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Minneapolis ramping up efforts for a re-imagined Nicollet Mall

When it was designed nearly 50 years ago, the mall was cutting edge and served as a national model for transit malls. Today, it needs major repairs.

mary tyler moore statue photo
Actress Mary Tyler Moore brought Nicollet Mall into America’s living rooms weekly when she memorably tossed her hat into the air there as Mary Richards, a young television news producer, on the popular TV show.

When Nicollet Mall was designed in 1965, the idea was to bring people back downtown to shop after they had been lured to the fancy, new, enclosed shopping malls in the suburbs.

Downtown Nicollet Avenue became a transit mall back then, moving automobile traffic off the street and replacing cars with buses and pedestrian-friendly sidewalks.

Actress Mary Tyler Moore brought the mall into America’s living rooms weekly when she memorably tossed her hat into the air there as Mary Richards, a young television news producer, on the popular TV show.

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That was almost 50 years ago, when the mall was cutting edge in design and served as a national model for transit malls.

Today the mall needs major repairs, despite being rebuilt in 1990.

Winters have not been kind to the granite pavers installed in that rebuilding project. The heating system under the pavers has failed, leaving a slippery surface that has become cracked and broken.

“After 23 years [since the reconstruction], Nicollet Mall is worn, perhaps a little bit out of date style-wise, and those pavers are becoming increasingly costly to repair and maintain, and they’re unsightly as well,” said Peter Brown, who has been hired by the city as the project consultant for repairing and redesigning the mall (PDF).

Early this year a Nicollet Mall Work Group was formed with City Council Members Robert Lilligren and Lisa Goodman joining members of the Downtown Council to begin conversations about its future.

What they are proposing starts with a design contest that should begin shortly and end when the winning design is selected in September.

“Despite having been reconstructed once, it’s still roughly the same design it was 50 years ago,” Brown said Tuesday, addressing members of the City Council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee.

While the design has not changed much, technology and demographics have changed a great deal, he said.

The total cost for the mall redesign and construction is estimated at $30 million to $40 million.  The project has $550,000 in the 2013 city budget to cover expenses at least through the design competition and the final design process, which could be done by next summer.

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Gov. Mark Dayton has included $20 million for Nicollet Mall in his bonding request, with another $7 million designated for the Walker Art Center Sculpture Garden. The Minnesota House’s bonding proposal currently does not include Nicollet Mall.

Without funds from state bonds, the planning project would have to be funded again next year by Minneapolis.

“I want to be really, really clear — what we are walking on and driving on has to be almost permanent,” said Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy, who added that most of the legislative members she talks to about the project are wary of repeating past mistakes in mall design and construction.

“What is under our feet and what will affect the buildings around it, foundations, really needs to be strong, durable and built for Minnesota,” said Colvin Roy, noting that many of the buildings along the mall have leaking basements because of the current need for surface repairs.

“We want an experienced team that has actually completed projects before, design and construction, firms that have done things in a climate like ours,” said Brown, whose goal is to “create a really active and vibrant street.”

“I will end the discussion with my bid to get the word ‘Mall’ off the name. It’s too retro,” said Colvin Roy, “but it’s not retro enough to be cool.”

In the next few weeks, there will be an open call for design entries from qualified teams. From that group, four teams will be invited to submit plans as part of the design competition. The final design should be completed in June of 2014.

The new Nicollet Mall, or whatever it ends up being called, could be completed by 2015 or 2016.