SAINT PAUL, Minn. – The Great River Passage Conservancy has hired Mary deLaittre as its founding executive director and launched a $2.2 million philanthropic campaign to advance three major projects along the Mississippi River in Saint Paul. Formed in December 2018, the Conservancy is an independent nonprofit organization that leads advocacy and private fundraising efforts for the Great River Passage Initiative in partnership with the City of Saint Paul.

“The Mississippi River is the defining feature of our city, our region and our entire state,” said Saint Paul Mayor Melvin Carter. “The Conservancy, with support from the private sector, is poised to help us advance an exciting vision for connecting Saint Paul’s two greatest assets – its people and the Mississippi River.”

Formerly the manager of the Great River Passage Initiative for the City of Saint Paul, deLaittre’s new role at the Great River Passage Conservancy allows her to build on her experience leading the strategic development of the 17 miles of Saint Paul’s Mississippi River and focus on building strategic partnerships and raising private resources. 

“The Great River Passage Conservancy is eager to embrace Saint Paul as the River Capital – a city that brings the river to the center of public life, allowing residents and visitors to live not just by the river, but with it,” said deLaittre. “The public sector has invested in this vision, and now it’s the Conservancy’s role to encourage philanthropic investment in this vision as well.”

With 25 years of civic design experience, deLaittre conceives of major city-building projects and develops sustainable organizational structures to ensure their long-term success. Her portfolio includes leading Wayzata’s Lake Effect Park Project, the transformation of the city’s Lake Minnetonka shoreline, as well as the creation of the private fundraising entity for the park – the Lake Effect Conservancy. She developed and managed RiverFirst, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s revitalization effort along 5.5 miles of the Mississippi River. She later became the executive director of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, transforming the organization to focus on its new mission, creating the Next Generation of Parks™.

“Mary is a catalyst for transformative civic projects, bringing her expertise in realizing dynamic public spaces that strengthen our community,” said Eric J. Jolly, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundations and board chair of the Great River Passage Conservancy. “We are thrilled to have her leading our efforts to build greater access to the river across a more diverse community and contribute to the commercial and economic vitality of the river.”

The Great River Passage Conservancy is launching a $2.2 million philanthropic campaign to fund the first phase planning and schematic design of three capital projects. These projects will better connect a more diverse community to the river, improve both community and river health, and support economic development along the river:

  • River Balcony
    A 1.5-mile promenade that transforms urban infrastructure into public space, connecting parks, civic landmarks and private development along Kellogg Boulevard and down to the Mississippi River.
  • River Learning Center and Proposed National Park Service Headquarters
    A year-round gateway to the Mississippi River, providing river experiences that honor, teach and promote stewardship of the river’s unique culture, history and ecology.
  • East Side River District
    A dynamic urban landscape that reveals the complex systems and stories of the East Side, heals a compromised landscape, connects the area to the larger city, and protects culturally sacred sites and sensitive ecological systems.

Learn more about the Great River Passage Conservancy at

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