A gold standard for parks

Share this:
May 21, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

Gold Medal Park opens on the riverfront

At a Glance: Gold Medal Park
Location: Next to the Guthrie Theater
(bordered by 2nd Street, 11th Avenue and West River Parkway).
Overview: A 7.5-acre park that features more than 300 trees. The focal point of the park is a 32-foot high mound that is 350 feet in diameter.

When Mayor R.T. Rybak gave the closing remarks at the grand opening of the Gold Medal Park last week, he reflected on the unique views the park offers those who climb to the top of its observatory mound.

“It’s one of the most wonderful experiences you can have in a city where you can walk 360 degrees around and look at something that you have known and loved all your life, and see it in a dramatically different way,” he said.

At the top of the park’s hilltop, visitors are treated to a sweeping panoramic view of the riverfront and old and new Downtown icons — the Gold Medal Flour sign, the Guthrie Theater and the Stone Arch Bridge. A path spirals around the 32-foot-high mound, leading to a lookout area with benches and Amur maple trees.

At the May 16 grand opening, a large group gathered to watch park funders Bill and Nadine McGuire, along with City Council Member Lisa Goodman (7th Ward), cut the yellow tape around the Gold Medal Park sign with large golden shears, signaling the official opening of the park.

McGuire, former UnitedHealth Group CEO and the key donor behind the park, heralded the 7.5-acre park next to the Guthrie as a “starting point” in the movement to soften the city with more green spaces. He said the public-private partnership behind the Gold Medal Park has decided to launch a park conservancy, which will set the stage for future projects.

The initial planning work behind the park began more than a year ago when McGuire met with Goodman to discuss the proposal. In April 2006, the City Council approved plans to exclusively negotiate with the William N. and Nadine N. McGuire Family Foundation on the park project.

Downtown-based oslund.and.assoc. designed the park. In his remarks at the grand opening ceremony, Tom Oslund, the firm’s principal, said a colleague summed up the project by telling him: “We tore down a parking lot and put up paradise.”

audio availableClick here to hear Oslund turn songwriter Joni Mitchell's famous line about paradise and parking lots around, as well as describe some of the details of the construction project.

Oslund said the park “raises the bar for public space in Minneapolis.”

The park features about 300 mature trees, including maples, lindens, hackberries, oaks and catalpas, and 20 benches that will be lit during the evening with blue LED lights. Four winding concrete paths also cut through the park.

City Council President Barb Johnson (4th Ward) lauded park organizers for honoring the city’s roots by building the park in the heart of the city’s Mill District where Minneapolis once led the world in flour production and by building on the city’s legacy of recognizing the importance of parks.

The park’s namesake, Gold Medal Flour, has been a General Mills brand for 127 years. At the ceremony, Chris Shea, president of the General Mills Foundation, said: “Our wish is that this Gold Medal Park, which is lush with trees and vegetation, will continue to flourish for the next 127 years and beyond, and provide relaxation and enjoyment for generations to come.”

Guthrie Theater Artistic Director Joe Dowling said the theater’s “thrilled to have this new neighbor.”
“It’s a tremendous and unique opportunity for all of us to be part of re-creating and developing this whole area of the city,” he said. “ … There are many places in the world where there are great theaters. There are many places where there are great parks. To have the two together is indeed unique, and comes from the extraordinary vision and extraordinary work of so many people.”

Reach Sarah McKenzie at smckenzie@mnpubs.com or 436-4371.