Finalists for Nicollet Mall redesign present tonight at Guthrie

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September 17, 2013 // UPDATED 9:28 am - September 19, 2013
By: Ben Johnson
Mayor Rybak addresses the media in front of Nicollet Mall
Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson

Today representatives from three design teams that submitted proposals for the Nicollet Mall redesign will unveil their concepts at a presentation at the Guthrie Theater at 5 p.m.

In April Mayor R.T. Rybak and city staff solicited proposals from 21 design firms from across the world and last week the three finalists – Daoust Lestage of Montreal, James Corner Field Operations of New York City and Tom Leader Studio of Berkeley, CA – were chosen to present to a panel of 13 design experts. The panel will deliberate Wednesday before announcing on Thursday which firm will head up the 12-block redesign of Minneapolis' most famous thoroughfare.

All three of the firms chosen are internationally respected in the urban design community. Daoust Lestage was recently involved in the redesign of the Quartier des Spectacles, a massive, arts-focused development in the heart of downtown Montreal. James Corner designed High Line public park in Manhattan and was recently chosen for the redesign of Chicago's Navy Pier, and Tom Leader Studio headed up the RiverFirst project on the Mississippi River in Minneapolis and recently designed a highly-trafficked pedestrian corridor at Stanford University Medical School.

Although the Nicollet project has been in the works for several years, it has still yet to secure public or private financing for its estimated $40 million price tag. Last year Minneapolis was denied after asking for $25 million in state bonding for the project, and this year it lowered its request to $20 million. Mayor Rybak was encouraged when Governor Mark Dayton included the Nicollet project in his 2013 bonding proposal, however it was once again left out of the final bill in May.

Undeterred, Rybak has ramped up his push to move forward with Nicollet redesign over the last six months. It served as one of the centerpieces of his last State of the City address in April, when he dubbed the project “Nicollet Green.” In that speech he envisioned Nicollet Mall as an “urban park,” complete with heated sidewalks, ample green space and streetcars stopping at every corner – another of his pet projects that seems to be on the verge of acquiring financing.

“Every single person belongs on Nicollet Mall,” said Rybak on a recent walking tour down Nicollet during a crowded lunch hour. “There are precious few public spaces, especially in the middle of the city, that are this exciting, this vibrant, this welcoming and that include every single person.”

Along the way Rybak pointed out broken pavers and outdated light fixtures, which he says warrants the $40 million redesign. The Downtown Council has said that it spends upwards of $500,000 every year repairing and replacing broken pavers alone. Minneapolis has budgeted $500,000 to help get the Nicollet project going, including a $30,000 stipend paid to each of the three firms presenting today.

 Rybak hopes that Minneapolis will force the state's hand by continuing to move forward with the project, admitting that it will undoubtedly be helpful to show up at the capitol next spring with exciting concept drawings and a concrete plan in place.

“I don't think we want to rebuild it just the way it is. This is a great street because people who built it in the [1960s] said 'we're going to develop not just an o.k. street, but a street that can attract people from all over, and keep businesses in the city,” said Rybak.

In order to fully finance the plan, some of those businesses that call Nicollet Mall home, including Target and US Bank, will have to contribute. Rybak said he is confident that businesses will be happy to contribute after public money is secured, saying last week that business leaders originally approached him about redoing Nicollet.

“Do you want to be Target, where you have the opportunity to have a spectacular building on a beautiful street, with hopefully someday a streetcar coming down there? Or do you want to be Wal-Mart, which is stuck out in the middle of a corn field in Arkansas?” said Rybak.