A year after it closed, the Nicollet Mall is finally ready for a $50 million makeover.
Leaders kicked off construction of the mall's new design on Wednesday. The 12-block project will update sidewalks and streetlights, as well as add trees, a place for art and an LED light display.
City officials acknowledge the revamp will be a difficult, disruptive process, but they're confident it will be worth it when it's finished. The project has been in the works since the administration of former Mayor R.T. Rybak. It won $21.5 million in state funding in 2014, with the rest paid by assessments on businesses and residents, and nearly $4 million in city funds.
There's still a lot of construction work left, but city officials say the new street will start taking shape later this year. Final touches are expected to be complete by 2018.
The work runs from storefront to storefront and will be a major disruption for the businesses that face the mall and count rely on customer foot traffic. The project is launching a website to help stores and customers navigate the construction work.
The city commissioned landscape architecture firm James Corner Field Operations to redesign the pedestrian and transit mall, last updated back in 1991. It's the same company that helped design New York's distinctive High Line park and the Central Waterfront in Seattle.
Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges called the iconic mall the city's main street.
"We are at the heart of downtown, and the heart of Minneapolis," Hodges said. "And it's been an extraordinary destination for a generation now, and we get to make it an extraordinary destination for the next generation."
The new design will include groves of trees at each end of the mall, and an outdoor reading room at 12th Street. The street will be straightened in the center of the project and feature an art walk and a light walk with a two-block long LED light installation.
Minneapolis Downtown Council CEO Steve Cramer said the street and sidewalk demolition will start soon.
"Basically starting at the south end of the mall, and working our way north, and I'm pleased to say that several blocks are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2016, and segments of the project will leapfrog, block by block."
On top of the business' construction woes, internet sales are also making it difficult for existing Nicollet Mall stores, like Sports Authority. Its parent company went bankrupt and decided to shut down all its stores this spring.
About a half dozen businesses have already closed along the mall as utility work progressed, including two well-known restaurants. Some downtown residents are also concerned about the project. Clair Selkurt lives on the south end of the mall and says she was disappointed to see some of the planned amenities cut for budgetary reasons — like a plan to use pavers instead of concrete. And the work so far has already been difficult, she said.
"I mean the mall's been like a war zone for quite a while," she said.
Selkurt and others say the mall needed an update — the granite pavers installed in the last redo in 1991 haven't worn well, and can be hazardous for seniors. They're also disappointed that the mall's existing trees have been cut down.
Cramer of the downtown council concedes that the project's impact has been mixed so far.
"The nature of the design is such that it's going to be very pedestrian friendly, that is something that retailers look for," he said.