Visitors to Nicollet Mall today likely aren't drawn to the corridor to view its public art, but city officials hope that will change with its reconstruction in 2016.

The creation of a "large-scale iconic artwork" is among the goals city officials have for Nicollet Mall, outlined Tuesday at a City Council committee meeting about soliciting artists for several commission opportunities. Nicollet Mall is the second largest collection of public art in the city after the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

"The collection does not have really a signature work, a work that is a draw to the mall," said Mary Altman, the city's public art administrator. The $50 million reconstruction project budget includes $500,000 to commission such a piece.

That's not to say the city hasn't tried before. It famously paid $350,000 in the early 1990s for a unique "ice fountain" in front of Gaviidae Common, which would use misting holes to create a winter ice sculpture. It was designed by renowned Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar, who has built similar structures around the world (such as Anchorage).

But the fountain (below) proved costly to maintain and potentially dangerous for pedestrians -- since some water could become sidewalk ice -- so it was decommissioned. The city initially gave it to Maplewood, but that plan also fell through because of high costs. It is now in the hands of Eden Prairie-based Commercial Aquatic Engineering.

Above: The Nesjar sculpture on the Mall (courtesy Greg Stoks)

There are currently 16 pieces of public art on Nicollet Mall, only some of which will reappear in the redesign. The publicly-owned pieces include the Sculpture Clock beside Peavey Plaza — a mainstay from the 60s reconstruction — the Three Bird Fountain on 9th Street and about 80 artist-designed manhole covers. Seven of the works are privately owned, including T.V. Land’s well-known Mary Tyler Moore statue.

The budget includes $200,000 for someone to lead a team of local artists to create small works, which will likely focus on the lanterns between 6th and 8th Street, Altman said. Another $250,000 is being set aside to create a "key feature," such as the proposed theater in the round outside the library.

The city will spend several months determining which artworks should remain on the mall, in consultation with its art commission. Works will be relocated or put into storage following that process, which could be later this year or in 2016.

The discussion Tuesday morning also turned to the larger changes in the project, such as the elimination of a proposed stairway into the skyway system. Council Member Cam Gordon said he was "dissapointed" to see it go.

"I'm wondering if there were thoughts of any other way of connecting to the skyway," Gordon said. "Because when I saw the connection to the skyway I could see that at lunchtime downtown, people just pouring out onto the Mall...and it would really get a lot of use and really offer the potential to kind of bridge that divide between street life and our skyway life that we kind of have downtown."

The city's transit-oriented development director David Frank said the private ownership of these skyways means the city would need owners' permissions to make the stairway possible. He said logistical, operational, maintanence and legal hurdles made the plan impossible.

Gordon said it points to a larger issue about "who actually gets to control the skyways and do we have the right solution right now. Because I know there's parts sometimes that get closed earlier than other parts, and who's in charge of security comes up at various meetings."

Gordon also inquired about bus shelters included in December renderings of the Nicollet Mall redesign (above), which offer minimal protection from the elements. The current circular shelters are among the warmest in the city -- outside of transit centers.

Frank said those renderings are very preliminary, and they have consulted Metro Transit on the most appropriate shelter construction.

"You will see soon something that is more robust," Frank said. "It might still have a fair amount of glass to it, but it will I think offer more protection than what you saw...in the presentation."