What is The Falls?
The Falls is a destination visitor and interpretive center at the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock, at the heart of the Central Riverfront in Downtown Minneapolis. Once frequented by barges, the Upper Lock at St. Anthony Falls was closed to commercial navigation in 2015. The Falls envisions repositioning the Lock as a destination for recreational, touristic, and interpretive purposes.
The Falls will draw visitors to discover the Mississippi National River & Recreation Area, our river National Park, at one of its most iconic features: St. Anthony Falls, the only major waterfall on the Mississippi River, which thunders down a 49-foot drop on a concrete spillway at the toe of the iconic Stone Arch Bridge. The facility will implement the vision of multiple adopted plans and would become a destination feature of the 10-state Great River Road, a National Scenic Byway.
The Falls will:
- welcome people to the city, region and state with a Meet Minneapolis tourism association visitor center, offering information and a gateway to opportunities and experiences.
- provide visitors with the opportunity to learn about and experience this amazing site with National Park Service Park Rangers.
- host interpretive exhibits and provide educational enrichment, for instance about river history and ecology, civil works and engineering, hydrology, and culture.
- provide a unique venue for meetings & events.
- offer options for food and drink while enjoying spectacular views.
- be a hub of recreation & activity (biking, walking, fishing, paddling, water taxi).
The Falls Initiative
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) closed the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock to commercial navigation in 2015 when Congress suspended navigation authorization due to concerns about declining barge traffic and invasive species. The USACE is now proceeding with a disposition study, and Friends of the Lock & Dam, along with the City of Minneapolis and key organizational stakeholders, is pursuing the opportunity to reposition the Lock as a unique destination on the Central Riverfront.
The Upper Lock is the latest in a growing number of land use and open space transformations on the Mississippi riverfront which have led to a new relationship between the people of Minnesota and their Great River. In recent years, riverfront enhancement and revitalization has taken place across the state, in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Brainerd, Red Wing, St. Cloud, and beyond. The Mississippi is one of the most storied rivers in the world, on par with the Nile and the Amazon in global popular imagination. It is the defining natural feature of our city, region, and state.
As a destination, the Falls will activate, connect, interpret, and promote the relationship between river and city in meaningful ways for millions of people. From the people-friendliness of the harbor and canals of Copenhagen to the revitalized waterfront of Buffalo, New York, it’s clear that industrial waterfronts have almost limitless potential for redevelopment as beloved places for people – and at the Falls, residents and visitors to Minneapolis will have a riverfront destination that interprets, celebrates, and activates our Great River.
About the Project
A Shared Vision
The Falls Initiative embraces a vision of our riverfront that has been shaped over the course of more than a decade of planning and investment by public, private, and nonprofit parties. Friends of the Lock & Dam has engaged and sought the endorsement of more than two dozen stakeholder organizations who have come together as a coalition for the future of the Upper Lock. The Falls Initiative reflects the vision and values of that coalition, and seeks to implement concepts embedded in numerous adopted plans. The Falls initiative is deeply informed by engagement.
Significant prior planning, coordination, and investment by multiple constituencies has paved the way for a diverse coalition of organizations to coalesce in support of repurposing the Upper Lock as an iconic visitor and interpretive center. The Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board’s Central Riverfront Master Plan, The Minneapolis Park Foundation’s RiverFirst Initiative, Minneapolis Downtown Council’s Intersections: Downtown 2025 plan, the MN Historical Society/St. Anthony Falls Heritage Board’s Power of the Falls and Changing Relationships to the Power of the Falls, the National Park Conservation Association's idea book, Transforming the Lock, and numerous City of Minneapolis small area plans (especially those for the Historic Mill District, the North Loop/Downtown East, and plans for the redevelopment of the Upper Harbor), have already achieved a meaningful change in consciousness about the Minneapolis riverfront as an asset and destination.
The Falls will welcome visitors; host exhibits, meetings & events; offer dining & recreation with spectacular views; & provide water access. The site is seamlessly integrated with Water Works Park & the culturally rich East Town/Mill District neighborhood.
VISITOR CENTER. An Upper Mississippi visitor center serving the National Park Service and Meet Minneapolis will be designed with extensive involvement by the City, Park Board, and Minnesota Historical Society. It would serve residents, day-trippers, weekend visitors, and business travelers seeking a distinctly Minnesota experience on one of the world’s Great Rivers. The Falls is envisioned as a hub of history, recreation, activities, and information.
