Nestled snugly between the city streets and the river, Water Works Park and Pavilion, which officially opened to the public in 2021, offers everything from history lessons and group fitness to concerts and art—not to mention the award-winning Owamni, one of the buzziest and most celebrated restaurants not just in Minneapolis but across the country.
Water Works is more than a park—it’s a place to honor the past and acknowledge its complicated history while paying respects to the storied river and Indigenous cultures who shaped it.
“There are layers of stories at this site,” says Al Bangoura, superintendent of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. “The Dakhóta, Ho-Chunk, and Ojibwe gathered there for thousands of years. The Dakhóta called it Owámniyomni. It was a rolling series of rapids and islands, including Spirit Island, that held great significance,” he says. Spirit Island was quarried away and Owámniyomni became a spillway as Minneapolis transformed into an industry hub and major midwestern city.
You’ll find reminders of this history all across the park through expressions of art, architecture, and greenery. “We really tried to tell a more complete story at Water Works, acknowledging Indigenous significance through the restaurant, the native plants we selected, the programming we put on, and the art, as well as showcasing the mill remnants we painstakingly unearthed and weaved into the building and grounds,” says Bangoura.
“The Dakhóta, Ho-Chunk, and Ojibwe gathered there for thousands of years. The Dakhóta called it Owámniyomni. It was a rolling series of rapids and islands, including Spirit Island, that held great significance.” Al Bongoura, Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board
He adds that long-buried remnants from the Columbia Flour Mill and Bassett Sawmill were artfully integrated into the pavilion’s incredible architecture, offering conveniences for park visitors and sweeping views of the Mississippi. “The city steps provide a lot of space and places to sit, relax, and take in the river, either by yourself or as a spot to meet and chat with friends or family.” Young children will love unlocking new discoveries as they run around the nature-themed playground, located in a shady spot near the Third Avenue Bridge.
Regardless of how you use the park—walking, biking, eating, fitness classes, or via annual favorites like Aquatennial or Stone Arch Bridge Festival—it encourages you to think more deeply about the land you stand on and the importance of natural resources. Says Bangoura, “Water Works adds much-needed space to relax and refresh, get a drink or a meal, and hopefully reflect on Minneapolis’s fascinating and complicated riverfront history.”
This article originally appeared in the June 2022 issue of Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. Read more on downtown Minneapolis, 2022 summer-style, sponsored by the mpls downtown council, here.