, he noted, is to have the Mississippi take center stage. “It makes the river the front door instead of the back door,” he said.

Other projects that are taking priority for the first phase of the proposed RiverFirst plan include connecting Farview Park in North Minneapolis to the riverfront and transforming the city’s port into a green port that would help drive the city’s global and regional green economy. Farview Park, meanwhile, would be a hub for the city’s burgeoning urban agriculture sector.

Other more long-term ideas include a Northeast bluffs park north of the Lowry bridge, a sculpture park with views of the Farview Park landscape connector, restored wetlands and biohavens and a new park by the Minneapolis Central Library.

The June 22 meeting hosted by the Park Board’s Minneapolis Riverfront Development Initiative (MR|DI) is the last in a series of community meetings that began in April to give the public a chance to weigh in on the RiverFirst proposal.

“Community members are vital to the Upper Riverfront planning process,” said Mary de Laittre, project manager of the MR|DI. “An extensive network of committed neighborhood advocates and professional and institutional experts, including the City of Minneapolis, have supported the MR|DI as we create a sweeping design that is economically feasible, sustainable, and in tune with the very nature of the river.”

The design team will be presenting plans to the Park Board and Minneapolis City Council in September.

The proposal includes the five-year plan for RiverFirst and a more long-term 30-year framework for the city’s upper riverfront.

The MR|DI has a team working on investigating creative financing strategies to pay for the redevelopment projects. It is also gathering information on land ownership along the riverfront and working on a variety of community engagement efforts to gather feedback on the ideas.

It has been soliciting feedback on the RiverFirst plan on its website, hosted a series of community meetings that started in April and has met with various neighborhood and community groups.

It has also launched a youth ambassador outreach program to get young people involved in spreading the word about the river proposals and is planning an Upper Riverfront photo documentary project.

The design team behind RiverFirst won the 
Minneapolis Riverfront Design Competition earlier this year. The contest, organized by the Park Board, Minneapolis Park Foundation, Walker Art Center and University of Minnesota College 
of Design, was the largest landscape architecture and urban design 
competition in state history.

City Council Member Diane Hofstede (3rd Ward), who represents a portion of the RiverFirst project area, said she’s optimistic about the project and hopeful redevelopment can reconnect some of the city’s “forgotten neighborhoods” with the riverfront.

“This is the birthplace of Minneapolis — on our riverfront. Historically, it’s a critically important area,” she said. “… It gives us all an opportunity to reflect, dream and then put pen to paper.”

Reach Sarah McKenzie at smckenzie@mnpubs.com.

Upper Riverfront parks meeting
When: June 22, 6–8 p.m.
Where: Park Board headquarters, 2117 W. River Road
For more information: Go to MinneapolisRiverfront