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Apr142018

Minneapolis City Council Approves "The Falls"


The Falls Visitor & Interpretive Center at the Upper Lock will be a game changer for the Central Riverfront, and a gateway to the Upper River

The Minneapolis City Council passed a Resolution today supporting The Falls, a redevelopment initiative to transform the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock into a visitor and interpretive center. The action underscores the City’s ongoing commitment to public interests and outcomes on the Central and Upper Riverfront.

What is The Falls?

The Falls is a destination visitor and interpretive center at the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock. Once frequented by barges, the Upper Lock at St. Anthony Falls was closed to commercial navigation in 2015. The Falls envisions repositioning the Lock as a destination for recreational, touristic, and interpretive purposes. It will draw visitors to discover the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, our river national park, at one of its most iconic features: St. Anthony Falls, the only waterfall on the Mississippi River, which thunders down a 49-foot drop on a concrete spillway at the toe of the iconic Stone Arch Bridge. The facility will implement the vision of multiple adopted plans and would become a destination feature of the 10-state Great River Road, a National Scenic Byway. It will:

    • Welcome people to the city, region and state with a Meet Minneapolis tourism association visitor center, offering information and a gateway to opportunities and experiences.
    • Provide visitors with the opportunity to learn about and experience this amazing site
with National Park Service Park Rangers.
    • Host interpretive exhibits and provide educational enrichment, for instance, about river history and ecology, civil works and engineering, hydrology, and culture.
    • Provide a unique venue for meetings and events.
    • Offer options for food and drink while enjoying spectacular views.
    • Serve as a hub of recreation and activity (e.g., biking, walking, fishing, paddling, water taxi).

 

The Falls is envisioned to include water access and water taxi service, which would ensure that the Central Riverfront could serve as a gateway to the Upper River.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has engaged in efforts to redevelop the Upper Lock since its closure, which occurred when he served as a member of City Council representing Ward 3, home to St. Anthony Falls and the Upper Lock. His administration has taken an interest in the transformative opportunities along the riverfront, including at Upper Harbor Terminal, the Grain Belt Historic District, the Post Office site (a future opportunity), and the Upper Lock.

“The Mississippi River is one of the defining features of our city and state. It demands that we think big. If we achieve our vision at The Falls, it’s going to be an amazing destination for learning, for culture, and frankly – for fun. It’s also going to be a gateway to the Upper River, and specifically to Upper Harbor Terminal. For a long time, these two sites were connected by commercial barging – and now they’ll be connected by community,” said Frey.

Minneapolis City Council Member Steve Fletcher, who championed the resolution, said, “This is a chance for us to implement what City, Park Board, and heritage plans have been calling for in this area for years. It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity.”

Friends of the Lock & Dam, with the City of Minneapolis, have proposed repositioning the Upper Lock at St. Anthony Falls, which closed to navigation in 2015, as a world class visitor and interpretive center paired with recreation, education, water access, and dining. The City added redevelopment of the Upper Lock to its list of bonding requests to the State Legislature in 2018, and currently has bills in the Minnesota House of Representatives (H.F. 2989, authors, Dehn, Omar, Lee, and Wagenius) and Minnesota Senate (S.F. 2707, authors Champion, Hayden and Dziedzic) directing $1.5 million in predesign dollars are under consideration. State dollars would be matched 2:1 by Friends of the Lock & Dam, who has committed $3 million to the predesign effort.

“This goes beyond Minneapolis,” said Representative Raymond Dehn. “The Falls will be a destination on the Great River Road, and will be a feature of the National Park System since it’s part of the Mississippi National River Recreation Area. We see this as an opportunity to create a valuable amenity for the entire state.”

A coalition of stakeholder organizations supporting redevelopment of the Upper Lock met in November 2017 to establish principles for its future use. They also established recommendations for the Upper Riverfront as a whole. Coalition outcomes and project information can be found on the project website at www.thefalls.org. Stakeholders see the Lock as a launch point for lots of different experiences that hint at a vibrant riverfront district with ports of call stretching well beyond the Lock itself in the future.

“The Mississippi River is such a significant feature of our state – it informs our culture, commerce, and recreation, and it presents a wonderful opportunity for the next generation of urban place making,” said Tom Fisher, Vice President of Friends of the Lock & Dam.

Recent attention by both national and local press on the future of the Mississippi River has shed light on the national conversation now taking place. Federal government is also taking note: a Mississippi River caucus has emerged in Congress, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has authorized a disposition study for all three Locks on the Upper Mississippi. Here in Minnesota, projects have been underway statewide to rewrite cities’ relationship to the river, including in St. Cloud, Brainerd, Red Wing, St. Paul and Minneapolis.

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