Since the 1970’s there has been serious effort to revive the Minneapolis riverfront, with respect for its history even as new uses evolve. In 1971, the St. Anthony Falls Historic District was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. In 1972, the Mississippi/Minneapolis plan became a cornerstone for development. Since that time, hundreds of millions of public and private dollars have been invested in the area. Abandoned railroad tracks have been removed. Polluted industrial land has been cleaned up and made available for new development. More than 4,000 housing units have been added through new construction and historic building rehabilitation, ranging from high-rise towers and new townhouses to renovated historic homes such as those on Nicollet Island. Neighborhoods have built new connections to the river.
Most large historic buildings have been saved, although others have been demolished. Mills, warehouses and commercial buildings still stand throughout the riverfront district, adapted to new uses. On Main Street, some of the oldest buildings in the city were restored and adapted in the 1970s to become a shopping complex known as St. Anthony Main. Although the retail venture failed, those buildings are now occupied by offices and restaurants. On the west side of the river, several mills and a grain elevator have found new life as office buildings and condos. In the warehouse district, hundred-year-old commercial buildings are serving many purposes such as theaters, art galleries, restaurants and entertainment centers, housing, retail stores and offices.
At the west end of the Hennepin Avenue bridge in the Gateway area, a new Federal Reserve Bank now stands, a reminder of the economic strength of the region. On the bank plaza, interpretive markers tell of urban growth and change and the many stories of the bridgehead site.
Both banks of the Mississippi are now part of the Minneapolis park system. The West River Parkway is complete, and the Minneapolis Riverfront District is an active tourist destination. The Stone Arch Bridge, renovated and reopened in 1994, is now used daily by pedestrians, joggers, bikers and trolley riders. The Saint Anthony Falls Heritage Trail, marked by interpretive signs, enables visitors to learn about history and explore the riverfront. The area benefits from access to the Minneapolis central business district and to the University of Minnesota.
The new millennium has seen an upsurge of development and preservation on the Minneapolis Riverfront. Once a bustling train station in the early 1900’s, the Milwaukee Road Depot and adjacent train shed were redeveloped in 2001 and now house a hotel, indoor water park, seasonal ice rink, and restaurants.
Park creation has been central to Riverfront revitalization. Part of the Minneapolis Park Board system, First Bridge Park and Mill Ruins Park help highlight the history of the Gateway and West Side Milling Districts while preserving important archaeological ruins for all to enjoy. On the east side of the river, Father Hennepin Bluffs Park marks the spot where Louis Hennepin first sighted the falls in 1680. Gold Medal Park, located on the former site of General Mills grain elevators, is the latest addition to the Minneapolis Riverfront’s network of parks.
In 2003 the Minnesota Historical Society opened Mill City Museum in the heart of the west-side mill district. Built within the ruins of the Washburn A Mill, once the largest flour mill in the world, Mill City Museum provides a multi-sensory, interactive journey through the birth of Minneapolis and the rise of the flour-milling industry and beyond. The Guthrie Theater, designed by renowned architect Jean Nouvel, opened in its new location on the Riverfront in 2006, boasting three stages, a restaurant, bars, and an “endless bridge” offering dramatic views of St. Anthony Falls.
A commitment and desire to connect the past with the present is ever-apparent, even as Minneapolis looks toward the future. People today know that Minneapolis was born on the banks of the Mississippi at the Falls of St. Anthony and that the river made the city great. Today, public and private developments are creating a riverfront where people live, work and play, and where they can enjoy dramatic views of the river and downtown. The central Minneapolis riverfront is a vital part of the city, where people come to understand the rich and complex past of the place where they live.