Unlocking the future of St. Anthony Falls

Upper St. Anthony Falls visitor center

What's at the end of the rainbow? Our local national park's visitor center at the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock. Photo by National Park Conservation Association.

Now that the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock has been closed for over a year, big ideas are bubbling up to transform this downtown Minneapolis site. 

Since the lock's closure to navigation, the site has become home to a visitor center for the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, our local national park. The center logged more than 15,000 visitors in 2016, demonstrating significant potential to draw even more people to the area.

But first, there are many questions to answer. Could there be a bigger opportunity to expand the visitor experience by adding access to the river and falls? Is there a story about this dynamic place that needs to be told? Can new uses be integrated with the adjacent Water Works project, Mill Ruins Park and the Stone Arch Bridge?

These and other questions are the subjects of a design initiative being organized by the National Parks Conservation Association and MSR Architects called “Transforming the Lock.”

Design initiative

“Transforming the Lock” kicked off last month at Mill City Museum. The first event was a collaborative ideas workshop, with many river boosters, environmental groups, government agencies, business leaders and community residents participating.

Workshop presenters provided a brief overview of the area’s rich history, explained the current status of the closed lock, and shared several creative design concepts for river walks/trails, a simple portage route, possible interpretive themes, visitor center features and other potential amenities.

Community members then helped identify ways to improve access to the lock, enrich visitors' experience, and connect the lock to the surrounding riverfront.

The design initiative is well timed. The Army Corps of Engineers has requested federal funding for a disposition study to evaluate future lock use and ownership — a required first step before any potential transformation could proceed. The results of the “Transforming the Lock” workshop will inform the disposition study by providing the potential costs and benefits of repurposing the lock as a national and regional destination.

Another alternative use proposed for land surrounding the lock is the highly controversial Crown Hydroelectric Project proposal, which has been mired in permit negotiations and public review for decades. Most stakeholders, including the city of Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Park Board, National Parks Conservation Association and FMR, oppose the Crown proposal and do not want to see additional hydropower in the area that will decrease water flow over the falls. (Learn more from MinnPOST.)

Next open house: April 11

FMR staff are participating on the project advisory team. This allows us the opportunity to review interim designs as well as materials generated by planners and designers to help inform and solicit public input. We'll also help identify ways to keep the vision moving towards a successful implementation.

The recommendations that result from the “Transforming the Lock” initiative will be a product of public input and professional expertise. FMR is confident they will help guide the development of a new national park visitor experience at the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock.

An open house featuring the draft plan is currently in the works for the evening of April 11, 2017. Look for a notice in next month's Mississippi Messages, or contact Irene Jones, ijones@fmr.org, if you'd like to receive an email when it's officially announced. 

Learn more

'Amid obstacles, activists envision an audacious plan for Upper St. Anthony Lock and Dam: making it part of a national park,' MinnPost, by Peter Callaghan