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To be THE place to meet when going downtown, Nicollet Mall needs help

Nicollet Mall is meant to serve as a magnet for downtown retail, restaurants and entertainment.

Nicollet Mall is meant to serve as a magnet for downtown retail, restaurants and entertainment. Minneapolis has done a fairly good job in making this — unlike some other pedestrian concepts — a destination by keeping the retail and entertainment family-friendly (Barnes & Noble, Holidazzle parades in December and the mini farmer’s market on Thursdays in the summer.)

But it still seems to miss the mark in being THE place to meet for a downtown destination. Unlike Chicago’s Millennium Park or New York’s Times Square, Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis is one of many places downtown that people may go to.

So with a wave of my magic wand, I imagine I am Queen of Nicollet Mall. Here’s what I’d do differently:

1. Connect to the river. The true jewel of Minneapolis is the Mississippi. Nicollet Mall needs to extend to the river and the developing greenway. The several blocks between the river and the north end of the mall are dreary and difficult to manage with a family on bikes.

2. Ban the buses. Despite being a pedestrian “traffic-free” mall, city buses travel up and down the street. If it isn’t the exhaust killing your sidewalk café experience, it is shouting over their loud motors. Without buses running on the street, we could actually create traveling art exhibits in the space, host honest-to-goodness street performances, create a gathering place for public music, and have events on the mall.

3. Go Richard Daley crazy. If hizzoner in Chicago could find the money (usually from deep pocketed local companies) for plants, trees and flowers, so should Mayor R.T. Rybak. In fact, we should tap all of our local companies to make a statement on the new mall: Cargill could donate a plant or two (genetically modified or not); Best Buy could test its kiosk concept and charging stations on the mall; 3M could find funds for a few murals; General Mills should host a few gourmet food trucks; and, of course, Target will dream up something of its own, since the mall is on its home turf. But can we at least begin with plants and flowers?

What do you think? How would you improve Nicollet Mall — or any of America’s pedestrian malls, for that matter?

Here’s my magic wand: It’s good to be the Queen.

Flora Delaney is a retail consultant who blogs here