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New Duluth water tank provides public park space and spectacular views

A torii, a traditional Japanese gateway used to mark the entrance to a sacred space, is part of Duluth's newest city park at the northern edge of Canal Park, and is reminiscent of those found in Duluth's sister city Isumi-shi, Japan. (Photo by Esther Piszczek for the Budgeteer)1 / 4
Concrete benches in the new park allow for contemplative viewing of Lake Superior. (Photo by Esther Piszczek for the Budgeteer)2 / 4
Signage marks the distances to each of Duluth's sister cities at the park's entrance. (Photo by Esther Piszczek for the Budgeteer)3 / 4
A spherical concrete sculpture and paving stones depict the streets of Växjö, Sweden on the lake side of the park. (Photo by Esther Piszczek for the Budgeteer)4 / 4

Excuse me, but do you know how to get to Duluth's newest city park,

named --

Oh, wait a minute; it doesn't have a name yet. But you can't miss it -- it's located at the northern edge of Canal Park, high atop the 8.2 million gallon sanitary sewer overflow tank that was completed in January. Structural design features on the tank's exterior reflect elements of the surrounding infrastructure, turning what was once a construction eyesore adjacent to the Lakewalk into a contemplative public space.

The new park space grew out of the city's mandatory compliance with a consent agreement, signed on June 23, 2009, between the city of Duluth, the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The agreement, in part, required WLSSD and the city of Duluth to stop all sanitary sewer overflows into Lake Superior by the end of 2016. The concrete tank, the last of its kind constructed in response to the agreement, is a holding tank for sewage overflow that occurs during rain storms.

"(It's) the perfect opportunity to hide the tank in landscaping and put a park over it," said Duluth parks manager Kathy Bergen. She described the park, which saw its ribbon cutting on Sept. 20, as "a wonderful place to be quiet and contemplative and look over the lake."

Binocular viewers, which will allow the public a closer look at the lake and surrounding area, are expected to be added to the park. Even without them, however, Bergen noted that "the view is spectacular."

Approximately the size of a football field, the park is located on top of the tank, adjacent to Lake Place Park, which connects the city's downtown with the Lakewalk. The city's goal in designing the tank and park space was to complement the natural beauty of the Lakewalk.

"The project went really well. The city's goal was to build a structure that blends in and provides park space for use by tourists and residents, too," said Eric Shaffer, Duluth's chief engineer for utilities.

The city received low- interest loans and grants from the Public Facilities Authority. The entire project, which was completed in three phases, cost more than $20 million dollars. According to Shaffer, the city "spent over $1 million on landscaping and exterior treatments to make [the tank] look good."

The landscaping vegetation will mature next summer, when it is projected that the park will look much different than it does today.

The landscaping was completed by Melinda Appold of Appold Designs, Inc. Appold, a landscape architect with over 15 years of experience, worked closely with the city to make the park's theme, fencing, and exterior match prominent nearby city features.

Appold, at the city's suggestion, continued the Sister Cities theme begun in the adjacent Lake Place Park, which has sculptures from those cities. She represented each of the four -- Växjö, Sweden, Isumi-shi, Japan, Thunder Bay, Ont., and Petrozavodsk, Russia -- by including specific visual elements from each of the cities.

Part of her research included traveling to Växjö, Sweden with the Sister Cities International Program and visiting Thunder Bay in Ontario, Canada.

"Overall, I think it turned out really well. The city really, really went to a great extent to make sure this was a good place for the citizens of Duluth. I was really impressed with working with them," Appold said.

Elements from nearby Leif Erikson park and Interstate 35 are also represented in the tank and park's overall design. The fencing surrounding the park mimics the fencing protecting the Leif Erikson rose garden and the decorative concrete tank exterior matches the texture and Viking theme prominently displayed on one of the nearby I-35 tunnel entrances.

"The city made good design choices," Appold said. "They were very thoughtful and careful about how to work with the Lakewalk."

A few elements key to the park's completion remain. The most notable is the park's name. According to Daniel Fanning with the Mayor's Office, the city solicited ideas from the public, yielding 40 to 50 suggestions.

To narrow down the choices, Mayor Don Ness appointed a task force consisting of local historical experts and others, whittling the selections down to a few with a Sister City theme -- Sister City Park, Sister City International Park, and Sister City Plaza. The Park Commission and the City Council will make the final selection.

"(It was) the first time the name process was opened up knowing the answer will come from the public," Fanning said. "The mayor really wanted to engage the community, and the community certainly didn't disappoint."

Completion of the overall project also included renovating existing structures. The maintenance garage adjacent to the park received a vegetated roof, called a "green roof," that will absorb water runoff. In addition, the public restrooms, which are inside a building at the base of the tank next to the Lakewalk, are now heated and include self-flushing toilets and automatic sinks and paper towel dispensers.