Mississippi River Learning Center | FAQ

photo by: Erin D. Carter
SITE LOCATION AND ENVIRONMENT

While the proposed location for the River Learning Center is on the banks of a dynamic river, the building will not be in the flood plain. Nevertheless, we plan to use architecture design and construction systems that are appropriate for building in this environment.

Watergate Marina has a new vendor with a multi-year contract with the City of Saint Paul, and current plans for the River Learning Center include a marina. The Great River Passage is engaging residents and boat owners about this new marina through the current schematic design process.

As a part of the schematic design process, we are exploring ways to make the site more visible from the top of the bluff as well as create connections into the surrounding neighborhoods.

NATIVE AMERICAN ENGAGEMENT AND SIGNIFICANCE

The Great River Passage Conservancy has cultivated long-term relationships with tribes since its formation, and as the project and design teams engage the community in the schematic design process, we are continuing to prioritize Native communities to ensure this project is respectful to the land’s history and significance to Dakota people.

It is our responsibility to work with Native communities to understand and evaluate the site from a cultural perspective. Our community engagement partners at 106 Group are putting together a report on significant Dakota sites in the area as part of the schematic design process.

From the very beginning, we have engaged with tribes, the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council and Native organizations on a cultural, spiritual and programmatic basis. Our goal is to manage this space in a way that reflects native values and has minimal impact on the river and the environment.

OPERATIONS AND PROGRAMMING

The City of Saint Paul will own the River Learning Center, with tenants such as the National Park Service, Mississippi Park Connection and Wilderness Inquiry leasing space. The management structure will be similar to some of our other partner sites such as the Wellstone Center and the Wakan Tipi Center, where the city will own the property and partners will manage and maintain it.

The River Learning Center will be a statewide asset with year-round programming that honors, promotes stewardship of, and teaches the culture, history, and ecology of the river. Programs will be rooted in authentic hands-on experiences to learn from and with the river. The City and a variety of partner organizations will offer programming at the site, from boating to ecology to cultural experiences.

People of all backgrounds and abilities should be able to access the river, and we will strive to accomplish this at the River Learning Center. All buildings constructed must be ADA accessible, and a variety of programming will be offered to ensure that opportunities exist for everyone.

The City of Saint Paul, National Park Service/Mississippi Park Connection, Wilderness Inquiry and all our programmatic partners are committed to improving access to the river for people of all backgrounds. Offering affordable programming is one important way to accomplish this.

River Learning Center programs will celebrate the evolving culture of the river locally and nationally. The programs will create and deepen the relationship between people and the river, exploring river heritage to actively create the contemporary and future culture of the Mississippi River.

Representative Betty McCollum, who chairs the House Interior-Environment Subcommittee, has expressed support for the project. The City of Saint Paul and National Park Service have a Partnership Agreement which identifies the City of Saint Paul as the owner and project lead and the National Parks Service as the tenant and project partner. This agreement solidifies the federal government’s support for the project.

PROCESS

The City and the Great River Passage Conservancy hired a team led by W Architecture & Landscape Architecture to complete the schematic design of the River Learning Center, which includes engaging the community. Community engagement began in February 2022 and continues throughout the spring and summer, with the final design, cost estimates, phasing and partner roles and responsibilities to be delivered by fall 2022.

The design and engagement team are taking a multi-pronged approach to engaging the community, with the consultation of partner, advisory and technical committees as well as conducting focus groups with historically underrepresented communities and programming partners in recreation, education and tourism. Community workshops and surveys are also being used at key points in the process to collect feedback on initial ideas and concepts. The Conservancy also has a contract with Full Circle Indigenous Design to work with the four Dakota tribes and local native community members. To learn more, visit https://greatriverpassage.org/projects/river-learning-center/.

After schematic design is complete, partner roles and responsibilities will be finalized, and a finance strategy will be put in place. Depending on finances, construction documents will be completed, and construction will begin.

The River Learning Center was first envisioned in the Great River Passage Master Plan, which was adopted by the Saint Paul City Council in 2013. Significant community input was conducted as part of the planning process. The City of Saint Paul and Great River Passage Conservancy are currently conducting additional community engagement as part of the schematic design process along with their design and engagement partners, W Architecture and 106 Group. To learn more, visit https://greatriverpassage.org/projects/river-learning-center/.

The estimated cost of the building will be determined through the current schematic design process. The project will be funded by public and private dollars. In the 2022 legislative session, the City of Saint Paul is seeking $20 million in bonding to build the River Learning Center.

While the maintenance costs have yet to be determined, much of the ongoing upkeep of the building will be funded by revenue from tenants who lease the space.

The project will be funded by a combination of public and private dollars. The River Learning Center will be a statewide asset. It will serve as the gateway to the Mississippi River, welcoming residents and visitors to this national center and parks headquarters with four-season programming that honors, promotes stewardship, and teaches the culture, history, and ecology of the river.

Tax Increment Financing will not be used to fund the River Learning Center.

The timing for when the River Learning Center will open is yet to be determined. The schematic design process will be completed by fall 2022 and will provide more details on the budget and finance strategy, which will influence the timeline for construction.