In a city without a defining monument — like the Gateway Arch or Golden Gate Bridge — the downtown riverfront has become Minneapolis' front door to the world.
It melds the modern and historic: The remains of the Washburn A flour mill, now the Mill City museum, stand near the sleek Guthrie Theater. Cyclists cruise over the Stone Arch Bridge. Runners and walkers enjoy postcard views of the downtown skyline and St. Anthony Falls. Many people live here too — in condos reclaimed from the city's industrial past.
But a generation ago, the area around St. Anthony Falls was not the postcard scene that it is today.
Preservation rules adopted in 1980 helped guide the restoration of the area. The 11 pages of guidelines address concerns such as building height — four to six stories for new construction along the North First Street warehouse area — and materials — brick or brick veneer.
But Brian Schaffer, a senior planner for the city of Minneapolis, said the rules, which worked well for three decades, are overdue for an upgrade. He said designers have learned quite a bit in the last generation, and it's time to think beyond just buildings.
"We now understand something called 'cultural landscapes,' Schaffer said. "Which really is more than just a collection of historic buildings. The design guidelines are taking a holistic approach to addressing the character of the area, and not just through building design itself."
At 182 pages, the new guidelines are far more detailed. One chapter focuses entirely on preserving historic infrastructure such as rail spurs, bridge remnants and loading docks.
"The district has been thought of as a collection of milling," Shaffer said. "But that's just one portion of the entire district. Now, we're talking about landscape, open space and parks, something the old guidelines never talked about."
The new rules encourage the mix of history and modernity the St. Anthony Falls area has become. Landscape guidelines require developers to include plants and trees that would have grown up naturally amid the mills and railroad tracks, but they also mandate designs that promote water conservation and energy efficiency.
The rules will affect only new restoration and construction projects. The Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission is expected to finalize them in July.