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Letter to the Editor - Ideas for the Minneapolis Riverfront

St. Anthony Falls Lock & Dam Tour with Mill City Commons

Above: St. Anthony Falls

With the kick-off this week of the Central Riverfront Park Master Planning process, this is a timely opinion piece submitted to Mill City Times by John Erwin, President of the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board.

From John Erwin, President, MPRB

The Minneapolis downtown riverfront has incredible potential to become a unique landmark and entertainment zone for our state.  Minneapolis is turning to our long-ignored riverfront as an under-appreciated amenity that could be transformed into something special.  Our generation has the unique privilege to be part of this transformation and to shape it.  We have a supportive political climate, a new and vibrant Minneapolis Parks Foundation, a supportive business community, and new, growing, and engaged downtown neighborhoods with active residents.  Below, I outline five possibilities I believe could make our riverfront and nearby neighborhoods special.

1)    River of the Arts:  How are we going to make Minneapolis’s Riverfront exceptional?  I think it rests around working with our vibrant arts, culinary, and horticulture communities.  I have long thought we could make a ‘River of the Arts’ in Minneapolis as an attraction.  Some years ago I looked into whether a drop down movie screen could be mounted on the Washington Ave Bridge to be viewed from Bohemian Flats on the riverfront.  It can. . . . . we could have our own Minneapolis Film Festival.  Can we bring theater, ballet, and music to the riverfront?  We can . . . .  Boom and Nicollet Island and Gold Metal Park have possibilities.  Can we engage our restaurant community to bring restaurants to the Riverfront at Boom Island, or on floating barges?  We can.  Could we select plants to plant on the Riverfront to create our own festivals such as a Lilac or Crabapple Festival?  We can.  Could our riverfront include labeled native plant communities as an educational tool and to increase wildlife habitat?  It could.

2)    Gold Medal Park:  This incredible park was built by Bill McGuire on City- and Guthrie-owned land.  Bill’s dedication, generosity, and foresight in developing this park should be commended.  Gold Medal Park is now a unique, beloved park serving local neighborhoods and a greater regional community.  It needs to be protected, enhanced and utilized fully.  It is my hope that this incredible park be preserved as a park for perpetuity, and that the neighborhood be able to get involved with its management, and programming.

3)    Lighting St. Anthony Falls:  I have long thought the falls should be lighted.  Look at the incredible attention the Stone Arch Bridge has received since being lit!  Think of how incredible the downtown riverfront would be at night with a lighted falls.  Especially, if the falls were lighted using energy harnessed from the existing hydro facilities.  This is a small project with a big benefit!

4)    A North Loop Park:  The new Park Dedication Fee was established by the Park Board to provide new communities, like the North Loop, with neighborhood parks.  Unfortunately, much of the North Loop has been built up and we have missed funding and opportunities to set aside land to build a park.  Yet, I think it is a critically important time to work with the City and County and private landholders to identify a site that we can all agree on, and for the Park Board to start the process of making such a park a reality.  To wait, risks its’ fruition.  I know that the neighborhood already has done incredible work on this. . . . .those efforts need to be supported and made a reality.

5)    St. Anthony Main and Nicollet Island Enhancements:  St. Anthony Main, Father Hennepin Bluffs and Nicollet Island have languished too long.  The Park Board is engaged with the local community to enhance this area.  We should be innovative!  There is amazing potential in this area!  Can we open some of the hydro tunnels to the public on the eastside?  Should we bring a renovated movie/theater area to Nicollet Island?  What can we do to revitalize the business community at St. Anthony Main more?  Should we add new amenities like exercise stations, food venues and plantings to the east and west sides of the river?  Should we work with the Walker or Minneapolis Institute of Art to bring public art to the riverfront?  Could we have a culinary food festival of sorts?  I would say yes.

As we enter the next decade, lets think ‘outside of the box’ when we think about what can be done with our riverfront.  What can our generation contribute to the long-term benefit of our city in this area?  Other generations gave us the lakes and land around those lakes for public access, another generation the parkway system, and still another the Recreation Center System.  What will our generation’s contribution to our city be?  I suspect it will be the revitalization of our downtown and riverfront.  This is good for the entire city and will broaden our tax base.  The cleanup of the central riverfront which cost $300 million generated >$1.9 billion in new development to date.  Clearly, this was a good investment for our City and State.  It is obvious to me that continued attention and improvement to this area will have huge long-term benefits for our city and its’ residents.

Please be involved, vocal, opinionated, creative, open and engaged as we embark on a very exciting time for our city.  Fell free to call or write me at any time with your thoughts and ideas and please participate in our current citizen engagement process (go to to get the meeting schedules) that is helping to vision what could, and should, be done to this incredible area.

