Bluff Street Park moves closer to reality on West Bank

Park Board staff to study proposal to restore and clean up Mississippi overlook

Corrections: Commissioner Vreeland asked that we clarify some facts, incorrectly reported in the January print version of this story, concerning potential funding for Bluff Street Park. Neither the WBCC nor the National Park Service are offering any identified dollars for this project. There has been some discussion with members of the Riverview Towers board and a local developer about annual funding for the maintenance of a park.The National Park Service has offered to assist this project with restoration expertise and volunteer coordination.

In the Bluff Street Park proposal, Commissioner Vreeland suggested that $43,000 of the $143,000 from the Flatiron permit to do construction work at that location could be used to fund park improvements.

The $245,000 figure reported in the story “was an estimate from several years ago by Park [Board] staff,” stated Vreeland, “It was brought up at the [Dec. 3 Park Board] Planning Committee meeting that this may not be a very relevant number for future planning.”

The following version has been updated accordingly.

A proposal to restore and clean up the West Bank’s Bluff Street Park was well-received by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s (Park Board) planning committee during its Dec. 3 meeting, but how and when the now-vacant area might become a park is still up in the air.

The site in question overlooks West River Parkway and the Mississippi River from just below the 10th Avenue bridge, near 20th Avenue South at the west end of the Bridge #9 bike and pedestrian bridge. It has long been neglected, with remnants of a concrete tankholder (leftover from the former Gasworks coal gasification plant), trash and dirt piled up. As a result of its previous use, the soil and water is also contaminated, according to Park Board information.

However, the bluffs boast scenic views of the river, as well as proximity to Downtown, and it has been eyed in better economic times by developers. While none of those plans ever officially made it to the Park Board, neighbors remain concerned that the property could one day be sold. In 2005, the West Bank Community Coalition (WBCC) approved a resolution expressing that the park should be preserved and establishing a related taskforce.

Support for the park ‘a no-brainer’

One of the reasons that advocates for the park feel so strongly is because the bluffs are a rare example of bedrock prairie, for which only 320 acres remain statewide, according to landscape architect John Slack, who has been a proponent of the plan. The Mississippi River’s sole natural gorge plays a “critical role in the drainage of the surrounding neighborhood and existing infrastructure,” he wrote in a letter championing its restoration.

At the recent meeting, commissioners asked staff to look into the matter further, to see if restoration of the native prairie is viable. While the proposal still needs to go before the full board of commissioners (no date had been set at press time), it’s a step forward for those who’ve worked on the issue over the past eight years.

“It’s obvious to me that there’s support for keeping it a park,” said Park Board Commissioner Scott Vreeland, who brought forward the plan, which was developed in collaboration with the West Bank Community Coalition (WBCC) and the U of M Design Center.

The way he sees it is, “This is a no-brainer,” said Vreeland. “It’s a regional park … This is what we’re about. We’re about parks,” he said, adding that any kind of sale of property would have complicated legal implications, considering that some areas are owned by the Park Board, city, county, state and railroad companies. “I want to provide clarity [on the issue].” Vreeland said. “I don’t want the property to go up for sale.”

The plan: ‘bigger than Bluff Street’

The 10-page plan, which recounts the area’s history and necessary environmental measures, lays out the things that would make it a native plant and wildlife haven, plus other park amenities such as signage, benches and more.

According to the plan, “Broad meadows and wooded slopes provide habitat for small animals, birds and insects. Limited recreation is provided in the form of trails meandering through the natural and small areas of turf with picnic tables and benches. Contamination issues are minimized since there is little disturbance of the land.”

According to a map of the proposed Bluff Street Park, the area would include: a butterfly garden and meadow, flowering shrubs, existing deciduous trees and new native woodland species, shrubs and perennials with additional flowering plants, a sitting area with a backdrop of shrubs, a looped path through the meadow and a picnic area.

The plan boasts that the park would serve as a connector for the current bike trail that leads to West River Road and the bike tunnel that runs under the I-35W bridge, increasing accessibility to the parkway, the U of M, the West Bank and Downtown. The vision fits in with the Park Board’s mission and comprehensive plan, while it could also be a template for completing the Grand Rounds, it states.

Action on the plan has been on hold for some time, in part because of a lack of funding. But the topic came up again along with talk of a memorial to honor the I-35W bridge collapse victims, as is cited in the plan.

Commissioner Vreeland said there has been some discussion with members of the Riverview Towers board and a local developer about annual funding for the maintenance of a park. The National Park Service has offered to assist this project with restoration expertise and volunteer coordination.

In the Bluff Street Park proposal, Commissioner Vreeland suggested that $43,000 of the $143,000 from the Flatiron permit to do construction work at that location could be used to fund park improvements.

West Bank resident and longtime park advocate Rosemary Knutson said the issues around Bluff Street Park are what got her involved in the community. She lives in the nearby Riverview Tower and often passes by the bluffs. “It’s a special piece of property,” she said. “It’s a treasure. I think we’re stewards.”

Commissioner Mary Merrill Anderson said at the committee meeting that it touches on a larger theme concerning the city’s natural resources. “The bluffs are already a park that’s undeveloped and needs revitalizing,” she said. “What gets developed and what should develop is something we need to wrestle with. It’s bigger than Bluff Street. It’s an issue of the river,” she said.

last revised: May 29, 2009