Commons Concepts Unveiled

The following article by Eric Best was published in the June 4, 2015 edition of the Journal.

Commons Concepts Unveiled

Eric Best

The City of Minneapolis and Hargreaves Associates unveiled the first concepts of the Downtown East Commons park at a presentation Wednesday.

Now the city and a nonprofit conservancy will begin fundraising to create and maintain the 4.2-acre park slated for Downtown East, a neighborhood that is quickly rising with the new Minnesota Vikings stadium and Ryan Companies’ two Wells Fargo towers. The San Francisco-based landscape architecture firm used more than 2,700 public survey responses over the past few months to create concepts of the two-block park planned for the site of the former Star Tribune building.

“What we’re doing here tonight is no less than an imagination for the future of our entire city,” said Mayor Betsy Hodges. “That’s the future of our city and it’s not just a future of a piece of land. It’s not just a future of a place that’s next to some buildings; it’s a future of who we are as a community, how we want to relate to one another and how we want to relate to the space around us.”The latest concepts include a great lawn and shade structure that could accommodate up to 4,000 to 6,000 people, a pavilion and a water plaza.

Portland Avenue, which would bisect the Commons, would lose parking and a lane of traffic, going down to two lanes for cars and one bike lane. Mary Margaret Jones, Hargreaves president and senior principal, said cars “will feel like the intruder” on the road, which will have pedestrian-friendly paving, along with trees and lighting separating vehicles and pedestrians. The street could also be temporarily closed for events.

The audience wrote comments outside the presentation. Portland Avenue continues to be a contentious issue with Minneapolis residents.

On the west side of Portland, program areas along Fourth Street would emphasize seating with moveable chairs and programming like small, portable libraries, Jones said. The east side, with more active programming, could host things like badminton, bocce ball or workout stations.
The park would also have gardens, a Minnesota woodland area and natural landscaping. Near Fifth Street, a plaza or event space would host food trucks. Jones said they’ll also be working to integrate public art into the park.

“The design packs a lot of diverse activities in a relatively small area, with two oval lawn areas that encourage physical activity and people watching, a series of innovative outdoor ‘rooms’ for various active and passive pursuits, a water plaza that will appeal to people of all ages, an elegant pavilion serving park goers and an ample tree canopy to shade the play areas and promenades,” said Tom Fischer, dean of the University of Minnesota College of Design, in a statement.

The city did not address the approximately $20 million fundraising campaign to create and maintain the park. Steve Cramer, president of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, said Greening Downtown Minneapolis, a nonprofit conservancy developed by the council, is looking to raise $20 million and has hired New Partners, a third-party firm, to help fundraise and put together a committee. The council recently named Winthrop Rockwell to lead Greening Downtown Minneapolis as executive director.

Peter Brown, a consultant to the city working on the project, said they are currently estimating costs. Cramer said $15 million of the fundraising goal will go toward construction and the remaining $5 million will go toward operating expenses. Ryan Companies kicked off the fundraising effort with a $200,000 contribution, but Cramer said more donor names will likely be released later this summer or early fall.

“All great cities have great parks — they play a vital role in attracting residents, businesses and visitors, contributing to economic prosperity, public health and a community’s wellbeing,” said David Wilson, chair of the council’s Greening and Public Realm Committee. “I’m excited to see Minneapolis investing in this great new public space, designed for celebration, recreation and green space in the heart of our downtown.”

Ryan is currently developing a basic park, which will be ready for the city by the summer of 2016. The developer’s $400 million, five-block Downtown East development, which would line one side of the Commons, includes two 18-story Wells Fargo office towers, a Radisson Red hotel and other projects.

The Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board agreed to acquire the park last December, but it will immediately lease the Commons to the city. The park’s user agreement allows the Vikings and Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority to use the Commons 80 to 100 days a year.

Ryan Companies’ development begins to take shape across the street from the future Commons site.

Hargreaves will be back this summer to present progress with the park’s design.

City Council Member Jacob Frey, whose ward includes the park, once again tasked Minneapolitans to spread the word on the Commons.

“If you like what you see… tell somebody that this is extraordinary because we need your partnership and we need many other partners at the table to make sure that this ultimately happens.”

Commons construction is beginning on the block once home to a surface parking lot outside the former Star Tribune offices.