Officials talk riverfront face lift

Michelle Kibiger

Urban planners at the 12th annual Conference on Policy Analysis agreed Monday that renewing the vitality of the Mississippi River depends on finding new uses for old resources. The conference for redevelopment experts was held at the Earle Brown Continuing Education Center on the St. Paul campus.
The speakers at the event emphasized the vital role the river plays in the civic lives of both Minneapolis and St. Paul, and said that the river is the key to revitalizing the character of each city. Because the river runs directly through the heart of the Minneapolis campus, it is also important to the University.
Although each city has developed its downtown riverfronts differently, both have built on the same premise — using the already existing conditions and improving upon them to sustain the resources for future generations.
Redevelopment officials say both Minneapolis and St. Paul took the river’s resources for granted for many years. The industries along the river used it to transport goods and generate power without considering how industrial pollution would affect not only the wildlife in and around the river, but also the overall aesthetic value of the area.
Now, however, residents and developers realize the valuable natural resources the river brings to the Twin Cities and want to preserve those for future generations.
Developers in St. Paul strive to connect the downtown community with the river, said Patrick Seeb, director of the St. Paul Riverfront Corporation. “The river is one of those great natural resources, one of those natural assets around which to organize your community and organize the energy and enthusiasm and cause good things to happen,” he said.
Rebecca Yanisch, director of the Minneapolis Community Development Association, also emphasized that any riverfront development must connect the community with the river.
“We want to create a vibrant, mixed-use community,” Yanisch said.
Both cities are taking blighted and abandoned industrial areas and renovating the existing structures for other commercial uses.
St. Paul is building a new home for the Science Museum of Minnesota on the downtown area’s upper landing. The site was previously a scrap yard next to railroad tracks.
Minneapolis has converted several of the old abandoned mills and warehouses on the riverfront into residential housing units, offices, restaurants and other commercial units, like those at Riverplace and St. Anthony Main.
Both cities have also dedicated a considerable amount of riverfront property to park areas. Seeb said the park revitalization on the St. Paul riverfront is intended to draw pedestrian traffic to the area so that residents can enjoy the river. He said St. Paul and its investors have spent $1 million to improve the aesthetics of the riverfront, including planting 25,000 trees.
Minneapolis has created the two-mile Heritage Trail, which is a pathway running along each bank of the river and crossing both the Stone Arch and Hennepin Avenue bridges. Minneapolis has also encouraged the growth of cultural festivals along the river on the downtown section dubbed the “Mississippi Mile.”
Minneapolis has also reconstructed portions of the Great River Road, which runs along the Mississippi’s West Bank. The only portion left to complete is a small stretch near the University.
Yanisch said Minneapolis is trying to combine the elements of “good parks, good development and good history” to revitalize not only the downtown riverfront but also areas directly to the north and south of downtown.
Minneapolis investors are expected to spend a total of $1 billion by the time all the improvements are complete.
Both Yanisch and Seeb emphasized that the improvements made on the riverfronts of both cities should connect the river with more interior neighborhoods. Yanisch said all residents of Minneapolis should feel the river is theirs and enjoy it.