Anoka’s River Front Park getting its start

by Mandy Moran Froemming
Union Editor

Anoka is getting ready to take the first steps on construction of River Front Park, a new community green space and gathering spot planned north of city hall.

An overhead look at the plans for River Front Park, which runs north of city hall along the Rum River. Courtesy of the city of Anoka

River Front Park is a concept the city has been working on for several years, said Greg Lee, Anoka’s public services director and city engineer.

The Anoka City Council approved the concept of the park along the Rum River nearly a year ago, in March 2011, and last week agreed to order the first phase of the project by authorizing the plans and specifications to be prepared. The council isn’t expected to approve those plans and authorize advertisement for bids until November.

Construction won’t begin until April 2013 when the city will receive a federal grant which will provide significant funding for this first phase.

Phase one includes eight-foot wide concrete trailway, grading, park utilities, three river overlooks, rain gardens, irrigation system, lighting, a boat docking system, canoe landing and signage.

The city received a $760,000 federal transportation grant to help pay for the costs associated with the trailway, which will run from the Main Street bridge and connect to the existing Rum River Trail at the Henry Hammer Overlook. This trail connection will allow pedestrians and cyclists to follow the river all the way from the boat launch at Akin Riverside Park up to the Anoka High School.

“That was the funding source we needed to get going on the first phase of this project,” said Lee.

The cost of phase one is estimated at just over $1.1 million. The remaining $362,000 not covered by the federal grant will be paid for by park dedication fees as well as the city’s park capital fund, said Lee.

River Front Park aims to increase recreational, as well as commercial and residential opportunities along the Rum River.

Councilmember Mark Freeburg said the idea of a park along the river north of city hall is something that has been talked about for 40 years. He said he can remember Community Development Director Bob Kirchner discussing development plans for the area around city hall with his father, back in the early the 1970s.

And when Freeburg first ran for the city council more than 15 years ago, residents encouraged him to help Anoka make the most of being a river town.

“It’s fun to finally see something come about with that river front property, which is a huge asset for this town,” he said. “I’ve been here (on the council) 16 years and I remember when I first ran, people were saying, ‘you live on a river, expose it, use it, bring it to life,’ and it’s happened. That’s one of the things I’m proud of – taking advantage of the waterfront.”

That not only includes this latest park plan, but also the boat launch, docks and Rivers Pointe townhomes.

Lee did point out that construction costs for the south entry staircase, located south of city hall and currently part of the concept for River Front Park, have been shifted to the East Main Street improvement project. This has been included as part of the second bid alternate for a city hall plaza.

Lee said if the city council opts not to approve that particular bid alternate in March when it considers the East Main project, the $150,000 staircase will once again be moved back to the River Front Park construction plans.

Councilmember Jeff Weaver raised concerns about how much grading would be done on city-owned property above the trail. This land has been marked for future residential, retain or commercial development.

“One of my concerns is how much grading, how much finished grading, you really want to do up along Second Avenue on the building sites,” said Weaver. “I hope we don’t spend a lot of dollars up on the pad site not knowing what will be there. It will be open season if we do some grading and then dig it back out.”

Lee said grading will include an area 10 to 20 feet east of the trail. There will also be a proposal to do some regrading to parts of the dirt parking lot north of city hall that will be impacted during construction.

It is going to take several years for the park to be completed and it is designed to be done in several phases as time and funding will allow.

Weaver said he was excited about the future park and the potential it will have.

“It’s going to be another destination point and it’s going to be a huge gathering area,” he said.

City staff and the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board worked with consulting firm Bonestroo (now Santec) for several years before they, along with the council, came to consensus on the current overall vision for River Front Park.

In fact, when it was presented to the council last March, Lee said the park plans were in their 44th concept.

If the current concept design, which also includes a grand staircase and terrace north of city hall and an amphitheater, were built, costs are currently estimated at $4.3 million.

Lee said there is not a projected time line on future phases of the park.

The next phases are dependent on the development of the adjacent building sites, on which the council would like to see commercial or residential development, he said.

“A lot of the funding (for the park) will need to come from the park dedication fees that would come with that development,” Lee said.

Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]

  • Sansra Hughs

    I am a resident at 2200 2nd Avenue North and one of the attractions to our purchase was the already approved park across the street on the river. It is sort of a catch22 to expect the development of the empty real estate properties in this area before the completion of the park. I would guess that upon completion of the park, these sites would be much more appealing to an investor. What an attractive selling point. I know that the residents here are very anxious to have this project completed. Thank you for your kind attention.