City seeking new ideas for Nicollet Mall

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April 12, 2013 // UPDATED 12:39 pm - April 16, 2013
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter
Nick Halter
Design firms to compete for a chance to redesign the mall

It’s Main Street for Minneapolis, a place where 140,000 downtown employees go to eat lunch, grab a drink or do some shopping when they come down from their office towers. Another 35,000 downtown residents use it almost daily.

City and business leaders are preparing to redesign Nicollet Mall, opening up a competition among architects to come up with the best vision for the one-mile stretch through the core of downtown.

Redesigning Nicollet Mall has been a top priority for the City Council and Minneapolis Downtown Council for two years. It’s part of the Downtown Council’s 2025 vision.

“Minneapolis, with this Nicollet Mall design, I believe, should set the standard for the great new urban street,” said Mayor R.T. Rybak.

Rybak and Minneapolis Downtown Council President and CEO Mark Stenglein agree that whatever the new Nicollet Mall looks like, it should be greener, more pedestrian friendly, have more sidewalk cafes and connect to other city amenities.

“It would really essentially make Nicollet Mall a pedestrian friendly walking mall from the Walker to the (Mississippi) River,” said Downtown Council President and CEO Mark Stenglein.

Nicollet Mall in 1991 was paved with granite, and that material has proved to be both attractive and unfit for Minnesota. Freeze and thaw cycles have caused cracking and buckling, and the Downtown Council last year predicted it would spend about $500,000 a year repairing and replacing pavers.

The city has already authorized a half million dollars to plan for a new Nicollet Mall, but plenty of questions still remain about the project.

Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed $20 million for Nicollet Mall in his borrowing bill this legislative session, but the Legislature has yet to act on that bill.

The city expects the surrounding business owners to chip in the remaining $10 million to $20 million for the project through assessments, but property owners haven’t given signaled their support for that idea, or at least not yet.

“We haven’t endorsed anything on that, but it’s a gap that’s going to have to come from somewhere, we understand that,” Stenglein said.

Rybak said the city cannot go forward with the status quo — a crumbling Nicollet Mall.

“It is critical for us to continue to move forward with a design that hopefully will be implemented with state bonding money and if that doesn’t happen, we have to figure out somehow what is Plan B,” he said.

Rybak laid out a vision for Nicollet Mall in his 2013 State of the City Address in early April, calling it Nicollet Green.

“Sidewalk cafes and boutique retails come together with office workers, condo residents and bikers in a 10-block urban park that delivers on our vision connecting the Chain of Lakes to the riverfront,” he said.

Steam from the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center heats Nicollet Green’s sidewalks and planters in Rybak’s vision for Nicollet Green.

Another key piece still remains up in the air: whether buses or streetcars will run up and down Nicollet Mall.

Right now, Nicollet Mall is a street that is only used by buses and taxis. Some city leaders want streetcars to run along Nicollet Mall, the middle of a 9-mile line from Central Avenue in Northeast to Nicollet Avenue in Southwest.

But the city is still studying where exactly a streetcar route would go. Plus, the city doesn’t yet know how much a line would cost and who would pay for it.

Rybak said he expects architects to provide options for a mall with and without streetcars.

“My full intent is to come forward with a new Nicollet Mall that has streetcars,” he said. “I recognize not everybody is there, so the designs need to reflect that as an option.”

The city has created an implementation committee that includes Rybak, City Council members Robert Lilligren and Lisa Goodman, architect Neil Reardon and members of the Downtown Council.

City staff plans to send out a request for vision ideas by early April. If things go accordingly, a winning architect would be selected in September. Construction would be completed by 2015 or 2016.