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General Mills gives $3M for riverfront park projects

BY: ERIC BEST : The Journal : January 27, 2016 //updated February 2, 2016
General Mills has chipped in $3 million for several Mississippi riverfront park projects, leading corporate donations for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s RiverFirst initiative.

The Golden Valley-based company’s gift will be split into supporting an overhaul of riverfront land with a new park, dubbed Water Works, and a smaller plan to better link North Minneapolis to the river via bike and pedestrian trails. The donation is the result of a $15 million fundraising effort over the past six months from the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, which serves as a philanthropic partner with the Park Board, to support these first two RiverFirst projects.

Chief among the RiverFirst projects is Water Works, which will transform the downtown riverfront area near the Stone Arch Bridge and Mill Ruins Park with a new visitor center, bolstered trail connections and the restoration of historic mill infrastructure beneath the former Fuji Ya building. The roughly $27 million project will see about $2 million of General Mills’ contribution.

The gift also includes $850,000 for the creation of a trail link and pier along 26th Avenue North, a project that’s expected to break ground in 2018. The 26th Avenue project features a pier overlooking the North Side’s riverfront and a quarter-mile trail connection between 26th Avenue and West River Parkway.

A pier at the end of 26th Avenue North would extend at street level over the Mississippi River near Ole Olson Park. Rendering courtesy of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation.

A $150,000 portion will go toward designing a park planned at the former Scherer Bros. site near Northeast Minneapolis where the board is eventually planning to restore Hall’s Island.

The gift brings the Minneapolis Parks Foundation to 60 percent of its $15 million goal, which will cover about half the total cost of Waters Works and the 26th Avenue North project. The first $6 million in committed funding is coming from private donors, including $3 million from the foundation’s board members, said Tom Evers, executive director of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation.

The Park Board has also pledged more than $6 million toward the larger Water Works, while about $10 million is expected to come from state, federal and other sources. Evers told the Journal he expects the remaining $6 million to come from a mix of corporate and private donors.

General Mills’ gift, which commemorates the company’s 150th birthday, leads corporate gifts for the riverfront projects, proposed for the very area where it was founded.

“150 years is cause for celebration and what better way to celebrate this milestone than to give a birthday gift to the very birth place of our company,” said Ken Powell, CEO and board chair of General Mills, at a press conference Wednesday. “All that General Mills is today ties back to this very place and is intrinsically woven into the foundation of this city.”

RiverFirst will see its first groundbreaking with the partial demolition of the Fuji Ya building as part of Water Works. The two-story building located between West River Parkway and 1st Street was once home to the iconic Japanese restaurant. The fundraising effort is far enough along that the board has brought on consultants to move the project forward.

“It really is an indication to the rest of the community that this project is moving forward,” Evers said.

The Park Board has a contract with MacDonald & Mack Architects to provide services to begin selectively demolishing the building, which Evers said he expects to begin as early as this summer. The board hopes to uncover the 19th century mill foundations beneath the building.

An overview of Water Works. Rendering courtesy of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation.

Water Works would bring a new visitor center and café pavilion near the Third Avenue Bridge, along with new river access for canoes and kayaks, water features and outdoor gathering spaces. The project would capitalize on the popularity of the Central Riverfront Regional Park, which sees 2.5 million visitors annually. The park is slated to be built in two phases over seven years, one between this year and 2019 and another between 2021 and 2023.

The Park Board expects to have schematic designs of the 26th Avenue North project finished by this fall.

Along with the restoration and build out of Hall’s Island, the board is working on restoring wetlands at the Upper Harbor Terminal site in North Minneapolis and building trails for pedestrians and bikers along the entire upper riverfront.

Mayor Betsy Hodges called the RiverFirst projects “transformative for Minneapolis.”

“At least once a century General Mills transforms the river,” she said.

Lead Photo: Water Works, a large-scale RiverFirst project, would bring a visitor pavilion to the Central Riverfront Regional Park. Photo courtesy of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation

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