The renovation of Nicollet Mall — should it occur — will generate about $106 million in additional spending and 860 new jobs downtown.
This was the finding of a recent study commissioned by the city of Minneapolis, and comes after the city requested $25 million in state bonding dollars for an ambitious $50 million redo that involves reconstructing and redefining the public space on the mall. The cost would be shared between public and private sources, according to the report that was released earlier this week.
Although commerce has thrived along the city’s main thoroughfare since the 19th century, the transit mall itself didn’t open until 1968 as retailers and businesses were flocking to the suburbs. The last major reconstruction was in the 1980s, and city officials say the mall is tatty and in dire need of a face-lift.
David Frank, director of transit development for Minneapolis, said, “We’re trying to sell the project [to the Legislature] as an attraction and as a destination. Nicollet Mall is the economic hub of the region.”
Gov. Mark Dayton has suggested $20 million in state funds for the project, while $25 million is expected to be raised through an assessment levied on property owners near the mall. The details of such an assessment have not yet been worked out.
Last fall, the city held a design competition for the overhaul and ultimately hired James Corner Field Operations of New York. The landscape architecture and urban design firm devised a new vision for the mall from Washington Avenue toward Loring Park.
The plan calls for the addition of trees and gardens along the northern stretch of the mall between Washington Avenue and S. 4th Street, dubbed “Mississippi Woods.” Other features include performance space, enhanced lighting and dedicated rights of way for bicycles and buses in a way that supports planned residential and office growth.
The mall’s midsection, between 6th and 8th Streets, has been redefined as “Nicollet Island” with wide stairways facing each other that connect skyways to the street, and space for the farmers market and other events. And the southern portion of the mall south of 12th St. — given the “Loring Woods” moniker — would have an arts and entertainment focus.
Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, a key legislator who chairs the House Capital Investment Committee, said Wednesday that she has some concerns about the Nicollet Mall project. “In meeting after meeting, I’ve listened and listened, and I can’t tell what the concept is. … It’s been something of a moving target.”
Hausman says she’s “not anti-Minneapolis,” but trying to balance the needs of communities throughout the state. “Minneapolis has never done well when they’ve asked us to fund streets because everyone has a street. When we fund something, we want to know it’s one of a kind.”
The report cost the city nearly $15,000 and was conducted by St. Paul-based Donjek and Anton Economics. Jon Commers, principal of the firm, said there was no pressure by city officials to craft a favorable report.
Many of the figures, including the $106 million estimate in additional spending, used multipliers from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. “If anything, we were on the conservative side” on some of the estimates, Commers said.
The report claims that a renewed Nicollet Mall will bring more visitors downtown, especially convention-goers who will spend more on food, liquor, and lodging.
Further, a more pedestrian-friendly Nicollet Mall will produce market premiums for property owners, which may result in higher lease rates and market value, the report says.
Property within blocks of the mall may also see a $57 million increase in value or more over an unspecified period of time. And, committing resources to the project will extend “market certainty about downtown” to those who choose to live, locate and expand there, the report said.