John Erwin

Citywide (At-Large) Park Board Commissioner,

President of the Park Board


Letter to the Editor - Gold Medal Park Should Be Preserved

Bootcamp at Gold Medal Park

Above: A recent scene from Gold Medal Park

By Jacob Frey:

Gold Medal Park has, in many ways, become a centerpiece of the Mill District Neighborhood. I want to make my position with regard to Gold Medal Park exceedingly clear: It is critical to our Downtown East/Mill District Neighborhood, and it should be preserved as a park permanently.

First, Gold Medal Park is essential for attracting and retaining families. While our downtown has a growing population of empty nesters and young professionals, we're lagging behind with families – especially those with children over the age of 5. A prerequisite to retaining families is space to play. And without Gold Medal Park, there is a dearth of “play space” in Downtown East/Mill District.

Second, The City of Minneapolis has the stated goal of doubling residential population downtown by the year 2025. I agree that increasing residential population is essential to our City’s economy, safety (as more eyes will be on the street), and overall vitality. We will not reach this goal, however, if our city is not livable. Gold Medal Park is central to the neighborhood’s livability.

Finally, Gold Medal Park is packed with over 300 trees and 7+ acres of greenspace. It is the only significant greenspace in Downtown East/Mill District. The ecological benefits of this type of greenspace are well documented, including: climate change, air quality, and reduction of the downtown "heat island" effect that reduces energy use.

The lease under which Gold Medal Park operates expires at the end of 2016. As your City Council Member, I will work to ensure the existence of Gold Medal Park for the long term.

Jacob Frey

Jacob Frey is the 3rd Ward City Council Member. 


Crown Hydro Opinion - A Riverfront Residents Changing Views

By Dick Gillespie:

My wife and I have lived near the river in downtown Minneapolis for the last 15 years. During that time we have seen St. Anthony Falls transformed from being almost invisible, to one of the most popular focal points in the city and the state.  The opening of the Stone Arch Bridge and Mill Ruins Park have made the falls a magnet for everything from weddings to Segway tours.

Over the last 7 years I have closely followed the Crown Hydro saga, attending multiple briefings by Crown Hydro and Park Board meetings on the subject.  My first reaction was to support additional hydro power.  Like most of the people who have invested the time to understand the project, the more I learned the more my support turned to concern and ultimately opposition.

The biggest threats of this project as I see it are:

At the Park Board meeting referenced in your article Crown Hydro presented as a fact that "the total impact of Crown Hydro's water diversion will not be visually discernable". This is just not true.  Maybe one engineer sees it that way, but I haven't found anyone else who looks at the photos or the falls and agrees.   The Park Board has consistently stated that 2,000 cubic feet per second is a minimum flow to maintain the impression of a falls.  That number is systematically ignored by Crown Hydro.  It is the responsibility of the Park Board and the city to protect the natural beauty of this asset, and diminishing the beauty of the falls would have a major impact.  It is hard to imagine how legislators, who accept this opinion from Crown Hydro without personally observing the falls at low flow, could be counted on to protect this precious resource of the state.

The risk to the integrity of the historical ruins and area around and beneath the park is significant.  Although the Crown Hydro engineers seem confident, it's a fragile area.  As the article says, the Army Corps of Engineers doesn't share that confidence.  They have stated that "any failure of the power facilities could trigger a larger failure of the falls". Assuming we would consider taking that risk, what kind of financial backing do these people have to repair a catastrophic failure? ....if repair is even possible.  Remember, engineers signed off on the 35W bridge and the Metrodome roof.  Engineers are sometimes wrong, especially when their peers are not comfortable with their work.

The last issue is one of trust. I have listened to multiple presentations from Crown Hydro over the last 7 years. Their story changes constantly as does their staff.  Their end run to the legislature after being justifiably denied by the city is not the kind of behavior the Park Board or the city can accept from a partner in perpetuity. As a matter of fact Crown Hydro committed in writing not to pursue eminent domain in order to get their FERC approval for this project.  A partnership like they have proposed is hard enough to make work, even when it starts out with willing and motivated parties.  

Thousands of hours have been invested by Park Board Commissioners, staff, and citizens.  It is quite insulting to hear that with much less review, the Legislative author from Shakopee insists that the project is a “no-brainer”.  I noticed that the latest amendment to this bill exempts cities like Shakopee from this kind of interference from the state.  Apparently he doesn’t want the same kind of help on his local decisions.  Crown Hydro has had ample opportunity to convince the Minneapolis Park Board to approve this project and they have failed on the merits of their proposal multiple times.  

If this legislation passes, the most likely outcome is not a power plant but a legal fight over its constitutionality.  Even more of our hard earned tax money will go to a legal battle.  The state should stay out of this local issue.

Dick Gillespie

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