Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Can you tell the difference between the new and old Nicollet Mall redesigns?

How do you cut $20 million from a major street reconstruction project design without people noticing…


For designers — and now redesigners of the $50 million Nicollet Mall project in downtown Minneapolis hope you keep your eyes on the prize … and off of the ground. That’s where the new design will shift out concrete pavers for poured concrete.

James Corner, of the project’s lead architect James Corner Field Operation, said last week the choice was to make smaller cuts in many elements of the design or concentrate on larger savings in one area. He chose to recommend the latter, in order to retain “the big moves.”

“The big moves for us with Nicollet Mall was always to ensure that it was pedestrian friendly, it was a people friendly street,” Corner said. “We didn’t want to do anything in terms of altering the pedestrian-friendly characteristics of the street.”

As for landscaping, “we’ve not had to remove one tree or scale down the size of trees we were specifying.” And none of the structures will be changed from the designs put out for bid. Neither will the lighting or signage, street furniture or plantings.

So nothing will change from the ground up — but everything will change on the ground. Rather than have a complex design of individual pavers of varying shapes, patterns and colors, the project will use poured concrete — or as Corner calls it “cast-in-place concrete.”

“As a number of people have said, the first thing you think of is the banality of your typical roadway or your typical sidewalk,” Corner said. “But we actually have used poured concrete on a number of important public realm and private or corporate projects very successfully.”

“We believe there are ways to work with poured concrete that are very creative and will produce a really elegant and durable surface,” Corner said. His new design will use different shades, shapes and patterns. Saw cuts will be used in some areas to give the appearance of individual slabs of stone. Drive lanes, walking areas, seating areas and planting areas will be delineated.

“I still feel very positive that we have a great scheme,” Corner said. “We’re simply changing the floor material. It’s a bold move because the tendency is to chip away at a lot of different elements. And if we took that strategy you would have some blocks with pavers and some without, you’d have some blocks with bigger trees and some with smaller trees. You’d have things where the furniture gets cut back or some of the lighting gets cut back.”

Changing “the floor” — plus a decision by the city’s public works leadership to break the project down from one large contract to three smaller contracts and Metro Transit’s offer to pick up the $4 million cost of new bus shelters — is hoped to attract bids within the $35 million construction budget. That budget was blown during the first bid process when just one contractor submitted a bid and that bid was $24 million too high.

If the changes result in better bids, the construction work could begin this summer with completion coming in late fall of 2017 — three months later than first hoped. The $50 million project is being paid for with $21.5 million in state bonds, $3.5 million in city funds and $25 million in special property tax assessments on 7,000 different downtown parcels.

Did the designers succeed in altering their earlier plans for a new Nicollet Mall? These images contain both the before and after designs that swapped out individual pavers for cast-in place concrete in five key segments of the mile-long project — drag the vertical sliders to compare the original designs to the new, paver-less versions.

The Art Walk - This section is on either side of 7th Street. The glass balls - “art spheres” are illuminated at night.

The Light Walk - Opposite the Art Walk, this section features trellises that will reflect sunlight and street lights. It also will house vendors during the weekly market.

Mississippi Woods is the final segment of the design as it approaches 3rd Street. In the center is small “theater in the round.”

The Tree Groves is the section between 5th and 6th Streets closest to the light rail station.

Loring Woods Plaza is the segment in front of Westminster Presbyterian Church at 12th Street.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by John Clouse on 02/15/2016 - 12:18 pm.

    Nicollet Mall

    The changes are drastic. The best solution is to get buses off the Mall. Don’t do this redesign until all of it can be done. Otherwise it will have to be done over in a few years anyway.

  2. Submitted by Mary Jo Schifsky on 02/17/2016 - 12:24 pm.

    Good alternatives!

    Changing the floor material makes common sense! Current pavers and slate pieces are difficult to walk on when newly-laid and just get worse as they heave and move in our winter cold. I look forward to the simplicity of walking on a solid surface, where I don’t have to watch to be sure I don’t catch a heel on a raised paver. I support this design alteration completely.

  3. Submitted by jim hughes on 02/15/2016 - 01:52 pm.

    Elephant in the room

    People want the buses and taxis off of the mall. That desire far outweighs any other factor in the redesign. Yet, it seems to be perpetually off the table. As long as the vehicles are there, nothing really changes.

  4. Submitted by Jerome Hoffman on 02/15/2016 - 06:20 pm.

    Perpetually under construction?

    Now is this the third time the mall has been reconstructed or the fifth time? Will it always be a work in progress? When are they going to get it right? Why does the State and we taxpayers who never use it have to help pay for it?

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 02/16/2016 - 12:29 pm.


      It is a perpetual project with short-term horizons. The Minneapolis Make-Work Mechanism.

      The trellises are great. The attention to pedestrian relaxation, confection and libation is smart and welcomed.

      Why don’t we simply remove the buses and build the canal now?

      I rather like the idea of “Amsterdam Avenue,” don’t you?

  5. Submitted by Wayne Coppock on 02/16/2016 - 08:02 am.

    Actually plenty of us like the buses on the mall

    Now I’ll preface this with the fact I’d much prefer grade separation in the form of a bus tunnel under the mall, however given our regional inability to invest in grade separation for transit that seems like a futile request at this point. So if we’re not going to bury the buses, where do they go? The current Hennepin detour has been a disaster and the third ave routing was even worse. The people who complain about buses on the TRANSIT mall obviously don’t take the bus and have to rely on it. I’ve noticed those that complain about bus riders also complain about panhandlers and use other coded language to describe people they don’t want to mix with. Well tough luck yuppies, other people need to make use of the mall too and there’s nowhere else for them to go unless you can get the state to pony up some real money for a tunnel.

  6. Submitted by Jesse Langanki on 02/16/2016 - 09:06 am.


    It cost $15 million for a private design firm to tell the city to add some trees and chairs to Nicollet Mall? They could’ve done that without tearing it up. The pavers they had before construction were much better than than concrete, so now it’s going to look worse than what they started with.

Leave a Reply