Photo by Eric Best

Minnesota’s new main street

Updated: November 29, 2017 - 3:00 pm

Two years of construction — and headaches — are over as Nicollet Mall reopens

Minnesota has a new main street.

Nicollet Mall officially reopened in mid-November following a $50 million renovation, which closed the downtown thoroughfare for more than two years to the chagrin of businesses and office workers.

What’s come out of the project are 12 redesigned blocks at the center and cultural heart of downtown. Dozens of people came out to celebrate at a ceremony hosted directly on the recreated street. Surrounding them were new and old sights and sounds of Nicollet Mall, from the recently relocated Mary Tyler Moore statue to new lighting, art and furniture.

“This is an extraordinary day for Minneapolis,” said Mayor Betsy Hodges. “Here we are. We are on Nicollet, everybody.”

nic mall by eb web 4The reopening is especially significant for businesses along the mall that have had to contend with construction and employees who have had to navigate closed sidewalks in recent years. Much of the work on the mall, which has been closed since the summer of 2015, happened below the surface as utilities were updated. In the last lap of construction, an ad campaign used images like that of the statue of Mary Tyler Moore famously tossing her hat into the hair to promise that “we’re going to make it after all.”

Steve Cramer, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council and Downtown Improvement District, said the project to reconstruct more than a mile of downtown’s core moved at a “very quick pace” despite challenges.

More than a simple street reconstruction, the project added several new features to the mall.  James Corner Field Operations, the design firm the city tasked to recreate mall, designed a Light Walk and an Art Walk between 6th and 8th streets where programmable lights line the sidewalks outside the IDS Center. Two signature artworks, including Ned Kahn’s large “Prairie Tree” sculpture and Blessing Hancock’s poetry-clad “Nicollet Lanterns,” were added.

Overall, crews installed more than 1,500 LED lights to the mall, which can be programmed for events or holidays. Hundreds of trees, new movable furniture and designed pavers can be found throughout the mall.

Photo by Eric Best
Photo by Eric Best

Landscape architect James Corner said that though the project looks simple, it was “enormously complicated” to coordinate. The design, which he said is supposed to evoke the state’s landscape, was crafted around a local identity and a goal to inspire interaction.

“We wanted to bring simplicity, clarity, light and space to the street,” he said.

The City of Minneapolis funded the project through $25 million in local property assessments, $21.5 million in state bonding and $3.5 million in city contributions.

City Council President Barb Johnson said she remembered visiting the mall daily as a kid, traveling between North Minneapolis to downtown every day to go to school. When city officials sought bonding money from the Legislature, Johnson said they promoted the mall as a resource for everyone.

“We made the case that this was the state’s living room, and it is. It’s a place for all of us,” she said.

City officials touted that the project has already attracted $300 million in investment with the transformation of the historic Dayton’s building on 7th & Nicollet. As the mall reopens, the department store’s name will return in a new form. New owners have proposed to redevelop the 1.2 million-square-foot complex for new retail and office tenants and a new food hall under the name the “Dayton’s Project.”

“Things have changed. Times have changed. Shopping habits have changed, but our mall has adapted,” Johnson said.

The first iteration of the Nicollet Mall opened about five decades ago and, while many stores and structures have changed, old sights remain. The inner workings of the 1968 Sculpture Clock by Jack Nelson are working again thanks in part to a grant from the Minnesota Historical Society. Kinji Akagawa’s “Enjoyment of Nature,” a series of designed benches first put on the mall during its first renovation in the 1990s, were restored and reinstalled at the end of October.

Photo by Eric Best
Photo by Eric Best

The reopening ceremony was a sign of how the lengthy renovation has passed between city leaders. City officials began planning the renovation under former Mayor R.T. Rybak who passed the baton to Hodges. The last pieces, from additional trees to sculptor Tristan Al-Haddad’s “Nimbus” slated for the Minneapolis Central Library, will be added in the months leading up to and immediately following Mayor-elect Jacob Frey taking office.

nic mall by eb web 5“I won’t be mayor in the coming years, but I will always love Minneapolis. I will always love downtown. And I will always love coming to Nicollet and remembering what it took to get here. After all this, we made it,” Hodges said.

Frey, who represents the north end of the mall on the City Council, thanked Hodges, saying she was an “absolutely critical piece” in realizing the project, which could have been a temporary, surface-level restoration instead of a complete overhaul.

“This is a really significant improvement. We all collectively should be extremely proud. This is the main street not just of Minneapolis, but of Minnesota as a whole,” he said.