After $50 million and 28 disruptive months of construction, the barriers have finally come down on Nicollet Mall, marking its third remake in a half-century. The first was a radical and much-copied transformation of the city's shopping thoroughfare into a pedestrian and transit mall (the work of landscape architect Lawrence Halprin), which debuted to raves in 1967.
An uninspired and arguably unnecessary remake in 1990 lasted roughly the same amount of time. And with its official debut this week, we now have Nicollet Mall 3.0. Designed by James Corner Field Operations (the team behind New York City's famous High Line elevated park), the new mall is notable for its pedestrian-friendly features.
T Transit shelter
Link to the Mississippi River
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The Nic on Fifth
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The Mississippi Woods begins on the Minneapolis Central Library block and links the Cancer Survivors and Gateway parks along with other green spaces creating an open link to the Mississippi Riverfront, with its scenic green spaces and trails.
The Groves will include greenery and a nod to the seasons, with trees that are native to Minnesota. There will be a Nice Ride station and new multi-use transit shelters that are integrated with outdoor seating.
The Center is the most urban area of the 1-mile corridor. The design was inspired by Minneapolis, a city that celebrates light, art and the four seasons. New light poles with artist-designed lanterns appear here. It will feature a Light Walk, where people can gather and participate in a variety events, festivals, performances and markets.
Like its northern counterpart, the South Groves will include greenery. It will also incorporate benches that align together to form curved seating options. The benches will be equipped with Wi-Fi, charging stations and an over-scaled reading lamp.
The Loring Woods starts at Westminster Presbyterian Church. From the Woods, you can access the Loring Greenway, which connects to Loring Park, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and the Walker Art Center.
Graphic by Ray Grumney • Star Tribune
There are twice as many trees as with its predecessor. They’re not the Kmart-esque saplings usually planted on downtown streets, but a handsome variety of towering, mature and greatlooking specimens. Bravo.
Curbs disappear at intersections, and nearly 300 movable, highly colorful chairs are scattered across the mall’s 12 blocks. An LED lighting scheme adds both necessary illumination and playful drama, and glass bus shelters provide a break from the elements as well as clear sightlines (Metro Transit buses return on Dec. 1).
There’s art, too, an outdoor collection second only to the one in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. The sole remnant of Halprin’s mall, Jack Nelson’s “Sculpture Clock,” has been lovingly restored and refurbished. Several commissions from the 1990 mall have also returned, including Kate Burke’s whimsical manhole covers
They’re joined by Ned Kahn’s bold, wind-animated “Prairie Tree,” and Blessing Hancock’s distinctive “Nicollet Lanterns,” a series of suspended, poemcovered spheres. More art is on the way next spring: Tristan Al-Haddad’s “Nimbus” will appear in front of the Minneapolis Central Library, and George Morrison’s granite mosaic “Tableau” (from the 1990 mall) will land near the Loring Greenway’s entrance.
What’s most noticeable, however, is concrete. Lots and lots of concrete, some of it etched with patterns. On the bright side, the lighter (and, dare I say cheerier) color palette is a reversal of the dark, somber (and slick-when-wet) granite paving of the previous mall’s incarnation.
Still, it’s awfully monochromatic. Corner’s earlier mockups, with their prodigious and visually interesting use of pavers (lost to a budget tsunami) are far more compelling. Will this patterned concrete last the mall’s usual 25-year life expectancy? Hard to say.
In the meantime, let’s take a celebratory stroll. Nicollet Mall is back, hurrah.
Jeff Wheeler • Star Tribune