Design experts: Nicollet Mall makeover has great potential

Nicollet Mall sketch
The Minneapolis Downtown Council released this vision for the Nicollet Mall redesign in December 2011 as part of the council's Downtown 2025 Plan. The Minneapolis City Council has selected four design firms to come up with their own plans for Nicollet Mall as part of a design competition.
Photo courtesy Minneapolis Downtown Council

Two University of Minnesota design experts said they hope a competition to redesign Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis leads to a makeover that will make the city famous.

The city has selected four firms as finalists to compete against each other to redesign the corridor, which city officials hope will include street cars.

The city's competition originally attracted 22 firms, said City Council member Kevin Reich.

"We certainly have generated a lot of national interest," Reich told MPR's The Daily Circuit.

It's been 23 years since Nicollet Mall was last redone, and Reich said it's about time. There have been problems with leaking walkways and the street's surface needs work.

"It's sort of tired aesthetically, but more importantly it's had some fundamental failures," Reich said. "The awarded group will go and try to get in the history books of design."

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Tom Fisher, dean of the University of Minnesota College of Design, said there are opportunities to make Nicollet Mall safer — perhaps even by putting pedestrians and mass transit in the same space as some cities in Europe have done. Fisher said he thinks it's also important to somehow link Nicollet Mall with Target Field and the new Minnesota Vikings stadium.

"Seeing all of this as linked open space is the design challenge," he told The Daily Circuit.

Fisher said designers also have a chance to add better connections to the skyway system and try to make it a public area that's a year-round destination.

Nicollet mall
This Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013 shows Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis.
AP Photo/Jim Mone

"I think it's a really vital space," he said. "It's the Main Street of the state in many ways."

City officials don't yet know how much money will go into the redesign. They plan to request bonding money from the state next year.

Two years ago, a group of University of Minnesota graduate students came up with their own ideas of how Nicollet Mall should be designed.

For that exercise, Lance LaVine, the professor who organized the project, decided to divide Nicollet Mall into two to three-block sections instead of thinking about it as one long linear space.

"[Nicollet Mall is] never conceived of as a public place. It's conceived of as a street," LaVine said. "Public places are made by what's at their edges. They have to be point-central."

LaVine said the student project yielded a series of connected public spaces, not just one Nicollet Mall. The idea is similar to the Ringstraße in Vienna, where a circular road is connected with a series of public squares, he said.

"If we did it, we would be famous. If we redo Nicollet Mall as one more linear path, it can't make a very big difference," LaVine said. "I walk through Nicollet Mall twice a week, and I find it really, really depressing."