NYC design firm chosen for Nicollet Mall redo

A design team led by New York-based James Corner Field Operations has been chosen to give Nicollet Mall a makeover.

The team divided Nicollet Mall into three sections: live, work and play. The "live" section is closest to the river where many high-rise apartments and condos are located. The "work" zone is the central part of Nicollet Mall, and the "play zone" is the farthest south, where Orchestra Hall and many bars and restaurants are located.

Tom Fisher, dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota, said the firm's proposal was impressive.

"What was compelling about the proposal is it saw that there are three  separate areas along Nicollet Mall," Fisher told MPR's Morning Edition. "They've treated those three sections of Nicollet Mall very differently with appropriate kinds of activities in each. I think it will enliven the street and also vary the kinds of activities going on in it."

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Fisher said the redesign of Nicollet Mall is important and will help make downtown Minneapolis more attractive.

"It was in many ways the Main Street and continues to be the Main Street of Minnesota. It's one of the most heavily used pedestrian streets in the state," he said.

City officials hope to cover part of the expected $30 million to $40 million cost in a future state bonding bill. Planners said construction will take place in 2015 and will complete in 2016.

James Corner told MPR's The Daily Circuit that his team wants to make Nicollet Mall more green and more sociable. A bike path is planned, along with more trees and maybe even added park space on the northern edge of the mall to better connect it with the Mississippi River.

"There's a very strong desire to have a more easy, more welcoming and more obvious pedestrian and bicycle connection from Nicollet Mall to the river," Corner said.

Another goal will be improving the connections between Nicollet Mall and the city's skyway system. "If you're on the street, it's not obvious how you enter skyway system and vice versa," he said. An improved wayfinding system is planned, as well as improved connections, such as a glass staircase at the IDS Center's Crystal Court that invites people to come down from the building onto the mall, he said.

Visitors to the new Nicollet Mall will be exposed to a "palpable sense of nature," Corner said. Other visions include a curvier road that allows more space for pedestrians and street cafes, he said.

The design team, which includes a Minneapolis-based architecture firm, will incorporate input from the public into their final design, so the plans the team shared as part of its presentation at the Guthrie Theater this week could change.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said in a news release that he has high hopes for the redesign.

"I'm confident that we've chosen the right team in James Corner Field Operations to transform what is now a very good street into the greatest street in America once again," he said.

Here's one more look at the proposals from the finalists: