“Forgotten” Wharf and the Vision for a New Park

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What seems to be a forgotten remnant

of industrial workings on the University of Minnesota’s East Bank holdings on the Mississippi River, just downstream from St. Anthony Falls, is in fact quite the opposite. 

A trickle of hikers, bikers and intrepid fisher-persons could be considered the pioneer visitors of a future public park. The property belongs to the University but shares some shoreline jurisdiction with the National Park Service. Road access from both ends of the area span are posted with signs prohibiting through traffic. Visitors are discouraged, citing a number of safety hazards, but police patrols of the area are not known to evict the curious, law abiding passersby. There are no active phases of development but a wide variety of agencies have championed there visions for the area’s potential to become a valuable public recreation space.

Aerial view of this east bank area.

Aerial view of this east bank area.

On the wharf.

1.The National Park Service

The Mississippi National River & Recreation Area is a 72 mile corridor running from the city of Dayton to Hastings. This property is protected by the NPS but is not owned by the NPS, and their vision for preservation and natural recreation opportunities emerge in the partnerships formed with the local, land owning interests below. Projects that increase access to paddling, hiking, biking, birdwatching and fishing on the river align with the NPS vision.

2.The City of Minneapolis & The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

The city adheres to their Mississippi River Critical Area Plan, a vision that fulfills requirements of the NPS vision. This vision places heightened emphasis on “public use and enjoyment of the Mississippi River should be increased by developing a variety of recreational facilities that enhance the environment”. With the Park Board, Minneapolis has developed the Central Mississippi Riverfront Regional Park, a host to 1.6 million visitors annually who explore St. Anthony Falls, Stone Arch Bridge, Mill Ruins Park and Father Hennepin Bluffs Park. According to the Master Plan, these interests support park development and improving access within the zone, including open space around the steam plant and up to the 35W bridge. What might this park might look like for outdoor athletes? “Central Mississippi Riverfront Regional Park should continue to improve its open space appropriate to an urban setting, establishing a continuous regional trail corridor along both sides of the river, with consideration of the potential to add a kayak course in an added channel near Lower St Anthony Falls.”

3.The Department of Natural Resources

The mention of a kayak course refers to the DNR spearheaded effort to construct the Mississippi White Water Park on the vertical drop of the lock and dam and on much of the property we are studying. The course would operate in a man made channel, 40 feet wide, 2000 feet long, that bypasses the lock and re-enters the river below the 10th Avenue Bridge. Able to accommodate novice classes to the international standard slalom competitors, the project was highly touted for it’s positive economic impact and potential for urban outdoor recreation notoriety. Much of the process to create this park was completed in the late 90’s and was scheduled for construction and completion in 2009. While there was a great amount of support from most shareholders, the project was not a priority that weathered financial crises in 2008.

The Mississippi White Water Park
The Mississippi White Water Park

4.The Marcy Holmes Neighborhood 

The neighborhood supports the Minneapolis Critical Area Plan, and seeks improved access to the edge of the falls on Hennepin Island while respecting security of current industry. They did support the construction of the whitewater park proposed by the DNR.

5.The Wild Imaginations of the Creative Citizen

Urban planning students from the University showcased some ambitious ideas in the visionary project “Imagining the Mississippi”, at one time a gallery at the Mill City Museum. From a thermal spa using the outflow of the Southeast Steam Plant and a sand beach with a fire pit to replace the wharf, to scenic pedestrian bridge additions to the lock and dam, these ideas, though far from an approved reality are well worth the exercise of imagination.


Southeast Steam Plant Spa


Campus Bend Beach

6.The University of Minnesota

The dominant land owner, and real voice of authority on this property is the University. In response to a legislative report concerning a proposed whitewater recreation park by the DNR, the University response summarized their major concerns: continued operation of the Southeast Steam Plant and the security of research at the St. Anthony Falls Lab.  The response stated that administrative leadership generally supports projects like these and would discuss granting a perpetual easement based on appraised value. The 1996 Master Campus Development Plan includes renovating the South East Steam Plant, enhancing connections to regional open space systems, demolishing the old Heating Plant and extending River Road to meet SE Main Street.

Despite the provoking ideas for developing this property, the fate of the wharf faces a grimmer reality. After reaching the Real Estate Office for comment it is clear that general lack of funding and the popularity of higher priority projects will leave the area as is for the forseeable future.

Comparing the plans

Comparing the plans

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On July 26, 2013
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