City asks for state funds to renovate Nicollet Mall

The funds are part of Minneapolis’ $33.2 million state bonding request.

Tyler Gieseke

As part of their 2014 legislative agenda, Minneapolis leaders will urge state lawmakers to raise the minimum wage and provide funding for a renovation of Nicollet Mall — a spot they say could become the city’s centerpiece.

The call for a higher minimum wage for hourly and tipped workers matches a proposed bill that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 per hour.

“I think it’s too hard for people to make a living,” said Ward 2 Councilman Cam Gordon, who represents neighborhoods around the University of Minnesota.

The gap between rich and poor has grown in recent years, Gordon said, so he thinks it’s time for the lowest-paid workers to get a raise.

City Council members agreed on their legislative agenda in December, but some University leaders have mixed views on the issues.

Although Minnesota Student Legislative Coalition Chair Matt Forstie said the Minnesota Student Association doesn’t have an official stance on the minimum wage issue, some students oppose the proposed increase.

Raising the minimum wage could harm those the gesture is meant to help, said Adam Motzko, a finance and applied economics senior and co-chair of the University’s College Republicans.

For example, he said, if businesses are forced to pay a higher wage, they’ll hire fewer entry-level workers and it will be harder for those workers to gain experience.

Melissa Lesch, a Minneapolis senior government relations representative, said a large portion of Minneapolis residents earning the minimum wage are families that have children and need an income boost.

The city’s agenda also includes a $33.2 million capital bonding request, which asks for $25 million for the Nicollet Mall renovation, $4.5 million for a storm tunnel and $2.2 million to maintain the Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery.

While the city has tried to get funding for Nicollet Mall renovations in previous years, city leaders say they’re confident that this year will be different.

A revitalized Nicollet Mall could bring communities of different socioeconomic backgrounds together, said Ward 3 Councilman Jacob Frey, who represents neighborhoods around the University.

But Gov. Mark Dayton recommended that the city receive $20 million for the renovation, rather than the requested $25 million.

Frey said he’s moderately optimistic the city will get its full request for the Nicollet Mall project, but he added that items like this can sometimes take several years.

“I don’t think it’s a done deal,” he said.

Lesch said Minnesota’s economy is recovering at a faster rate than other states’ economies, which could help the city’s bonding request.

“We think it’s a good year for a bonding bill,” she said.

Motzko said he opposes the bonding bill process itself because it usually pulls money from across the state to fund projects in certain districts. For example, he said, it’s unfair for Duluth residents to have to pay for projects like the Nicollet Mall rebuild because they likely wouldn’t be able to enjoy them.

Forstie disagreed and said he thinks all projects in this year’s bonding requests are worthwhile. But he said it’s unfortunate the state will likely only be able to provide about $1 billion or less to bonding projects statewide.

‘Stop on red’

In its 2013 and 2014 legislative agendas, the city has supported legislation that would legalize use of photo technology at intersections to catch drivers who run red lights.

Minneapolis used cameras like this in the 2005 Stop on Red program.

Though the city reported that the program was successful, reducing crashes at monitored intersections by 31 percent, the Hennepin County District Court in 2006 ruled against using the cameras.

Lesch said she’s unaware of any bills that would legalize the intersection cameras, but the city’s legislative agenda still mentions support for them so that citizens and legislators will know where Minneapolis stands on the issue.

Cameras like these can be lucrative for cities, Frey said, because they allow police to ticket drivers they might not have caught otherwise.

Having cameras watch for traffic violations can be more efficient for the city, Lesch said, because it frees up police officers for other duties.

“When there are opportunities for technology that can make our police department and other law enforcement agencies more efficient, then we want to explore those technologies,” she said.