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Planners firm up framework for downtown park

Minneapolis officials on Wednesday unveiled slight tweaks to their site plan and firmed up their construction timetable for a 4.2-acre downtown park after holdups in the design process forced a delay.

The city initially planned to reveal a fine-tuned design for the $22 million Downtown East Commons project in July, but nitty-gritty details took longer than expected to map out. City leaders last presented plans in May, and since then have been “bogged down in details,” City Council Member Jacob Frey said.

A framework for the park mostly matches a concept introduced earlier this year, anchored by a great lawn that would serve as event and gathering space.

Revised plans slightly expand the lawn, add seating and preserve trees around the site, a two-block tract bordered by Park Avenue, Fourth and Fifth streets and Fifth Avenue. They keep a smaller lawn on the west side, near a plaza, that could also serve as a festival space. The design widens bike lanes and limits auto traffic.

Also on Wednesday, project planners confirmed construction on the site — divided into three separate bid packages — would pick up this winter. They’re aiming to build as much of the privately financed park as possible by mid- to late summer, just before the Minnesota Vikings kick off their first season in their new stadium.

The project started to take shape in August, when crews began demolishing the former Star Tribune headquarters at 425 Portland Ave. S.

Meanwhile, planners continue to work on operations and maintenance budgets. They’re also collaborating with Minneapolis Public Works and other groups to make sure they stay on budget and on schedule.

“We’ve been doing an extraordinary amount of work on this project since our last meeting,” Frey, whose ward includes the Downtown East park site, said at Wednesday’s gathering.

Officials on Wednesday did not give an update on park fundraising. A committee led by Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges has stayed quiet since August, when it announced a combined $7 million in donations from the city of Minneapolis, Wells Fargo and Minneapolis-based developer Ryan Cos. US Inc.

The Vikings are expected to pony up a significant investment in the park, which will be a major game-day amenity for fans. Talks are ongoing but the team hasn’t yet joined the fundraising campaign, which still has a $15 million gap to fill.

Park proponents are relying on contributions from Downtown East stakeholders, including developers helping to transform the long-stagnant neighborhood.

Downtown East Commons is part of a broader revamp of the area spearheaded by Ryan. Aside from the park, Ryan’s plan includes two new office towers for Wells Fargo plus another office building, at least 200 residential units, adjoining retail space and a parking ramp.

Wednesday’s event marked the fourth public presentation on the project. Hundreds of people so far have showed up to the gatherings to hear proposals for the privately funded park, with several dozen attending the latest meeting.

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