What Water Works Park Could Look Like

The following article by Nicole Norfleet was published in the March 14, 2012 issue of the Star Tribune:


Imagine being able to explore the tunnels of mills long buried along the Minneapolis riverfront, enjoy live entertainment and grab a bite to eat while overlooking St. Anthony Falls all on the same afternoon. Welcome to the future Water Works Park: http://mplsparksfoundation.org/projects/water-works/

The Minneapolis Parks Foundation and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board presented conceptual designs last week for a park on the city’s central riverfront where the original Minneapolis municipal Water Works, several mills and the former Fuji-Ya restaurant all once operated along the Mississippi River. The public has through the end of the month to comment on the design: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/waterworks2012

“The Water Works study area is only three blocks long and one block wide, but its concentration of exciting features make it ideal for a four-season destination park,” said Mary deLaittre, president of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, in a press release.

The area being studied for a potential new park is between Portland Avenue S. and the 3rd Avenue Bridge, and between 1st Street S. and the Mississippi. The area already is a convergence of several riverfront destinations such as the Mill City Museum, the Stone Arch Bridge and the lock and dam.

The conceptual plans show that the park would be comprised of three experimental zones. The south zone, where some ruins are currently exposed, would feature the further excavation of mill ruins so that the public can explore the channels and tunnels that still exist on the riverfront. There’s also an idea to create rooms with the exposed walls and incorporate native gardens, children’s play areas or other experiential spaces. The center zone could be used for programming opportunities such as water-based activities, an entertainment venue and a plaza street. The north section of the park would possibly feature a interpretive or cultural center and a year-round restaurant at the location of the former Fuji-Ya restaurant.

The site’s three-month design process began in December, more than 20 years since the park board purchased the property where the Fuji-Ya sits boarded up. Plans for the tract of land have come and gone: http://www.startribune.com/local/minneapolis/135630488.html The last developer to try its hand at the site wanted to build a luxury condo tower there, but it didn’t get the required permits so the park board terminated the deal. In 2009, the developer sued the park board for breach of contract, but last year litigation finally ended when the Supreme Court declined to hear the developer’s appeal.

In terms of feasibility, it’s not known yet if the potential park would be built in its entirety or phased by zone. Funding has also not been ironed out, but public-private partnerships are considered possibilities. A food venue is looked at as a way of bringing in a significant amount of revenue to the site similar to how the Sea Salt restaurant operates at Minnehaha Falls. The eatery brought in $2 million in revenues last year; 12 percent of that went to the parks.