Nicollet Mall, in the heart of downtown Minneapolis, is now over 50, and has had its share of ups and downs. Right now it’s sort of ‘between jobs’.
The 12-block car-free “pedestrian mall” was cool and futuristic when built in 1967, as part of the city’s strategy to compete with new suburban shopping centers. Big department stores like Dayton’s and Donaldson’s were still downtown magnets, and Nicollet Avenue had buzz. But over the years, buses came to dominate the scene, taxis were let in, pedestrians gave way, and retail declined. A renovation announced in 2015 promised a major face lift – with wide walkways made of natural looking pavers, trees, greenery, new lighting, public art – and a more Eurostyle experience.
The street was then torn up and reduced to mud for 2 solid years. During that time, the remaining big stores left. By the time the project was complete, Nicollet Mall was all but deserted.
When it finally reopened, it didn’t look all that dramatically different from the past. The “pavers” had been dropped when went it turned out the contractor had somehow underbid by about $20 million; they were replaced with concrete which basically merged with the street . There were small trees in a couple of areas, updated street lamps, and – in spots – snazzy colored lighting. The buses came roaring back, even more than before. The big stores were gone, except for Target. But – it looked cooler. Definitely cooler.
During the day, there’s a lot of foot traffic from office workers, but you don’t see many shopping bags. In the evening it’s… well “peaceful” is a good spin .
Big city projects are incredibly complicated, consensus is hard to get, and things go wrong. Nicollet Mall today is overdue for a break, and some new development is in fact happening. The city overall is doing well. Big things are coming.