Winona's riverfront is burdened by the unintended consequences of industrial infrastructure and flood protection, asserted University of Minnesota (U of M) designers in the "Vision Plan" for Levee Park released on Friday.
The new document expounds on previously released draft plans that propose reshaping the levee wall, replacing part of it with removable floodgates that would allow access to the river from Main Street, constructing a large building and parking lot west of the new Winona bridge, and adding a floating dock and a kayak ramp.
It also provides a vision for reconnecting the heart of the island city with the Mississippi River. That vision draws on postindustrial themes that sparked local backlash and conflict among planners during the past four months (see story page 1A).
The park that was once a crown jewel is now uninviting, wrote designer Matt Tucker of the U of M's Center for Changing Landscapes. That is a message that many Winonans have agreed with in word and in action in the decades since the flood of 1965 and the installation of the new levee that forever changed the park.
Tucker cites an "over-bearing emphasis on flood protection for the rare, catastrophic flood" and the space occupied by riverfront industry as barriers to Winona's connection to the river.
Due to the "unintended consequence of flooding events in the 1960s and subsequent flood protection measures (i.e. levee), along with expanded port modernization in the 1970s and early 1980s, the primary role of the river no longer balanced recreation and commercial activity," he wrote.
Tucker also criticized the city's care of the park. Levee Park "has become largely neglected, with a lack of stewardship and ownership, either by community support or municipal staffing," he wrote. The issue "is amplified by the relative lack of budget emphasis on public parks within the city of Winona," he stated.
"Like many postindustrial river cities, Winona is a water city that has largely turned its back on its waterfront," Tucker wrote.
However, "given the decline of the river as a center of industrialized transportation and infrastructure, coupled with the rising cultural initiatives, Winona has an opportunity to reclaim its river-based identity," Tucker stated. "After a two-day site visit and meetings with local stakeholders, the [U of M] Center for Changing Landscapes identified seven major opportunities for Winona," he continued.
The opportunities center upon making the park more welcoming to pedestrians and boaters, boosting grassroots events, connecting downtown and Latsch Island, and capitalizing on the river's potential to drive the culture and recreation economy.
To that end, Tucker called for a renewal of the long-stymied riverfront bike path effort and proposed a large performance space within the new park design, a sheltered eddy-like launch for kayaks in the park, and a pedestrian mall leading into the park from Main and Second streets. His plan also proposed raising the elevation of the river side of the park to increase the amount of park space that is above water and usable throughout the year.
He explained in greater detail the "Switchyard Gardens" proposed for the rail yard adjacent to the park. Levee Park Committee members were unsure what draft images for the space were intended to depict.
Tucker showed examples of other parks that blend plantings, walkways, and decorative stone among defunct tracks. The "Switchyard Gardens realistically anticipates the continued decline of active rail lines in urban downtown areas throughout the United States," he wrote. Tucker described the gardens not as an urgent recommendation, "but rather, as a vision of what can occur after rail freight service in downtown is no longer warranted," he explained.
Many of the plan's elements could be implemented in phases, he said. For example, the Latsch Island overlook and statue area proposed for the east end of the park could be completed before the more substantial project of reshaping the levee wall, according to Tucker.
Tucker provided a list of potential city, state, federal, and private funding sources. Those sources will all require championing efforts from community members, he stated.
Tucker argued that a revitalized riverfront will "trigge[r] reinvestment" in the area. He added, "Like other infrastructure projects, the improvements to the 'green' public realm often require a broad public consensus that starts with expert opinion; the vision plan provides that opinion to leverage future re-investment."
The full version of the vision plan and accompanying images is available online at http://issuu.com/professortucker/docs/2014_winona_riverfront_vision_plan_.