Along with the patterned sidewalks, sculptures and seating, the refurbished Nicollet Mall features a veritable urban forest of nearly 250 birches, oaks, cedars, serviceberries and elms.
Less than a year after they were planted, some of those trees aren’t doing so hot.
The city is watching about two dozen trees that are already wilting across the 12-block area running through the center of downtown Minneapolis. Some are dead. Others are barely hanging on, and city staff will work to keep them alive.
“We’ll know a little more in the summer which ones just aren’t going to make it,” said Don Elwood, director of transportation, engineering and design for Minneapolis.
Elwood said it’s not surprising that some are dying so quickly. The trees, which the city planted in spring and fall of last year, were large and fairly mature, so staff anticipated that some would not take to the soil, he said.
But for some downtown residents, the rash of dying trees along one of Minneapolis’ most visible pedestrian areas contributes to simmering frustrations.
The trees were planted as part of the $50 million reconstruction of Nicollet Mall, home to retailers and popular bars such as Brit’s Pub and The Local. For 28 months, Minneapolis turned the mall into a construction zone, to the dismay of business owners and hundreds of thousands of people who work, live or visit downtown.
Joe Tamburino, chair of the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association, said his organization has for years complained about the city and Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s lack of attention to downtown trees, including those on Nicollet.
The neighborhood association has pitched in $20,000 over the past two years to water the trees and keep them from dying, he said.
“This is another example that’s so frustrating for community members,” Tamburino said. “When the local government drops the ball on something they should be doing, the communities have to pick up the slack.”
That is a separate issue, said Steve Cramer, president of the Minneapolis Downtown Council.
Cramer said replacing the dying trees is simply the last phase of the massive infrastructure project, and the council has been working “in lockstep” with the city to get it done. The trees are also on warranty, so the city will not have to pay to replace them.
“If there are trees that need to be replaced, they’ll be replaced,” Cramer said.