After receiving just below what they sought at the Legislature to renovate Nicollet Mall, city leaders are mulling whether to contribute $3.5 million to the project in order to leverage promised private dollars.

The overhaul of Minneapolis’ signature street is expected to cost $50 million. The Downtown Council has said it is prepared to match up to $25 million, but the Legislature awarded the project $21.5 million in the final bonding bill.

“Since we got something less than $25 [million], we’re talking now about what we might do so as not to leave money on the table, if you will,” said David Frank, the city’s director of transit-oriented development.

Minneapolis City Council President Barb Johnson said that “we’re going to have to talk about how that gap gets filled.”

The city has already spent a little over $1 million on the project to date, Frank said. Just where that extra $3.5 million would come from remains unclear.

“City money is one possibility,” Frank said. “But … we’re looking at other funding that we might able to bring to the table.”

The issue is relatively urgent because the total cost of the project will determine how the Downtown Council, property owners and the city configure assessments that will pay for the private half of the project.

Steve Cramer, president of the Downtown Council, said they plan to assess building owners who could then pass the cost through rents from Nicollet Mall tenants. He said they are getting organized to start communicating more with building owners.

“Now we go to a much more detailed phase about ‘OK, we’re actually going to build this site. What’s that going to mean for your building and your property?’ ” Cramer said. “We need to have a much more robust level of communication literally on a block-by-block basis with the folks on the mall.”

Kevin Lewis, executive vice president of the Building Owners and Managers Association of Greater Minneapolis, said they would like to see the assessment levied on more than just commercial property owners — potentially by extending it to nearby residents.

“They’re enjoying the benefits of the Nicollet Mall, so we feel that having engagement and involvement by all types of businesses and properties along it should be a part of it,” Lewis said.

The scope of the project covers the Nicollet Mall right of way, which includes the street, sidewalks and skyway connections.

Project architect James Corner has designed “Nicollet Mile” to feature a 7th Street center island with skyway staircases, a sloping curb and five distinct districts. The vision also includes more outdoor seating, a fire pit, an outdoor “reading room” and many more trees.

Project leaders hope to start construction in early summer 2015 and complete it around the same time in 2016.

Frank said some finer details must still be worked out, including the exact location of transit shelters, where trees are planted, etc.

Importantly for bicyclists, the final design will not include dedicated bikeways, despite some renderings that appear to show them. Nicollet Mall is a troublesome spot for bikers, who are unable to pass stopped buses without risking a head-on collision with buses in the opposite direction.

Frank said they spent a significant amount of time trying to make a separate facility for bikes, but couldn’t make the design work. Instead, they decided to pull curbs apart at transit stops to allow for a bicycle passing zone.

“If you have a dedicated and only-for-bikes facility … what you’re taking away from is the green and cafe seating space,” Frank said. “That is, I would say, a huge priority of the project.”

Frank said they hope to have the funding issue settled in the next several weeks.


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