From northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River’s meandering 2,530-mile southward path has helped shape U.S. history and defined the cities along its bank, most prominently, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Memphis, Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Minneapolis, the “City of Lakes,” has 5.5 miles of Mississippi riverfront that will make room for the largest expansion of park and public space since the Minneapolis park system was created over 100 years ago.
On March 14, 2012, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board approved “RiverFirst,” a park design plan proposal for the Minneapolis upper riverfront. This five-year initiative will create several miles of new Mississippi riverfront walking and biking trails, three new multifunctional parks and multiple local and regional connections.
RiverFirst derives from the 2011 Minneapolis Riverfront Development Initiative (MR|DI), a nine-month community-based vetting of the winning landscape and urban design concept submitted by the design team of Tom Leader Studio and Kennedy & Violich Architecture for the Minneapolis Riverfront Design Competition. More than 60 agency and community partners were directly involved in the MR|DI. The RiverFirst Design Team included New York-based economic development consultants HR&A Advisors, which created the RiverFirst implementation plan, and Groundwork City Building, which managed the project.
John Erwin, president of the nine-member Minneapolis Park Board, deems the riverfront a neglected citywide natural amenity. “We recognize this project will not only add recreational amenities, but will also be an economic catalyst for the entire area, and dramatically increase bird and fish habitat along an important natural flyway.”
RiverFirst fills the gap in the Mississippi River parks and trails system and contributes significantly to improved water quality of the river, completes a critical connection to the larger Minneapolis “Grand Rounds” and links corridor initiatives taking place on both sides of the river.
The RiverFirst design is infused with essential infrastructure, such as stormwater treatment, flood storage, energy generation and food production. Given its ambition, full realization of the RiverFirst vision will likely take 20 years.
Through the MR|DI, the RiverFirst design team developed a "Strategic Implementation Plan" for five phase one priority projects to meet the city’s needs today, and build momentum for overall completion of the RiverFirst vision over time.
Five priority projects will be pursued simultaneously: riverfront trail system and knot bridges; the Scherer Park District; northside wetlands and downtown gateway parks; new greenways on both sides of the river, and leading to the river; and floating islands.
Three additional projects are featured in the long-term RiverFirst vision: A mile-long land bridge covering Interstate 94, Northeast Riverfront Park and Spirit Island.