As efforts to bring in a star designer get started, plans to replace the I-35W bridge won't likely be slowed to do so, transportation officials said.
For Twin Cities design aficionados, a new Interstate 35W bridge across the Mississippi River presents a chance to build a breathtaking landmark with a world-renowned bridge designer.
While aesthetics will play a part in planning the new span, transportation officials indicated Monday that the project won't be slowed to bring in a big name; any star-quality design will have to come through the teams of contractors already vying to build the new bridge, they said.
That's not stopping efforts by a handful of local design fans, led by real estate consultant Peter Kitchak, who want to see it happen.
Kitchak has discussed the possibility with Spanish architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava, who has designed bridges around the globe and recently helped expand the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Calatrava has expressed interest in the project and sent his son, who works in his firm, to see the site in Minneapolis, according to a spokeswoman.
A Kitchak employee talked with four teams vying for the bridge project -- a fifth, KTM Constructors, dropped out of the running over the weekend. The teams, Kitchak said, have indicated "lukewarm" support for the idea of bringing Calatrava on board.
The firms said that they already have designers and that it would be hard to switch with a deadline for proposals coming in mid-September.
Kitchak said he and others have appealed to Gov. Tim Pawlenty to slow the process if necessary. Brian McClung, a spokesman for Pawlenty, said Monday that his office already indicated to MnDOT that design should be a part of the scoring for the proposals. Aesthetics count for 20 percent of a proposal's technical score.
"From our perspective, if any designer is interested in being part of the 35W bridge rebuilding, they have the opportunity to team up with a contractor," McClung said. "The opportunity is there."
MnDOT hasn't indicated plans to change its current design process. Bringing Calatrava on board is "a decision the teams need to make on their own," said Jon Chiglo, bridge project manager.
How the process is set up now
The agency has implemented a visual quality team to provide guidance and feedback on designs for the bridge, however. That group, which includes representatives from MnDOT, the National Park Service, the city of Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the State Historic Preservation Office and the Friends of the Mississippi River, met Monday with the four remaining contracting teams.
"These teams do have some very good architectural experts," said Kevin Western, who heads the visual quality team.
Team member Irene Jones, outreach director for the Friends of the Mississippi River, pointed out that hers is the only citizen group involved. She said she thought MnDOT had already narrowed design possibilities.
Western said that the site was more of a limiting factor than the timetable. For example, he said, the river gorge at that spot isn't deep enough for a single arch to span the river, so an arch design had to be ruled out.
It was unclear Monday evening why KTM decided to drop out.
A spokesman for the joint venture between Kiewit Corp., Traylor Bros. and Massman Construction declined to give a reason. "We don't comment on a project unless and until it's been awarded to us," spokesman Kent Grisham said.
Missing an opportunity?
Some local designers say the Twin Cities are building a reputation for design and starting to lure tourists interested in architecture. It would be a missed opportunity not to capitalize on that with an iconic bridge, they argue.
Tom Fisher, dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota, said it doesn't necessarily have to be Calatrava -- he mentioned Swiss bridge designer Christian Menn as another possibility -- but a well-known designer should be involved, he said.
The bridge collapse got international attention, Fisher said, and "whatever we do there is going to get international attention. ... If you have to hire a bridge designer anyway, why not hire a good one? ... I just think it's a no-brainer."
After learning of Calatrava's interest, Beverly Hauschild-Baron, executive vice president of the American Institute of Architects Minnesota, said the group would likely try to lend support for the idea of getting him on the project.
"He's a tremendous designer and has some incredibly wonderful examples of bridges that would certainly elevate what is going on here in Minneapolis," she said.
Kitchak, president of Keewaydin Real Estate Advisors, which managed the architectural selection process for the new Guthrie Theater, said he stood at the theater site a few years ago and thought that with the Jean Nouvel-designed theater and the Frank Gehry-designed Weisman Art Museum on the river already, all the city needed was a Calatrava-designed bridge.
After the I-35W bridge collapsed, Kitchak said he talked to Calatrava about the site being at "more or less the working headwaters," of the country's great river. He said Calatrava did some preliminary work and sent some ideas back.
"The interest is very real," Kitchak said. "It's not just a casual 'well, I might be kind of interested,' ... there was some very real conversation."
Other cities are trying out Calatrava's work. A highway bridge in Dallas and a commuter rail station at ground zero in New York are both slated to be Calatrava designs, though both projects have made headlines for exceeding budgets.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said Monday he agrees that design is an important element, but that it doesn't necessarily have to have a far-away name attached. "As someone who loves great architecture and represents a city that is in the cutting edge of design, we should be using the world-class architects of Minnesota first," he said.
But with the fast timetable, he said, he's had to worry more about other concerns for the new bridge -- namely transit.
Rybak said that if the bridge design ends up being "more straightforward," he is interested in making a memorial on the nearby 10th Avenue Bridge "that could also include a great piece of design."