Major renovations at Raspberry Island near downtown St. Paul are complete, and you’ll now find seating areas, a lighted walking path, a public bathroom addition at the Minnesota Boat Club building and native plants.
Some people still call it Navy Island, because the tiny speck of an island — 2.2 acres — on the Mississippi River just below the Wabasha Street Bridge was once a naval training site. In the early 1990s, it was officially renamed Raspberry Island, its former name. An earlier bandstand built in the 1990s attracted some concerts where patrons brought their own chairs or sat on blankets.
In 1994, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra played a concert there, but while the audience sat on the island, the orchestra was floating in an anchored barge just offshore. One of the requirements was that flotation devices — life jackets — be readily available for the musicians, lest there be a barge malfunction.
Said the late Dick Broeker, riverfront guru at the time: “You’d think just grabbing a cello and hanging on would be enough.”
Musicians and cellos alike were safe for the entire Handel set.
The new, improved accommodations at Raspberry Island can be viewed Wednesday, when Mayor Chris Coleman leads a tour of three city parks.
The Raspberry Island celebration will be part of a tour showcasing the National Great River Park forming through downtown Saint Paul.
It begins at 11:30 a.m. at the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, moves to Raspberry Island at 12:15 p.m. and will be immediately followed by a visit to Chestnut Plaza on the Upper Landing off of Shepard Road. While there, you can peek at the construction going on at the historic grain terminal that will soon be transformed from a major blight on the river into an interpretive history center.