Vision for Fuji-Ya Site Would Connect Residents to River History

The following article by Nick Halter was published in the February 27 issue of the Downtown Journal:


Most residents know the area as Mill Ruins or the old Fuji Ya site. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has begun rolling the ball on planning for a project known as “Water Works” that would liven up the riverfront where the city began.

On Tuesday night, architects presented to neighbors and stakeholders concepts for what a Water Works project could be.

The Water Works site is roughly bounded by the Mill City Museum, the 3rd Avenue Bridge, 1st Street and the river.

Some of the concepts include:

— A new building at the former Fuji Ya site that would include a restaurant. That restaurant would be run similar to Sea Salt Eatery at Minnehaha Park. Its top level would overlook the river, providing a nice place to sit and have a glass of wine. This restaurant would help fund the operation of the park. Sea Salt generated $240,000 for the Park Board in 2011. This building would also act as a park pavilion and warming house, with restrooms. The Fuji Ya building has been vacant for 22 years and architect Tom Meyer said it has too many problems to be renovated.

— The opening to the public of the mill tunnels, which sit about 25-feet below ground at the site. The tunnels are the remnants of the roughly 150-year old mills that operated on the western riverfront. They run all the way from the Stone Arch Bridge to the Fuji Ya site, and it might be possible to connect the tunnels to the restaurant building.

— A new West River Parkway that might use a shared street model, meaning planters would replace curbs and traffic would be slowed to 15 miles per hour.

— A gathering place near the site of a parking lot where 5th Avenue meets the river. This might incorporate a water fountain of some sort. The parking lot would be removed.

— Opening up underground mill ruins that would act as history rooms. One of those rooms would be dedicated to the history of Native Americans at the site.

Of course, the big question is money. Bruce Chamberlain, the Park Board’s assistant superintendent of planning, said the Board has set aside about $7 million over the next five years for capital improvements to the central riverfront district. He said that pot of money would likely act as seed money, encouraging private investment.

The concept framework, released on Tuesday, should be posted the Park Board’s website, ( soon. After that, the Park Board will allow for 30 days of public comment, with hopes of moving toward a full design.

Asked by the audience how long until the project might be completed, Chamberlain said it could be done in less than 10 years.