Visitors to Nicollet Mall these days probably aren't drawn to the corridor to view its public art. City officials hope that will change when the pedestrian mall is reconstructed in 2016.

The creation of a large-scale iconic artwork is among goals city officials have for Nicollet Mall, as outlined Tuesday at a City Council committee meeting about soliciting artists for several commissions.

Nicollet Mall has the second-largest collection of public art in the city, after the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

"The collection does not have really a signature work, a work that is a draw to the mall," said Mary Altman, the city's public art administrator.

The $50 million reconstruction project budget includes $500,000 to commission such a piece.

That's not to say the city hasn't tried before. Minneapolis officials paid $350,000 in the early 1990s for an "ice fountain" in front of Gaviidae Common, which used misting holes to create a winter ice sculpture. It was designed by renowned Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar, who has built similar structures around the world.

But the fountain proved costly to maintain and potentially dangerous for pedestrians — since some mist could become sidewalk ice — so it was decommissioned. The city initially gave it to Maplewood, but that plan also fell through because of high costs. It is now in the hands of Eden Prairie-based Commercial Aquatic Engineering.

There are currently 16 pieces of public art on Nicollet Mall, only some of which will reappear in the redesign. The publicly owned pieces include the Sculpture Clock beside Peavey Plaza — a mainstay from the 1960s reconstruction — the Three Bird Fountain on 9th Street and about 80 artist-designed manhole covers. Seven of the works are privately owned, including TV Land's well-known Mary Tyler Moore statue.

The budget includes $200,000 for someone to lead a team of local artists to create smaller works for the new mall, which likely will focus on the lanterns between 6th and 8th streets, Altman said. Another $250,000 is being set aside to create a "key feature," such as the proposed theater-in-the-round outside the library.

The city, in consultation with its arts commission, will spend several months determining which artworks should remain on the mall. The art works will then be moved or put into storage following that process, which could be later this year or in 2016, Altman said.

Skyways and shelters

The discussion Tuesday morning also turned to the larger changes in the project, such as the elimination of a proposed stairway into the skyway system.

Council Member Cam Gordon said he was disappointed to see it go.

"I'm wondering if there were thoughts of any other way of connecting to the skyway," he said. "Because when I saw the connection to the skyway I could see that at lunchtime downtown, people just pouring out onto the mall … and it would really get a lot of use and really offer the potential to kind of bridge that divide between street life and our skyway life."

Private ownership of skyways means the city would need owners' permission to make the stairway possible, said David Frank, the city's transit-oriented development manager. Logistical, operational, maintenance and legal hurdles made the original plan, which called for a connecting skyway and mall between 7th and 8th streets, unworkable, he said.

Gordon also asked about bus shelters included in December renderings of the Nicollet Mall redesign, which offer minimal protection from the elements. The current circular shelters are among the warmest in the city, outside of transit centers.

Those renderings are preliminary, Frank said, and they have consulted Metro Transit on the best shelter construction.

"You will see soon something that is more robust," Frank said. "It might still have a fair amount of glass to it, but it will I think offer more protection than what you saw … in the presentation."

Eric Roper • 612-673-1732

Twitter: @StribRoper