In an effort to make the Mississippi River more accessible to the Twin Cities community, the City of St. Paul worked to establish a recreation and education center at Crosby Farm Regional Park near Shepard Road.
In June, designers from New York’s W. Architecture and Landscape Architecture shared three potential concept designs for the Highland Park area. The public was able to share their opinion on the three concepts via an online survey. Now the design has been refined to a general concept, and more detailed plans were unveiled last week.
Through the survey, focus groups, and various community meetings, the Mississippi River Learning Center experience was refined into four ideals. The city wants it to be a welcoming gateway, an accessible campus, a place to touch the Mississippi River, and a chance to connect with nature.
The latest design elements, which include the reorganization of the existing Watergate Marina on the 25-acre city-owned site, call for:
- A classroom space by the river with canoe rentals and other equipment, public restrooms and a cafe, which would be connected to a cliff-top visitor office by an elevated “canopy walkway” .
- The visitors office would house the Great River Passage Conservancy, the National Park Service and the nonprofit Mississippi Park Connection. Public toilets and vending machines would also be located in the offices.
- At the marina, a new boathouse would be built along with marina offices for boat repair and maintenance.
- The plan also calls for digging a channel in the river to create an island accessible via a bridge. This would allow visitors to easily explore along the river.
- A “Falls to Farm” trail is also proposed that would connect Crosby Farm Regional Park to the adjacent Hidden Falls Regional Park.
The River Learning Center would be owned by the city, with the various tenants leasing the space and covering operating expenses. The entire project, the cost of which has not yet been determined, will be financed by public and private resources. The city unsuccessfully requested $20 million in state bail funds during the 2022 legislative session.
The construction schedule has not yet been finalized pending final design approval this fall. But completion by 2026 is envisaged, barring obstacles.
Along with the River Learning Center project, the Great River Passage Conservancy is planning two other major projects along the St. Paul River.
There are proposals for a 1½ mile promenade along the downtown bluffs called the River Balcony and a design to connect the East Side River district, including Pig’s Eye Lake, with the rest of the city .