Businesses take over cleanup from the city, and hope to get more fix-up
Nicollet Mall is often regarded as one of the most attractive and well-kept streetscapes in Minneapolis. However, that may be changing. The Mall could start looking worse. Or it could look better. Maybe it will just look the same.
The only thing known for sure is that we'll no longer see city crews doing most daily Mall maintenance.
On Jan. 1, Mall property owners took on most of the housekeeping duties -- such as sweeping, graffiti removal and landscaping -- that they used to pay the city for.
"This could be a big nightmare, or it could also be really special," said Brian Fesler, who works for the Church of Scientology of Minnesota, 1011 Nicollet Mall, and is a member of the Nicollet Mall Advisory Board's maintenance subcommittee.
When Nicollet Mall was built in the mid-1960s, the city designated it as a special service district, meaning Mall property owners paid higher taxes for upkeep and improvement performed by the city. Starting Jan. 1, Mall property owners took on the housekeeping -- but they'll still pay the same amount in special assessments.
The money that had funded cleanup will pay for city crews to fix most of what's broken along the Mall.
"A lot of the streetscape elements haven't aged gracefully," said Mike Kennedy, director of field services for the city's public works department and a staff advisor to the Nicollet Mall Advisory Board, which makes policy recommendations to the City Council and director of Public Works. "There is cracked granite on some light poles. There are drainage and water problems. Some of the planters have been chipped and damaged. The funding hasn't been there to address this."
Shifting funding to fix-up follows complaints in recent years from some Mall property owners and Advisory Board members that they paid the city too much for cleanup.
"There had been some concern about whether or not the maintenance on the Mall has met the expectations for the amount of money we've been spending on it," said Nancy Hite, an Advisory Board representative for the YWCA, 1130 Nicollet Mall.
Still, the Advisory Board did not complete a comparison of how much property owners will spend on maintenance versus what the city spent.
Mall maintenance subcommittee member Sarah Harris, from commercial real estate firm The 614 Company, said a cost comparison couldn't be fair.
"It's really not apples to apples," Harris said. "We're hopeful by transitioning these services to the property owners, there will be a competition where the property owners will seek to have their personality engrained in front of their property in their landscaping. It would be impossible to compare price-wise what the property owners are going to do versus what the city had been doing."
To ensure the Mall remains clean and attractive, the maintenance subcommittee formed block clubs to coordinate the property owners on the Mall's 12 blocks.
Property owners have also received a resource manual that describes the duties for which they will be responsible and tips on when and how to do their chores. For example, the manual sets out that graffiti should be removed immediately and special graffiti removal cleaners should be used. The manual even has instructions on which types of flowers are best for a Minnesota climate -- durable annuals such as impatiens and zinnias -- and how to care for them.
With each block coordinating its own cleaning and landscaping, Mall maintenance subcommittee members know Nicollet won't appear as uniform as it had under city supervision -- and they think that might be good.
"The city was going for a consistent look from north to south and an even amount of effect in each location. We're really hoping that the property owners see this as an opportunity to really enhance their property and get their personality out on the street," Harris said. "We are not setting requirements for types of landscaping, rather that all planters need to have landscaping and it needs to be adequately maintained."
Said Fesler, "We might not have all red flowers, but hopefully they'll be all pretty flowers."
Fesler said a best-case scenario might be similar to the very decorative portion of the Mall outside the U.S. Bancorp building, 800 Nicollet Mall. "They have all those boulders and they already had their own maintenance people. Some properties were already doing more than the city had been doing," he said.
When the city performed all of the Mall maintenance, property owners really had no choice but to pay for it, since taxes are law. Some tenants along the Mall admit they're worried a neighbor might not keep his or her sidewalk clean and vibrant.
"We realize some property owners might not take care of their property," Fesler said.
Although the Advisory Board has no legal authority to force property owners to clean their sidewalks, the board will use a system of peer pressure. Neighbors can talk to or write to the offending property owner, informing him or her of the maintenance issue. If that doesn't work, the volunteer Mall coordinator will get involved. If the problem persists, the offending property owner will attend a hearing by the Mall maintenance subcommittee and the Advisory Board.
According to Fesler, if the problem still doesn't go away, board members would probably be able to find the property owner in violation of a city ordinance in relation to litter or graffiti.
Until Jan. 1, city crews did all maintenance and housekeeping on Nicollet Mall. This describes which chores property owners now do, and which ones stay with the city.
Duties switching to property owners
Cleaning sidewalk surfaces
Cleaning bus-shelter floor and surfaces
Cleaning tree pits
Graffiti removal - all surfaces
Power-washing streetscape elements (bus shelters, kiosks, planters, benches, light poles, banner poles, signage standards, etc.)
Hanging flower baskets
Weeding and maintaining flowers
Preparing planters for pine boughs by city
Resetting tree grates
Providing water to temporary planters and hanging baskets
Duties staying with city crews
Bus-shelter glass graffiti etching
Emptying trash containers
Setting temporary planters (at request of property owners)
Placing winter pine boughs
Placing winter holiday lights
Maintaining irrigation systems in permanent planters
Maintaining public art pieces
Repairing structures and fixtures
Repairing sidewalk tiles
Repairing and replacing lighting
Repairing general electrical system
Providing electrical service
Providing water to irrigation system