The future of the Bde Maka Ska pavilion

former Bde Maka Ska pavilion
Today the former Bde Maka Ska pavilion site is well used by local skaters and exercise classes. The process to rebuild the pavilion began formally this fall. Photo by Andrew Hazzard

The effort to rebuild the pavilion at Bde Maka Ska, which burned down in May 2019, is officially underway.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) has begun soliciting bids from architecture firms to design a new structure at the former pavilion site. While it’s clear that a facility is desired at the city’s most-visited park space, what form it will take is up for debate.

“It’s exciting that, given everything happening, our staff is able to get the project going,” said Park Board President Jono Cowgill, who represents the area.

An information session for interested architecture firms held in late September was well attended, according to Dan Elias, the design project manager. Planning staff will interview design firms and make a recommendation to the board, with the hope of having a consultant hired by the end of the year, he said.

Lola on the Lake has a food vendor contract for the site through 2022, but
it’s unlikely any reconstruction will be completed by then. The goal is to have a design finalized in 2021, with construction starting in spring 2022.

Park Board staff are considering a range of options for the scope of reconstruction, but it’s unlikely to be a modern recreation of the old pavilion.

“Obviously the site is extremely constrained in its current setup,” Elias said.

Bde Maka Ska and the Chain of Lakes Regional Park do not have a formal visitor center, though one was called for near North Beach in the Bde Maka Ska/Lake Harriet Master Plan approved in 2017. Feedback from residents and visitors will influence the design process, Elias said.

Cowgill said it will be good to see what ideas come from design firms, but that his priority is to get basic infrastructure like bathrooms and enclosed seating back at Bde Maka Ska as soon as possible to ensure the most-visited park is accommodating users.

The funding sources for the rebuild are not fully established at this point, Elias said.

The MPRB received just over $1 million from insurance after the fire, which is more than enough to start the design process but won’t cover construction. Park commissioners had requested funding for the site from the state Legislature but have yet to receive state aid. The Metropolitan Council will likely allocate regional park dollars to the project.

The Park Board generally looks to its master plans when updating or adding facilities, but the plan approved for the parkland around Bde Maka Ska and Lake Harriet did not anticipate the 1930s-era pavilion burning. The plan had proposed added seating, more storage and a rehabilitated concession space for the building. But the fire gives a clean slate for designers to work with, which could mean a lengthy public engagement process before breaking ground.

Park Board policy, and requirements from the Met Council that regional parks receiving funding follow established master plans, may mean the existing plan would need to be amended before reconstruction can begin in earnest.

After the fire, the Park Board cleared the site and repaved the area with a green surface. Today it is well used as the site of Lola’s food truck and hosts a makeshift skatepark on many afternoons with local skaters bringing small ramps to the fresh pavement. Gyms have also been hosting outdoor fitness classes on the surface some evenings. Cowgill said he’s enjoyed seeing the space being actively used and that he hopes any redesign will respond to the way it’s being enjoyed today.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how the space can continue to be activated in the next two years,” Cowgill said.