Parks update // Finalists chosen for riverfront design competition

Finalists chosen for riverfront design competition

Four selected firms will visit Minneapolis later this month to evaluate the 5-mile project site

Four landscape and urban design teams were selected this month to take part in the Minneapolis Riverfront Design Competition, the largest event of its kind in state history.

After reviewing 55 applications from 14 countries, a jury of city, park and community leaders and design professionals opted to go with Ken Smith Workshop, of New York; Stoss Landscape Urbanism, of Boston; Tom Leader Studio, of Berkeley, Calif., and Turenscape, of Beijing. The four teams will spend the next couple months drafting a land-use design for a 5.4-mile stretch of riverfront that includes 220 acres of parkland between the Stone Arch Bridge and the city’s northern limits.  

“The jury believes the four selected teams really embody the aspirations of the next generation of parks,” said Cecily Hines, president of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, which is sponsoring the competition along with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, Walker Art Center and University of Minnesota College of Design.

Hines said jury members were looking for innovation and inspiration when selecting finalists. They also reviewed team philosophies and past projects. Former Park Board Superintendent David Fisher, a big driver of the competition who served on the selection jury, said the quality of applications was impressive across the board.

The goal of the competition, announced in September, is to establish parkland as an economic engine for the city, strengthen the river’s association with the city’s identity and make the waterway a connector of communities rather than a barrier. The finalists will explore themes of sustainability, infrastructure, public space and neighborhood links along and across the river. Firms will also put together cost projections for various projects and long-term maintenance.

Each team will receive $30,000 from the Park Board to pay for fees, travel and materials needed to complete their designs. The teams will visit Minneapolis from Nov. 29–Dec. 1 to tour the riverfront and learn more about the city. After the visit, competition organizers will use questions from designers to create a public survey that will be posted online and available in recreation centers. Community members will also be invited to respond to the questions at a meeting Dec. 7.

Designers will submit their plans by Jan. 1 and present them publicly six days later. The jury will name a winner Feb. 10 and the Park Board will use the design to help guide riverfront development.

The competition is unfolding at a time when the Park Board, fresh off its first layoffs in history, is looking to make further budget cuts in preparation for even leaner years. But At-Large Commissioner Annie Young said future thinking is what sustainability is all about. She said a revamped riverfront could eventually be a boon for Minneapolis tourism and a valuable amenity for the north-side community and the rest of the city.  

“It’s an interesting time because of the economics in our society,” she said. “People are probably going ‘what on Earth is going on, we don’t have any money,’ but the fact is this is for future thinking and to give us some goals and a vision for what we can do. It’s going to be phased. It’s not going to happen overnight.”

The city is a big partner in the project. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, City Council Member Diane Hofstede (3rd Ward) and Council President Barb Johnson (4th Ward) all served on the selection jury. Council Member Kevin Reich (1st Ward), who made a campaign promise to work closely with the Park Board, has also been following the competition’s launch.   

“This is exciting,” Reich said. “You’ve got some local talent, national talent and international talent, so it’s a really good mix. The fact that 55 groups applied from around the world says that this is something that is worth studying.”

All of the firms except Ken Smith Workshop have Minnesota connections on their design teams. Collectively, the teams have been involved in award-winning riverfront and industrial reclamation park projects in Shanghai, Memphis, Toronto, New York, Dubai, Milwaukee and London.  

For full biographies on each team, go to

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or [email protected]