Nicollet Mall redesign team chosen

The community thinks James Corner’s team will revitalize the area.

James Corner Field Designs were selected to lead the renovation of Nicollet Mall, the pedestrian and transit corridor running through the heart of downtown Minneapolis.

Conceptual design courtesy of James Corner Field Designs

James Corner Field Designs were selected to lead the renovation of Nicollet Mall, the pedestrian and transit corridor running through the heart of downtown Minneapolis.

Alexa Billadeau

More than 20 years after its most recent update, Nicollet Mall will soon be modernized with the help of James Corner Field Operations.

The plan, proposed last Tuesday, includes new lighting, paving and furniture to be installed by the end of 2016.

These ideas coincide with the City of Minneapolis’ vision to make Nicollet Mall “more active and vibrant year-round,” project consultant Peter Brown said.

The James Corner team, which includes Twin Cities architects Shane Coen and Julie Snow, was chosen after presenting their ideas to a committee of experts at the Guthrie Theater.

The New York landscape architecture firm’s ideas set it apart from three other finalists competing for the project, said Tom Fisher, dean of the University of Minnesota’s College of Design.

“I think once everyone saw what James Corner and his team proposed, you realize that there are just lots of opportunities along the length of the street,” he said.

Nicollet Mall was last reconstructed in the late 1980s and its design was flawed, Ward 2 City Councilman Cam Gordon said.

The James Corner team suggested restructuring the 12-block street into three business, residential and entertainment zones.

The zones, titled Live, Work and Play, would have unique features depending on the activity there. For example, the Play zone would make use of urban furniture such as outdoor amphitheaters to create a gathering space for visitors, which Spanish and sociology senior Megan Odom said the mall currently lacks.

While working in the area last summer, Odom said she noticed “there isn’t much community space as far as an open area.”

By adding more seating and attaching balconies to the skyway, the design team hopes to create a more social atmosphere.

For Gordon, the addition of more trees is an attractive element of the plan. He said more green space is “much needed.”

Other unique features include bus stops equipped with coffee shops and newsstands, as well as color-coded stair and skyway systems. 

Fisher said the team is “really taking what’s there now in a much different direction.”

He said he thinks the new project, which the team has dubbed “Nicollet Walk,” will attract more students to the University because the light rail connects campus to downtown.

“Students want to go to places that are lively and have a lot of activity, so I think [the renovation] is going to be a recruitment opportunity for the university,” he said.

Although the project is receiving funding from the state to help cover the $30 to $40 million price tag, Brown emphasizes that the details of the design are not set in stone.

“We weren’t picking a plan,” he said. “We were picking a team.”

The designs are up for negotiation before they can be approved by City Council on Oct. 4.

Brown said he’s confident that James Corner Field Operations is “the best team for the project” and will turn Nicollet Mall into a social gathering place for Minnesotans and tourists alike.

“Everybody on the presentation committee is really excited about this team,” he said.  “We think they’re going to do a great job.”