Plans to carpet Nicollet Mall with thousands of concrete pavers are being nixed entirely from the upcoming redesign of the pedestrian thoroughfare, as Minneapolis leaders seek to rein in costs after the sole construction bid came in millions of dollars over budget.
The full-scale replacement of the pavers — a signature element of the original plans — with poured concrete is a shift from earlier statements by city officials that only some would likely be removed from the design. The city also now anticipates that Metro Transit will pick up the full responsibility for the mall’s dozen bus shelters, freeing up about $4 million in the project’s $35 million construction budget. The two changes are expected to draw more competitive bids from contractors in March, after an initial round garnered just one offer that was $24 million over budget. New designs for the remodeled Nicollet Mall will be unveiled at a public meeting Feb. 10.
The full project budget is $50 million, largely paid through state bonding dollars and assessments on nearby buildings. Non-construction costs include a $4.5 million design contract with James Corner Field Operations, a $2.4 million construction management contract with SEH Inc. and $1 million for public art.
Utility work by the city, Xcel Energy and other firms is already underway on the Mall, but it is technically separate from the reconstruction project.
Minneapolis city officials and a representative from the architecture firm, James Corner Field Operations, showed preliminary new pavement designs this week to the project’s implementation committee.
The visual effect changes the design from intricate brick-like patterns to more solid slabs. Megan Born, an associate with James Corner, presented a sample image of concrete slabs with angular divisions that the firm hopes would help maintain a distinctive design on the mall.
Project leaders are also crafting several optional enhancements to the contract — if a bidder is able to come in under budget. Born showed images of a “stenciling” pattern that could be added to the concrete, for example.
“We are making sure those [bid packages] are crafted in a fashion that doesn’t make it too onerous for [the contractors] to put together a bid,” said Steve Kotke, the city’s public works director.
Kotke said they opted to nix the pavers altogether rather than leave them in some places, in part to give the street a more continuous look.
By changing the language in its bid request, the project team will gear the construction more toward road contractors rather than building contractors. They realized — after asking for critiques from several general contractors — that making bidders abide by standards in two different types of construction was too complicated.
“It’s critically important that we make this contract attractive enough that we get multiple bids, multiple competitive bids,” Kotke said.
The implementation committee, which advises the project team on its next steps, raised several maintenance concerns during the meeting and requested a preview of the amended design before it goes public.
“Five to 10 years down the road, are we looking at a durable mall and a mall that will survive the elements?” said David Wright, vice president of asset management for U.S. Bank and chairman of the implementation committee.
Kotke said that patching the concrete might be slightly more expensive since it would require replacing larger chunks during repairs.
“Patches will take a little more time and be a little more expensive,” Kotke said. “But I think the [repair] process will be a bit more straightforward.”
The project team will finalize its new plan over the next two weeks. A contractor open house is set for Feb. 19 and a request for bids will go out March 7 with a due date of April 1. The project’s timeline has changed slightly, with completion now expected in November 2017 rather than August 2017.