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Daoust Lestage’s vision for Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis.

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Who has the best plan for renovating Nicollet Mall?

  • Article by: RICK NELSON and CLAUDE PECK
  • Star Tribune
  • September 19, 2013 - 10:08 AM

Rick Nelson and Claude Peck dispense unasked-for advice about clothing, etiquette, culture, relationships, grooming and more. 

CP: Nicollet Mall-wise, there was music to your ears at Tuesday's presentations by three finalists for a planned makeover of the Holidazzle parade route. 

RN: Spending two hours at the Guthrie, immersed in nothing but chatter about my favorite Minneapolis thoroughfare, was the urban design-geek equivalent of dying and going to heaven, yes. Here’s hoping the city makes the right choice when the selection is announced on Thursday. The next two or three decades depend upon it. 

CP: Every time one of the speakers bemoaned the lack of trees on the Mall, or spoke of the ugly, overscale “urban furniture” strewn along its 12 blocks, you emitted a barely audible squeak of “that’s what I’ve been saying for years” joy. I think you could have enjoyed two hours devoted only to light standards. It became a little embarrassing. 

RN: Their polite disdain of the hideousness of the current Mall made for the most validating evening I’ve had since Patti LuPone won the 2008 Tony for Best Actress in a Musical. 

CP: Those in charge named a winner on Thursday. But which firm gets your backing? 

RN: Daoust Lestage of Montreal. And not just because principal Renée Daoust reveres original Mall designer Lawrence Halprin, hails from another winter city, and pronounces ambience with such French flair. I loved her plan to transform Nicollet into a “unifying carpet” of maples and honey locusts — nearly 600 of them, what she called “a massive landscape presence” — creating a verdant Mississippi-Loring Park connection. You? 

CP: Much as I admired her presentation — and her accent — I am glad the city pinned the tail on the New York-based firm James Corner Field Operations. Their portfolio, including the High Line in New York and the central waterfront in Seattle, is unbeatable. More, they had novel ideas and were “pedestrian-prioritized,” extolling “the simple pleasure of people-watching.” Mr. Corner, who is local-partnered with Coen + Partners and Julie Snow Architects, was exceedingly well-spoken, combining the practical with the conceptual. 

RN: True, they had plenty of winning ideas, including a moveable, designed-exclusively-for-Nicollet chair — a riff on the green metal ones in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris — and their suggestion to face the bottoms of Nicollet-crossing skyways in reflective material, which sent my mind right to the Bean in Chicago’s Millennium Park. 

CP: One thing I did not like was Corner’s color-coded walkways. No thanks on the bright yellow. 

RN: Agreed, although if it replaces the Mall’s tired teal, then I say have at it. I appreciated their idea for a sculptural outdoor ‘crystal stairway’ to connect the street to the skyway level of the Crystal Court, but I always get nervous when someone wants to touch the masterpiece that is Philip Johnson’s IDS Center. Corner also divided the Mall into three distinct zones — live, work and play — a concept that sounds as if it’s going to reach its expiration date faster than the tacky glass bus shelters that currently, and I use this term loosely, grace the Mall. 

CP: But let’s not forget Corner Field’s fire pits, a path for bikes, heated sidewalks, exterior balconies on skyways, stairs between skyways and the street and a single elegant light mast to be used along the mall’s entire length. The Canadians had a simple idea not mentioned by the other two: lighting the historic facades along the street. Brill. 

RN: Any thoughts on the third proposal, by the Berkeley, Calif.-based team of Tom Leader Studio and !Melk? 

CP: Sorry, but their discombobulated presentation, while not without engaging ideas, just didn’t scream “we’re in it to win it.” 

RN: Although I was all over Leader’s suggestion to demolish a big chunk of City Center and replace it with a super-cool indoor/outdoor market. 

CP: Sure, but that loosey-goosey team went on way too long with metaphors about knots in a piece of wood and images of hay bales in a Minnesota farm field. Hello. 

RN: Here’s hoping that the project’s $40 million cocktail of public and private do-re-mi materializes soon. Kickstarter, anyone? 

E-mail: witheringglance@startribune.com

Twitter: @claudepeck and @RickNelsonStrib

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