FOOD & BEVERAGE. Multiple options for food and drink, including a café, restaurants, and catering options are envisioned. Patrons will enjoy both inside and outside dining options with exceptional views of the skyline, Stone Arch Bridge, waterfall and the Mississippi River.
EXHIBITION. There is museum-quality space planned for both permanent and temporary exhibitions, creating even more richness in a cultural district already home to the Mill City Museum, the Guthrie Theater, MacPhail Center for Music, US Bank Stadium, and - across the iconic Stone Arch Bridge - St. Anthony Main Theater, the St. Anthony Falls Hydrology Lab, and the Soap Factory. Rich interpretive potential is present at the Lock: the Falls’ relevance to American Indian history, the industrial eras of lumbering and milling that grew “the flour milling capital of the world,” and the era of monumental civil works that opened the Upper River to commercial navigation. Current contributors to Minneapolis culture and creativity would find an audience as well, with millions of visitors projected annually. Educational and heritage enrichment opportunities will be identified and developed with key stakeholders.
EVENTS. Event space will be equipped to accommodate civic, cultural, entertainment, business professional, and private functions. The site is anticipated to be a highly desirable event location, with structured parking, generous facilities, iconic views, and catering options available.
PARKING. Convenient underground parking will support visitors year-round, serving the event, exhibition, and food/beverage options. This structured parking will replace the current riverfront surface parking, which will be lost with the construction of Water Works Park and The Falls (including parking spaces on the Lock, abutting Fuji Ya, and at Mill Ruins Park).
OPEN SPACE. An active urban park will seamlessly connect The Falls to Water Works, the Stone Arch Bridge, and the neighborhood, offering access to bike rental, water transportation, and a new portage route for kayaking and canoes. A public space and plaza will provide opportunities for outdoor programming and activation year-round, while providing a platform for the best scenic views in town of both the skyline and the river.
WATER ACCESS. Access to water taxis, kayaks, canoes, and other recreational, fishing, or leisure boats is possible at both ends of the Lock. Access here would supplement access already in place at other points on the river by kayak, canoe, pontoon, and water taxi through providers such as Wilderness Inquiry, Paddle Share, and Minneapolis Water Taxi.
Congress acted to suspend commercial navigation at the St. Anthony Falls Upper Lock in 2015 in response to concerns about invasive species. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to staff and maintain the facility, but no more lockages will occur.
When the Upper Lock closed, the vision for a visitor and interpretive center at that site was already a consensus goal of the community, codified in adopted plans. However, with the formation of Friends of the Lock & Dam in early 2016, an organization with the sole mission to implement that goal, details of the visitor and interpretive center vision, and what it would take to make it real, began to take shape.
Friends of the Lock & Dam raised $5 million in 2016, and planning and technical studies got underway. Because the riverfront is significant to so many different constituencies, FL&D has also undertaken significant outreach to build a coalition of stakeholder organizations and advisors who inform the project.
Meanwhile, the National Park Service secured a use permit in 2016 from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct visitor tours of the Lock with MNRRA Park Rangers. The National Parks Conservation Association created an Ideas Book about the future of the Lock, and the nonprofit partner of NPS, Mississippi Park Connection, has undertaken additional programming and activation on the Lock with grant funding from Friends of the Lock & Dam.
In the summer of 2017, both the City of Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board passed resolutions supporting a repurposed Lock.
In August 2017, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made the determination to fund and undertake an 18 month disposition study on the Upper Lock, Lower Lock, and Lock 1, taking place from the Spring of 2018 to completion. This study was paused in light of new Congressional legislation adopted in the 2018 Water Resources Development Act, which, in Section 1225, directed the Corps to expedite a study looking exclusively at the Upper Lock (the Lower Lock and Lock 1 will presumably be studied at a later date). The revised and expedited Upper Lock study kicked off in August 2019.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to make a recommendation to Congress upon completion of their study, and will seek the direction of Congress on next steps. Friends of the Lock & Dam, in partnership with the City of Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, and a large coalition of stakeholder organizations, will be actively engaged with all legislative aspects of this process.
In 2018, the City of Minneapolis sought $1.5 million in bonds from the state legislature for the Upper Lock. That effort failed in the final hours of the session.
