There was nothing terribly new to come out of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce breakfast Friday morning on the day's topic: the Nicollet Mall overhaul. Or, as it's called now, the Nicollet Mile.

But it's interesting to watch the continuum of the ambitious $50 million project. Now that the city has won $21.5 million in state bonding dollars, downtown building owners are expected to kick in an additional $25 million through some sort of assessment, and the remaining $3.5 million will be part of Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges' 2015 budget.

The project is now in the 12-month design phase. Landscape architect James Corner's firm has crafted an overally blueprint, but things will really get down to the nitty gritty in the coming year, according to Julie Snow, a Minneapolis architect whose firm is working on the project, as well.

Construction will begin in the fall of 2015, with completion slated for the end of 2016.

"We are at the beginning of the design phase which involves making this thing road-worthy and street ready," Snow told the breakfast crowd.

The overall concept of the project involves connecting the cultural and natural beauty of the Walker Art Museum area and Loring Park to the Mississippi River and the Guthrie Theater.

Nicollet Mall is divided into two "woods" areas at the north and south ends of the Mall, then two "groves" on that meet at the center, where an outdoor staircase linking the skyway connecting IDS Center to Macy's will serve as a connection. There's more information here.

As always, the audience asked a few probing questions. . . .

How will all the trees survive the harsh downtown environment? Peter Brown, the city's project manager, said the trees will be grouped in such a way that prevents a total overhaul of the Mall's extensive infrastructure. And they will be planted in areas with sufficient soil.

What buildings will be subject to the assessment, and how will it work? Not clear at this time. The Downtown Council's President and CEO Steve Cramer said those discussions are occuring now, engaging property owners and the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA)

Why can't buses go away on the Mall? Snow said discussions are ongoing to minimize bus traffic on the Mall, especially if streetcars come into play. Transit shelters will serve both bus and streetcar users.

What about all the panhandlers, loiterers and overall homelessness on the Mall? Cramer said a goal of the Downtown Council's 2025 plan is to eliminate homelessness in downtown Minneapolis. To that end, the Downtown Council is looking for "constructive alternatives" for the city's homeless population, but that takes time.

And now, a bit of trivia. What famous person cut the ribbon to inaugerate the original Nicollet Mall?

Answer: Lady Bird Johnson.

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