Minneapolis seeking $64 million for city, park projects

  • Article by: BILL MCAULIFFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 20, 2014 - 9:14 PM

Face-lifts for “dated and degraded” Nicollet Mall and slowly sinking Sculpture Garden are high on to-do list.

Nearly 325,000 visitors each year stroll through the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Many of them walk out with wet shoes because it’s slowly sinking into the creek bed below.

A mile east, Nicollet Mall has a raft of problems: defective streetlights, heaving and slippery pavements, and few trees to shade the flaws. A renowned landscape architect recently described it as cluttered, uninviting and “dated and degraded.”

As a result, the two attractions will once again be at the top of the wish lists the city and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will be taking to the Legislature in hopes of getting some major reconstruction funding in this session’s bonding bill.

Each is seeking more than $30 million for its headliner projects, most of which have been in funding requests at the Capitol for several years already. City and Park Board officials say Nicollet Mall and the Sculpture Garden are both regional attractions whose overhauls will continue to spark tourism and other economic development. But once again they will be thrown into competition with the state’s colleges and universities, prisons and even the State Capitol itself for part of what could be nearly $900 million the state will borrow for building projects.

The Minneapolis list

The city will ask the Legislature for $25 million for the mall, but that’s only half the money that might be required to pay for what’s being designed and proposed by architect James Corner, who also designed New York City’s famed High Line. Another $25 million would come from assessments on businesses.

In a public presentation Wednesday at the Minneapolis Central Library, Corner showed images of a much more wooded mall, with broad connections from skyways to the street, a transformation of the intersection with 7th Street into a retail, entertainment and transportation square, fire pits and heated, permeable and slip-resistant pavement.

The aim is to make the mall “greener, more social and more eventful,” Corner said.

Mayor Betsy Hodges said the project is not just about redoing the streets: “It’s creating and re-creating an attraction to bring growth and vitality to the region.”

Other Minneapolis priorities:

• Storm tunnels. $4.5 million would match state funding to repair and alter some epic-scale stormwater tunnels beneath Interstate 35W both north and south of downtown. The tunnels, 8 to 14 feet in diameter and up to 100 feet below the surface, were installed a half-century ago and are deteriorating, and city officials emphasize that they need to be replaced before they create safety problems. Although the Minnesota Department of Transportation owns the tunnels, the city, by long-standing agreement, maintains them.

• Pioneer and Soldiers Cemetery. $2.3 million from the state would be matched with $1 million in local funds to cover repairs and improvements to the historic cemetery’s decrepit steel-and-limestone fence.

• Drinking water backup. The city is seeking $1.5 million, with another $8 million to follow in future requests, to design and begin construction of a well-water system in case a disaster of some kind might make the Mississippi River an unusable source.

The Park Board list

Its run at $8.5 million for the Sculpture Garden will be the fifth attempt at state bonding for improvements to the park that is owned by the Park Board but operated by the Walker Art Center. The park known for the iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture is suffering from bad drainage, grass that won’t grow, dying trees, crumbling concrete and a lack of access for the disabled.

Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, chair of the House Capital Investment Committee, who will be writing the House bonding bill, said the Sculpture Garden request has political risks, since it is widely viewed as an arts project and not a capital project. In a way, she said, Spoonbridge and Cherry can make it a target.

“If you can pick out one project and make fun of it, you can kill the whole bill,” she said. “It’s always easy to say the bill is too big, or has the wrong things in it.”

Other Park Board priorities:

  • WHAT THEY WANT

    Minneapolis: $33.3 million for Nicollet Mall, storm tunnels, water backup system.

    Park Board: $31 million for Sculpture Garden, trails, island restoration.

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