In 2019, Friends of the Lock & Dam applied, was granted a hearing, and ultimately was tentatively selected for $2.8 million in funding from the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). If affirmed by the MN legislature, the funding will be available in July 2020 and will be directed to acquisition and early improvement of the site.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ authorization for commercial navigation at the St. Anthony Falls Upper Lock was suspended by the U.S. Congress. Authorization for flood management remained active, and the Corps continued to maintain and staff the facility.
Friends of the Lock & Dam was founded in February 2016 as a 501c3 public nonprofit with a single purpose mission, to “repurpose the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock to a world class destination visitor and interpretive center, consistent with the Central Riverfront Regional Park Master Plan and fully integrated with the RiverFirst/WaterWorks Initiative.” The organization raised $5 million dollars in 2016 in support of the mission.
National Park Service secured a use permit from the U.S. Corps of Engineers to operate the St. Anthony Falls Visitor Center at the Lock.
National Parks Conservation Association created an Ideas Book, “Transforming the Lock,” placing the goal of a significant ongoing National Park Visitor Center on the Lock at the center of the vision.
Meet Minneapolis adopted Destination Transformation 2030, the first tourism master plan for the City of Minneapolis and region, in February 2017, which lists as one of it’s top level goals: “Build an iconic visitors center on downtown’s central riverfront.” The plan builds on 15 years of planning and implementation by the City of Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, Minneapolis Park Foundation, St. Anthony Heritage Board, Minneapolis Downtown Council, and numerous neighborhoods to transform the Mississippi riverfront.
Friends of the Lock & Dam convened the first Upper Lock coalition meeting in June 2017, attended by 48 people representing 20 stakeholder organizations and 5 government entities. Meeting materials, including spotlight presentations and a video message from MNRRA Superintendent John Anfinson, can be viewed and downloaded here.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funded an assessment in FY 2017 of federal authorizations on the Upper Lock, Lower Lock, and Lock 1 in order to make a determination of whether or not to proceed with a disposition study. At a decision meeting in August 2017, the Corps determined to proceed with a disposition study looking at all three Locks and successfully funded the study as a component of the FY 2018 budget.
Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board passed a resolution committing its support and collaboration in seeking state bonds for predesign for the visitor center use at the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock & Dam.
Minneapolis City Council passed a resolution to submit Upper St. Anthony Falls Redevelopment to Minnesota Management & Budget as the City’s fourth priority for state capital funding, asking for $1.5 million for predesign. In October, the City hosted a tour of the Lock for MMB staff and a second one for state legislators. The funding request was submitted to the state for consideration in the 2018 legislative session by City of Minneapolis Intergovernmental Relations staff.
Friends of the Lock & Dam convened the second Upper Lock coalition meeting in November 2017, a poster session and workshop attended by 48 people representing 21 stakeholder organizations and 4 government entities. Meeting materials and workshop outcomes, including coalition principles and maps looking at the whole Upper River corridor, can be viewed and downloaded here.
Friends of the Lock & Dam convened a legislative working group with key stakeholder organizations and the City of Minneapolis to define the critical path for municipal, state, and federal legislative actions necessary for project implementation.
In February, Senators Champion, Hayden, and Dziedzic introduced S.F. No. 2707: A bill for an act relating to capital investment; appropriating money for Upper St. Anthony Lock redevelopment; authorizing the sale and issuance of state bonds. The bill was referred to the Committee on Capital Investment. The bonding bid for the Upper Lock failed in the final hours of the 2018 legislative session.
In October 2018, Congress enacted the 2018 Water Resources Development Act , Section 1225, directing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expedite their Minneapolis Locks disposition study focusing exclusively on the Upper Lock, and to expand the scope of the study to include consideration of partial disposition. This led to new implementation guidance to be drafted, the ongoing disposition study to be paused, and the expedited study on the Upper Lock alone to be relaunched in August 2019.
The Upper Lock disposition study was kicked off by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in August 2019. Public meetings were held, and a comment period was opened through October 2019.
- Consideration of FL&D's LCCMR tentative funding allocation by MN Legislature in 2019 Session
- The anticipated 2020 Water Resources Development Act, which will be the next opportunity for Congress to weigh in on the future of the Upper Lock.
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Disposition Study conclusion and recommendations to Congress
- Focused community engagement