By the end of the year, the Mary Tyler Moore statue will be back on Nicollet Mall, along with brightly colored Adirondack chairs and 250 freshly planted trees.
The Nicollet Mall reconstruction project is on track to finish on time and on budget — a fact Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges repeated three times at a news conference Friday morning — and is expected to be largely complete by November after a busy summer construction season. "The renovation of Nicollet Mall has an end in sight," Hodges said. "Yay!"
The downtown thoroughfare has been closed to vehicles since July 2015. Patience has run thin among business owners and pedestrians in the time since, in part because most of the work was happening underground and progress wasn't visible. "We know it's been a challenge, but we hope and believe very strongly that it's going to be worth it," said Steve Cramer, president of the Minneapolis Downtown Council.
The $50 million overhaul hit a snag early on when the only bid came in $24 million over budget. Some cost-shifting and the decision to use concrete instead of pavers got the project, designed by James Corner Field Operations, back on track.
Underground utility work lasted until June 2016. Aboveground work at a heightened pace will kick off Monday and last through the summer, Cramer said. Street-level construction will start with "an enormous amount of concrete" being poured, starting on the southern end of the mall and moving north, Cramer said. Streetlights will be added later, along with public art, including 12 globe-shaped metal lanterns encircled by poems that will be installed in front of the former Macy's and City Center.
Once complete, Cramer said, Nicollet Mall will be home to the second-largest public art collection in Minneapolis after the sculpture garden at the Walker Art Center.
Pedestrians navigating Nicollet Mall on Friday morning crossed back and forth over the torn-up street to avoid sidewalk closures, alongside a few construction workers scattered across the vast stretch of dirt that's replaced the roadway.
Willie Jones was loading bags of groceries from Target onto his bicycle, balanced precariously against the metal barrier between the sidewalk and the road.
Jones, 59, lives and works downtown and said he bikes everywhere. It's been tricky navigating the closed mall — especially during rush hour — because only one side is open to walk on, he said.
"I can't wait until they get done with the road," Jones said.
Alain Lenne, who owns La Belle Crepe restaurant, said he'll believe the November end date when he sees it.
He estimated the reconstruction will have cost him $150,000 in lost business by the time it's complete — in part because he'll lose prime patio days this summer.
Some major business closures have been announced during the reconstruction, including Macy's, Barnes and Noble and Masa restaurant. City officials on Friday cautioned that many factors contribute to retail closures and emphasized that a revamped Nicollet Mall will revitalize downtown.
Lenne doesn't buy it.
"Why will I make more business because I have a new tree in front of my restaurant?" he asked.