River Learning Center: Latest design is better, but we still have questions

An overhead view of boats in the harbor at Watergate Marina.

The proposed River Learning Center would be built at the current site of Watergate Marina. (Photo via City of St. Paul)

The project team behind the proposed River Learning Center at Crosby Farm Regional Park unveiled its final schematic design for the site Thursday, showing off the new structures, amenities and habitat projects that could one day go in the space. While this latest vision is a big improvement over previous versions, Friends of the Mississippi River still has questions we'd like to see addressed as the project progresses. 

The project would bring a National Park Service headquarters to the Mississippi River, with space for educational programs and recreational activities provided by partners such as Mississippi Park Connection and Wilderness Inquiry. The River Learning Center would be built on the current site of Watergate Marina.

FMR has supported the idea of a River Learning Center and participated alongside community members in the design process.

But initial concepts released this summer raised alarm. We shared our concerns with you — and with project leaders — about grossly oversized facilities that weren't compliant with river development requirements. As a result of this community feedback, the city's project team made significant changes, and on Oct. 6 unveiled its latest schematic design.

We believe this design is a big improvement over prior versions. However, we still have questions that need to be addressed in future phases of the project, such as:

  • Is the western bay suitable for paddle programs?
  • How will marina operations coexist with quieter recreational uses?
  • Can a blufftop building fit within the space constraints?
  • Is the canopy walk feasible, and compliant with all riverfront development requirements?

The River Learning Center is still in an early phase of design; the city will continue to refine the project as planning progresses. Some of our questions above are crucial enough to the project's feasibility that we hope they will be addressed soon. Should any of the current design elements prove infeasible, the design would have to be substantially redesigned to meet its highest priority goals.

Our fuller comments are available in this Community Reporter article and our September letter to the city's project team. 

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