The construction on Nicollet Mall got a burst of green Friday with 21 trees throwing shade over Peavey Plaza, waiting to be planted.
They’re the first of about 500 trees and shrubs that will be planted along Nicollet Mall, a visible sign that the $50 million project’s end is within reach.
“This is the fun part,” said Don Elwood, Minneapolis’ director of transportation engineering and design. “When those trees start going in, that’s when folks are going to say ‘Oh my goodness, that makes such a difference.’ ”
Nicollet Mall closed to vehicles in July 2015. The many months of construction have drawn complaints from business owners and pedestrians, in part because much of the early work was underground and progress was invisible.
Aboveground work began this spring, in tandem with an ad campaign poking fun at how long the project has lasted — even though city officials have repeatedly said the project is on time and on budget. Most of the work will be completed by November, but some detail and landscaping work will continue into 2018.
On Friday, crews working beneath the scorching midday sun were separated from pedestrians by metal barriers covered with new ads touting the project’s progress.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” one ad read. “We still have 244 trees to put in.”
Eight different species were chosen for the project, including river birch, eastern red cedar, northern pin oak, triumph elm and fruit-bearing Allegheny serviceberry. Each tree was selected individually from farms in Minnesota and Illinois. Sterling Arbor, a subcontractor on the reconstruction project, will plant them block by block.
Jim Paul, a division manager for Sterling Arbor, worked his way down the line of trees Friday with a hose connected to a nearby fire hydrant. The 61-year-old said he’s spent half his life doing this work, planting trees at Mall of America, the Walker Art Center, even the Sept. 11 memorial in New York City.
On Monday morning, “a small army” will join Paul to start planting the trees. They’ll keep working through July and pick up again in the fall, with planting times dependent on what’s best for each tree species, Paul said.
Trees have struggled on Nicollet Mall because they had a small growing area with little space to establish roots, Elwood said. The new trees will have space to grow both down and out into multiple layers of soil.
Restaurants with sidewalk seating will have to pack up their tables and chairs while trees are being planted. Brit’s Pub, across the street from Peavey Plaza, will be the first affected, with a patio closure this coming week.
After two summers without patio seating, a few more days won’t hurt, said general manager Shane Higgins. And it’s good to see the project is moving along, he said.
“We’re obviously glad it seems to be coming to an end,” Higgins said. “Fingers crossed, we’ll be done by the end of next month.”