City unveils updated Nicollet Mall design

After a high bid surprised the city it was forced to use poured concrete in place of pavers.

Credit: Rendering by James Corner Field Operations

The city and its designers unveiled Wednesday a new cost-saving plan for the Nicollet Mall reconstruction that they expect will keep the project within its $50 million budget. 

After getting a single construction bid last December that was $24 million over budget, the city is now planning to use poured concrete instead of thousands of brick-like, concrete pavers. James Corner of James Corner Field Operations, the firm designing the reconstruction, said the switch to the simpler material is the only change to their design.

“We took the approach to actually retain everything that we have and to simply change out the floor,” he said.

Corner said the poured concrete will need various textures and colors to give it a similar aesthetic appeal to the pavers. New renderings show a few different shades of gray concrete in a spectrum of rough and smooth textures.

“We believe there are ways to work with poured concrete that are creative and will produce a really elegant and durable surface,” Corner said.

The switch won’t affect the project’s greening and pedestrian efforts, such as the number of trees or signature features like a light walk planned between 6th and 8th streets.

City officials expect the shift will deliver a project within its original budget. The city received and rejected a single $59 million construction bid — much higher than the estimated $35 million — for the reconstruction work.

“It took a little bit of a punch,” said Steve Cramer, president and CEO of the Downtown Council and Downtown Improvement District. “The question is how you roll with it.”

Council Member Jacob Frey, whose ward includes much of downtown, was optimistic about the change, despite some worry.

“When I initially heard this news, I will admit, I was taken aback, I was frustrated and I was worried that the project may turn out dramatically different than anticipated,” he said at a public forum. “The brilliance of Nicollet Mall is still entirely present.”

The city will rebid the project this April with the hope of garnering more offers. Intensive utility work has closed Nicollet Mall since last summer.  

The $50 million overhaul has already secured $21.5 million in state bonding and $3.5 million from the City of Minneapolis.

The city plans to collect the remaining $25 million through assessments on thousands of property owners near Nicollet Mall. The process has received two appeals, Cramer said.

City officials now expect to have a groundbreaking early this summer and a substantial completion in late fall 2017, about a three-month delay from their original plans.