Latest Nicollet Mall redesign concepts unveiled

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February 20, 2014 // UPDATED 1:29 pm - February 25, 2014
By: Ben Johnson
A rendering showing one of two glass staircases descending from the skyway across Nicollet Mall
James Corner Field Operations
Ben Johnson
Plan would connect skyways to the streets with two giant glass staircases, create six times more green space

James Corner, head of the Nicollet Mall redesign team, traveled to Minneapolis on Feb. 19 to present an updated vision on what the $50 million project could look like.

The presentation focused on greening the mall at both of its ends and creating a pedestrian island bookended by two glass staircases descending from the skyways on either side of 7th Street.

 The island would route buses – which will be a part of the new Nicollet Mall, along with the planned streetcar – to the edge of the street, and draw pedestrians to the middle of the road for a two-block stretch from 6th Street to 8th Street. Corner said the space could create the opportunity for a diverse set of activities, showing renderings of a rock concert, an ice skating rink and a farmer’s market.

“We want to leverage the fact there are literally thousands of people traveling daily in these skyways and use the steps to connect, to invite people down to the street,” said Corner, who is head of James Corner Field Operations based in New York City.

His most famous project is the High Line, a mile-long park built on abandoned elevated railroad track in New York City. Mayor Hodges toured the High Line last month and noted at the presentation that it is the second-most visited tourist attraction in the city, garnering more annual foot traffic than the Statue of Liberty.

Underneath the glass stairways Corner envisioned a small café or informational kiosk. The concept is similar to the giant red stairway in New York City’s Times Square, which has a ticket booth tucked underneath it.

The giant red staircase in Times Square. -- Photo by Rob Young

After examining what he called “a spaghetti of utilities” that run underneath the mall, Corner determined that far ends of Nicollet are best suited for a grove of new trees. He dubbed the new heavily-planted landscapes Loring Woods, which covers Grant Street to 12th Street, and Mississippi Woods, which runs from 4th Street to Washington Avenue.

“Through a series of generously planted islands we hope to give a palpable impression of being in the woods,” said Corner. Currently green space accounts for three percent of Nicollet Mall's total area, and the new plan aims to bump that up to 18 percent.

Nicollet’s much-maligned broken granite pavers, one of the street’s major problems that led Minneapolis to begin planning the complete overhaul, would be replaced a more stable stamped concrete surface. The road may also be heated to prevent snow from accumulating.

Representatives from the design team and the city stressed that they are only eight percent done with the entire redesign process, so a lot could still change and feedback is encouraged.

“We are 50 percent of the way through the concept design, so now is absolutely the time to weigh in,” said Hodges. Interested parties can visit to take a survey and submit feedback.

Corner will be back again in April to present the final concept design. From there he plans to spend another year tinkering with the design before construction starts next summer. Construction is scheduled to take one year, and the new Nicollet Mall could open in 2016.

Of course, all of that depends on Minneapolis receiving $25 million in state bonding money this spring. That state bonding money would be combined with a yet-to-be-determined assessment on businesses on Nicollet to cover the rest of the project’s $50 million price tag. Last month Gov. Mark Dayton included $20 million for Nicollet Mall in his bonding recommendation.

Ben Johnson // 612-436-5088 // // @johnsonbend