Sweeping vision for Mississippi riverfront parks and public space will create largest expansion of nationally recognized park system in 100 years
Minneapolis, Minn., March 29, 2012 – The Mississippi River shapes a continent, shaped a nation and defines the cities along its course, including here in the “City of Lakes,” where 5.5 miles of the Mississippi riverfront will soon host the largest expansion of park and public space since the award-winning park system in Minneapolis was created over 100 years ago. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board approved, on March 14, RiverFirst: A Park Design Proposal and Implementation Plan for the Minneapolis Upper Riverfront. With the adoption of RiverFirst, the Minneapolis Park Board sets in motion a five-year initiative to create several miles of new Mississippi riverfront walking and biking trails, three new multifunctional parks and multiple local and regional connections to one of the four great rivers of the world and “America’s fourth coast.”
RiverFirst is the outcome of the 2011 Minneapolis Riverfront Development Initiative (MR|DI), a nine-month community-based vetting of the winning landscape and urban design concept submitted by the RiverFirst Design Team of Tom Leader Studio and Kennedy & Violich Architecture to the 2010-11 Minneapolis Riverfront Design Competition. More than 60 agency and community partners, along with a broad spectrum of community members, were directly involved in the MR|DI. The RiverFirst Design Team included New York-based economic development consultants HR&A Advisors, which created the RiverFirst implementation plan, and Groundwork City Building, which managed the project.
“This is a tremendously exciting time for the Minneapolis Park Board, the city and residents of North and Northeast Minneapolis, in particular,” says John Erwin, President of the nine-member board of elected Commissioners governing the independent agency. “We are known as the ‘City of Lakes,’ but we also recognize that the Mississippi River is the birthplace of our city and has been neglected as a citywide natural amenity. Under the RiverFirst initiative, the Park Board will work with our partners to bring to life a vision that will transform the Upper Riverfront for residents of Minneapolis, the region and the state. We recognize this project will not only add recreational amenities, but will also be an economic catalyst for the entire area, and dramatically increase bird and fish habitat along an important natural flyway. Taken together, this project is a win for everyone.”
A “multi-modal” vision serving generations to come
The 6,725-acre Minneapolis park system is renowned for more than 100 miles of parkways, trails and greenways that interlink regional park destinations. Together with the more than 150 neighborhood parks, these regional parks attract more than 20 million visits annually, especially to multifunctional natural, recreational and entertainment destinations, such as the Chain of Lakes.
The RiverFirst vision builds on this dynamic legacy with the creation of riverfront regional parks connected by a sophisticated network of trails that balances infrastructure with ecology. RiverFirst fills the gap in the Mississippi River parks and trails system and contributes significantly to improved water quality of the river, completes a critical connection to the larger Minneapolis “Grand Rounds” and links into existing corridor initiatives taking place on both sides of the river.
Furthermore, RiverFirst creates a healthy community network and opportunities for economic development, by tying into the expansive regional parks and trails system managed by the Three Rivers Park District and the Metropolitan Council.
The RiverFirst Design Team was guided by the dynamics of the river and the RiverFirst design is infused with essential infrastructure such as stormwater treatment, flood storage, energy generation and food production – practices that derive multiple public benefits from a single investment and will spur development, retain and attract talented people, and enrich the city’s culture – necessary ingredients for a 21st century river city.
“There are 21st century challenges that are global in nature and local in impact. RiverFirst considers how the Minneapolis park system can protect the national ecological heritage of the Mississippi River, foster community health, support economic opportunity and prepare Minneapolis with resilient and sustainable eco-infrastructure for generations to come,” says Tom Leader, Principal of the RiverFirst Design Team and Founder of Tom Leader Studio. The Design Team considered multiple approaches – loops, moisture gradients, urban ecology, mobility, green networks and water – when shaping the RiverFirst vision. Adds Sheila Kennedy, Principal of the RiverFirst Design Team and Partner in Kennedy & Violich Architecture, “RiverFirst integrates these approaches to cultivate a ‘blue and green’ – river-first and sustainable – way of life in Minneapolis, nurtured by responsive, multi-modal public places around which residents thrive and businesses prosper.”
Given its ambition, full realization of the RiverFirst vision will likely take 20 years. Through the MR|DI, the RiverFirst Design Team developed a Strategic Implementation Plan for five phase one priority projects to meet the city’s needs today and build momentum for overall completion of the RiverFirst vision over time. The five priority projects will be pursued simultaneously, with participation from multiple agencies and stakeholders: riverfront trail system and knot bridges; the Scherer Park District; Northside Wetlands and Downtown Gateway parks; new greenways on both sides and leading to the river; and floating islands.
Three additional projects are featured in the long-term RiverFirst vision: A mile-long land bridge covering Interstate 94, Northeast Riverfront Park, and Spirit Island. There is potential in the short- and long-term for additional projects to fit under the RiverFirst standard. Such projects would likely have to meet a number of criteria, including being within, or a critical connection to, the RiverFirst geographic area; creating public space with multiple purposes or uses, such as being an attraction, or providing transportation or economic development opportunities; and integrating with the area ecologically, culturally and with the built environment.
Five-year priority projects are underway
With the adoption of the RiverFirst vision, the Minneapolis Park Board begins a series of 2012 design and planning next steps for projects to be built beginning in 2013:
- Seeking a regional park boundary adjustment to include the Scherer site in the Above the Falls Regional Park;
- Using RiverFirst as a basis for coordinating with the City of Minneapolis to update the Above the Falls Master Plan;
- Seeking a scope of work and fee proposal from the RiverFirst Design Team for the next stage of design; and,
- Working with the Minneapolis Parks Foundation to establish a collaboration agreement with RiverFirst implementation partners, which would include the Parks Foundation, the City of Minneapolis and multiple agency and community contributors.
Over five years, the RiverFirst framework calls for completion of five priority projects at an estimated cost of $174M from a mix of public and private funding for both capital projects and operating costs. Some of the potential sources are outlined in the Implementation Guide, found in the RiverFirst proposal and executive summary.
The road to RiverFirst
In April 2011, the Minneapolis Park Board established the Minneapolis Riverfront Development Initiative as a special project to carry through the promise of connecting people from near and far with new multifunctional Upper Riverfront parks along “America’s fourth coast.” The MR|DI was charged with transforming RiverFirst from a visionary concept to a workable plan for short- and long-term parks-based development.
Beginning in June 2011, the MR|DI carried out a summer-long community engagement process that included: a community input survey taken by more than 600 people; promotion and participation in more than 30 community events throughout Minneapolis; three additional public meetings held in association with the City of Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership; more than 40 presentations and meetings with neighborhood associations, community-based non-profit organizations, agencies and other stakeholder groups; and the debut of “River Is,” a figurative gathering of people’s thoughts about the Mississippi today and for the future.
About the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board
With 182 park properties totaling nearly 6,732 acres of land and water, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board provides places and recreation opportunities for all people to gather, celebrate, contemplate, and engage in activities that promote health, well-being, community, and the environment. Each year, approximately 18 million visits are made to the nationally acclaimed Minneapolis park system. Its urban forests, natural areas and waters endure and captivate. Its Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway, neighborhood parks, recreation centers and diversified programming have made the Minneapolis park system an important component of what makes Minneapolis a great place to live, play and work. To learn more about the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, visit www.minneapolisparks.org.