In its first major update since the 1980s, Minneapolis’ “main street” will attempt to build off an urban resurgence by dedicating a wavy, tree-lined promenade to three basic uses: live, work, and play.
City officials solicited proposals for Nicollet Mall earlier this year. About 140,000 employees currently use these 12 blocks of downtown daily, according to the city, so the design competition sought more than an update.
“We can either rebuild this street as a perfectly fine mediocre street,” said Mayor R.T. Rybak in a video for the city's website, “or we can build this as the great street that a great city deserves.”
The winning bid came from James Corner Field Operations — famous for their work on New York’s High Line, and London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park — along with local firms Julie Snow Architects and Coen+Partners.
The project comes amid a wave of development downtown, including plans from Minneapolis-based UrbanWorks Architecture and Minnetonka-based Opus Development to replace a downtown parking structure with a cluster of high-rises. Rybak said he expects the Nicollet Mall redesign to continue that trend.
Nicollet Mall already counts among its public spaces Peavey Plaza—the M. Paul Friedberg “park plaza” that narrowly averted demolition after a preservationist lawsuit earlier this year.
Field Operations’ design turns the outdoor mall into more of a civic walk, James Corner told AN, connecting the city’s two epicenters of “nature and culture”: the Mississippi riverfront at the street’s northeast terminus, and the Chain of Lakes beginning at its southwest. Details will come after a series of public meetings; Corner said programming could vary block by block, while an overall design vocabulary would be consistent.
“We’ve got the good bones of a conceptual approach,” Corner said. “It is a great opportunity to create a great public space right through the heart of Minneapolis. There’s so many new businesses and users of Nicollet Mall that it should be the best it could be.”
A trench drain and porous pavement in parts reduce stormwater runoff, along with an underground retention basin and periodic plantings of oaks, elms, aspens, maples and birch trees. The street meanders along Nicollet Mall, creating varied spaces along each block and corner for programming. What goes in each space will depend on public input, Corner said, but will fit with one of three major themes.
“Work,” at the walk’s center, could feature widened sidewalks, newsstands and bike shelters, for example, while the “Play” zone between 11th and 12th streets would have space for public art and outdoor dining. Concepts for “Live,” nearest the Mississippi River, show social seating areas and a public fire pit.
“By working with the curvature, adapting it depending on what’s happening on each block, it creates a larger public space,” Corner said. “The strength of the curvilinearity is that it creates these wider public spaces.”
Numerous skyways connect the high-rises that line Nicollet Mall, but wayfinding between the walkways and the streets they overlook is currently a challenge, Corner said. The design team is investigating a color scheme—a “yellow ribbon” pattern, perhaps — to make connections more obvious. Similarly, conceptual renderings show “light beams” several stories high along the mall itself.
Mayor Rybak counted Target’s decision to locate their headquarters downtown as a victory for Minneapolis’ economic development. The retail giant hired Julie Snow Architects to carve out a “non-corporate” HQ from a former shoe-store at Nicollet Mall and South 10th Street. U.S. Bancorp, which owns U.S. Bank, also located its headquarters along Nicollet Mall.
Plans to expand light rail service in the area could encourage growth, Rybak said. The area is already home to the busiest bus stop in the state. Field Operations’ design leaves room for active transportation elements, and Corner said the team is investigating putting bike lanes in the middle of the street, separated from traffic.
Construction is scheduled to begin in 2015 with an expected completion date in 2016. The city will fund the project, which is expected to cost between $30 and $40 million, through a mix of state bonding and fees on private businesses along the street. The structure of those fees has not been determined.
Nelson/Nygaard, SRF Engineers, Tillotson Design Associates, Kestrel Design Group, and Cost Construction Services also contributed to the design proposal.