Group proposes Chinese-style garden

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January 16, 2006 // UPDATED 2:04 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

A local group promoting stronger ties between the United States and China is considering building a large garden at the B.F. Nelson site on the edge of Downtown.

The Minnesota chapter of the U.S. China Peoples Friendship Association presented its plans to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board on Jan. 4 — its first meeting with a new slate of Commissioners.

The association is considering several potential sites for the garden. The B.F. Nelson site, however, is considered prime because of its proximity to the Mississippi riverfront and Downtown.

If approved, the garden would be the only Chinese garden in Minnesota and the first traditional northern-style Chinese garden in the United States, said Linda Mealey-Lohmann, one of the founders of the Minnesota chapter of the Friendship Association.

A northern-style Chinese garden is defined by bold red and green colors while southern-style gardens typically feature gray, white and black hues. There are Southern-style Chinese gardens in New York, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle.

During a Power-point presentation before the Park Board, she said the garden would be world class and a major attraction for the city.

It would feature water as a focal point, as well as Chinese herbs and medicinal plants.

The Park Board did not take any action on the proposal at the Jan. 4 meeting.

Mealey-Lohmann said the chapter plans to brief neighborhood leaders on its ideas. The B.F. Nelson site falls within the St. Anthony West neighborhood next to the Nicollet Island/East Bank neighborhood.

A plan for a garden on the site would face challenges because of pollution. The Park Board received a $200,000 federal grant last year to clean the site, which contains buried asphalt.

The 12-acre site east of Nicollet Island has been city parkland since 1986.

The Park Board has a $4.6 million master plan for the city that calls for keeping the site largely “passive green space” with a new historical interpretive center.

Park Board Commissioner Walt Dziedzic, who represents the area, said the B.F. Nelson site has tremendous potential and called it one of the park system’s crown jewels that could be the city’s Central Park.

Commissioner Tracy Nordstrom, the board’s new vice president, told the association she would support their efforts, adding the city needs more gardens, particularly Downtown.

Some, however, expressed skepticism.

Commissioner Scott Vreeland raised concerns about turning public land over to a private user.

The issue is a familiar one. That’s the same question at the center of the debate over whether Nicollet Island’s DeLaSalle High School has the right to build a new athletic complex on park-owned property.