People have floated many ideas for Nicollet Island over the years. Most sunk.

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March 14, 2005 // UPDATED 1:52 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

William Eastman and John Merriam bought Nicollet Island in 1865 and offered to sell it to the city for a park, according to an account published by the Minnesota Historical Society.

It was a far-sighted plan. However, trees and open space were in ample supply back then, so the city turned down the proposal.

It was the first of many ideas on the Nicollet Island drawing board.

In the next half-century, the island would develop in three sectors: industry on the south end, a commercial/townhome district in the middle and a north-end residential area. Initially a prime location for prominent families, the island soon became working-class.

At the turn of the century, education was added to the island mix. DeLaSalle School opened in October 1900, with 50 students and three teaching Christian Brothers. It expanded in 1907, and when enrollment hit 352 in 1914, it bought more land for future expansion, its Web site said.

In 1917, city leaders issued the "Plan for Minneapolis." It decried the city's ugly bridges, and among its many proposals, it said the "manifest destiny of Nicollet Island is to be a park" - with a twist.

The plan said the island's central portion "is splendidly suited for a great stadium, large enough indeed for an aeroplane field. A centrally located aeroplane field will be of importance, and Nicollet Island could not be better placed for this purpose, with a natural means of approach for flying machines formed by the River Valley in either direction."

For reasons unknown, the plan never took off.

In the early 1960s, as the city pushed urban renewal projects, a group called the Citizens Committee for Nicollet Island proposed building a $10 million North American Conservation Hall of Fame and Museum there.

In 1962, the Minneapolis Daily Herald reported on efforts to designate the island as a National Historic Landmark.

In 1965, Minneapolis Tribune reporter Irv Letofsky recapped a litany of Nicollet Island proposals. In a story headlined: "What price change for Nicollet Island?" he wrote:

The Island "has been proposed (not necessarily in this order) for a parking lot for Downtown; a series of dormitory houses; high-cost housing; low-cost housing; a scenic center such as the 'golden Triangle' in Pittsburgh, Pa.; an amusement park such as Tivoli in Copenhagen, Denmark; a modern outdoor amphitheater for the Aqua Follies; the site of a world's fair (tongue in cheek); a place to relocate to; a place to relocate from; a 'dream project' for history and recreation, with a heliport, a marina for pleasure craft, restaurants and an outdoor recreation area."

Fredric Markus, an island resident during the 1970s, recalled proposals for high-rise housing there. "We got the geology folks at the 'U' to show they would have to sink footings 90 feet down to get to solid ground," he said. "That went away and didn't come back."

In 1972, the city issued the landmark report "Mississippi, Minneapolis." It said Nicollet Island should be the center attraction for riverfront revitalization.

The report said the city should dedicate Nicollet Island totally to public uses (except for DeLaSalle.) It proposed eliminating all vehicle traffic. Visitors would park on either bank and walk to the island on pedestrian bridges. Drawings showed a learning center, an historic village and broad open spaces to play Frisbee or ballgames.

Among its wackier ideas, the report proposed carving canals throughout the island "because the river is too treacherous for splashing and wading."

The canals could "meander like country creeks" and broaden into pools, the report said. "Ice skaters in winter could utilize the whole network of mini-canals."