river balcony
The River Balcony is a proposed 1.5-mile promenade along downtown Saint Paul’s river bluff.

Plans for a 1.5-mile balcony along the Mississippi river-front in downtown Saint Paul are nearing completion. The public will be able to view designs at an in-person open house from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, June 25, at Kellogg Mall Park.

Attendees can view refined design concepts for the promenade, share comments and ask questions of the project team. Walking tours will be offered at 11 a.m., noon and 1 p.m. The K-Town Street Foods food truck will be on-site from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Interactive play activities will be offered for children. Masks are not required.

With design work 75 percent complete, the open house is needed to seek further public input, said Brett Hussong, landscape architect for the Saint Paul Department of Parks and Recreation. He reviewed plans this spring with the City Council. The last public open house was held virtually in February.

“We’ve received a lot of positive feedback,” Hussong said. Those comments have shaped the ambitious design, which is scheduled to be finished in time for a public celebration this fall.

The river balcony is part of the city’s Great River Passage Initiative, extending from the Seven Corners area near Xcel Energy Center to Union Depot. It would run along the top of the river bluff and connect several public spaces and landmarks. It would also provide connections to the Mississippi River, the Samuel Morgan Trail, Lower Landing Park, City House and other destinations.

The river connections are a key part of the balcony plans. They could include enhancing stairs and terraces by the Science Museum and providing new sloping trails closer to City Hall, Seven Corners and Kellogg Mall Park.

Council members said they welcome direct river connections. “If I had to describe to someone how to get to the river from City Hall, it’d be really difficult,” said Ward 3 council member Chris Tolbert.

While the river balcony project is exciting, it also may be one of the city’s most challenging projects. “There are a lot of different players,” Hussong said.

Those players include RiverCentre/Xcel Energy Center, Science Museum, District Energy, Ramsey County, Saint Paul, area businesses and AECOM, which is working with the county to construct the Riversedge project on the former county jail and West Publishing properties.

“If I had to describe to someone how to get to the river from City Hall, it’d be really difficult,” said Ward 3 council member Chris Tolbert.

Ideas for the river balcony have been in the works since the larger Great River Passage Plan won council approval in 2013. Design work began in October 2021.

After the design is done later this year, Parks and Recreation and the nonprofit Great River Passage Conservancy will decide on various development partner roles and responsibilities. A longer-term goal is to seek funding and to eventually release a request for proposals for construction. Construction is likely to be phased in.

Capital and long-term maintenance costs for the project have not been determined yet.

Building on what is already in place along the bluff is one of the goals of the project. Another is to establish critical connections and create distinctive elements along the balcony, including space for public activities and programs.

Some challenges were raised during the February workshop, Hussong said. While people like the idea of walking from the bluff to the river, Shepard Road and railroad tracks provide significant barriers.

Another challenge is between the river and Kellogg Mall Park. Second Street extends from Kellogg Boulevard to Sibley Street. That area could provide more space for activities below the Wabasha and Robert street bridges, but it also is an area where public safety could be a concern.

Planners have split the river balcony into a west segment from Seven Corners to Wabasha Street and an east segment from Wabasha to Union Depot. Each segment has a number of new ideas as well as ways to use the existing site. One example is transforming the RiverCentre parking ramp to add a tailgating plaza. There would also be a connection down to a proposed amphitheater near the river and Science Museum.

One area where the city will have a lot of direct say is Kellogg Mall Park, which it owns, and the space below the park. Ideas call for closing part of Second Street to motor vehicle traffic and creating a pedestrian corridor, Hussong said. That could provide space for sports courts, vendor kiosks and river overlooks.

For more information about the project, visit greatriverpassage.org/projects/river-balcony.

— Jane McClure


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