Bid for Nicollet Mall redesign comes with sticker shock

An illustration of a redesigned Nicollet Mall. Now project planners are looking at alternatives to pavers planned for the street because of steep costs. Credit: File image

Planners working on the $50 million renovation of Nicollet Mall have been thrown a serious curve ball as the one construction bid on the project has come in $24 million higher than anticipated by city officials. 

Golden Valley-based Morcon Construction’s bid for construction work on the project was $59 million — much higher than the $35 million the city had estimated for the work, as first reported by the Star Tribune. The city had two outside consultants estimate construction costs before the bid went out. 

The city declined the bid and will be sticking to the $50 million budget. The project has secured $21.5 million in state bonding and $3.5 million from the City of Minneapolis. Assessments on downtown businesses will cover the remainder of the project’s costs.

Crews are currently upgrading utilities on Nicollet Mall in preparation for the redesign, work expected to last through early summer.

Steve Kotke, the city’s public works director, said he’s still confident that the project will be a transformational one for the city.

The bid came in higher than anticipated because of the cost of installing the project’s signature pavers, Kotke told MPR’s Tom Weber on Thursday. Now project planners are looking at different surface materials to bring the costs down. 

Kotke said all of the other proposed features for the project — the artwork and landscaping elements will still be part of the redesigned street.

“I’m still very excited about the project. I think it’s going to be a spectacular place once it’s completed,” he said.

Minneapolis Downtown Council CEO Steve Cramer said conversations are ongoing with city staff to determine what’s most important to prioritize from the initial plan for the mall in order to re-bid the project. 

“Sidewalk pedestrian features, the commitment to trees and greening, and special elements like the Light and Art Walk between 6th and 8th streets add the most sizzle and will help make the new mall a ‘must see’ destination,” he said. “Our shared goal with the city is to repackage and represent the project to the construction marketplace in a way that insures those pieces are intact.”

City Council Member Jacob Frey (Ward 3) said that large construction projects like the Nicollet Mall redesign are bound to encounter hurdles. The project changes will likely be limited to the street, not the sidewalk areas, he said.

“The pedestrian realm is still largely pitch perfect,” he said. 

The project will likely be delayed a couple of months, Kotke said, with an anticipated completion late fall of 2017.  

James Corner Field Operations — the noted landscape designer behind New York City’s High Line — is the designer on the Nicollet Mall renovation project.