A maze of barricades on Nicollet Mall came down Friday south of 8th Street, signaling the end is near after years of construction on Minneapolis’ signature walkway.
The remade mall, closed to vehicles in July 2015, is set to debut in November.
“Let freedom bells ring,” said Josh Petzel, general manager of the Local restaurant on Nicollet at 10th Street.
Super Bowl planners injected their own bit of optimism into the project Friday, releasing new renderings of the mall transformed into a purple, glassy strip for the big game. That and some reflection during a personal trip to France were enough to cajole the owner of La Belle Crepe eatery to stay open after deciding to hang up his apron earlier this month, saying construction had tanked his business.
“The trees are in, the lights are in south of 8th [Street] — a majority of work is done,” project director Don Elwood said Friday.
The $50 million project, paid for through state bonds and private assessments, marks the first overhaul of the street since the early 1990s. Sidewalks have been redesigned to include more seating, trees and decorative elements — more like an array of artwork. The street itself, with more gradually sloping curbs, will remain a bus thoroughfare when it reopens.
Construction attention will now move north on Nicollet. Next week, workers will begin planting 30-foot trees in front of the former Macy’s building.
This week, they were testing the colored LED lighting that will illuminate the “light walk” across the street. The entire mall will have special lighting fixtures, some atop streetlights, that can be programmed to show different colors.
“Clearly that will be a different element than we’ve ever seen on Nicollet Mall before and should be an attractive and exciting part of it,” said Steve Cramer, president of the Downtown Council. “The idea is during Christmas it’s red and green, on a Vikings game it’s purple, that sort of thing.”
The project features a whopping 1,200 light fixtures, 10 miles of wiring and 240 trees.
“The last 10 percent takes a heck of a lot of effort to get it done and finalize it,” Elwood said. Other agenda items next week include work on new bus shelters and the installation of portable chairs.
Envisioning the end
Many are ready for the project to wrap up. Petzel said the Local lost several patio seasons to construction, and the Super Bowl won’t make up for it.
“I wish they could have come down about four months ago,” Petzel said of the barricades. “But the light at the end of the tunnel is getting a little brighter.”
When La Belle Crepe owner Alan Lenne abruptly closed his tiny restaurant earlier this month, he placed the blame on the seemingly endless mall reconstruction. He said it sent revenue plunging 70 percent and the city was unhelpful toward his struggling business.
He lucked into a great airline deal and took his three children to his native France for a psyche-soothing visit. At the time, he said there was a 50-50 chance that the creperie would remain closed.
Upon reflection, he’s chosen to reopen.
“It helped just being with my kids for a week, and being with my mom, and being out of the whole equation back in Minneapolis,” Lenne said. “By being there, I could block it out of my mind. That helped bring clarity.”
He also heard from the Super Bowl host committee, who called him in France to let him know they hope to draw 25,000 people to Nicollet Mall over 10 days — with the busiest area in front of his restaurant.
“So we’ll be open at night on those days,” Lenne said. “It’s going to be fun.”
The images of the mall during the Super Bowl were featured in an NFL preview of the league’s official branding for the event.
They show glassy, angular arches emblazoned with “The Bold North” near what appears to be Peavey Plaza. Purple-hued trees pepper the scene.
Later this month, passersby will see the whirling, spinning and jiggling doodads come back to life at the Sculpture Clock, the only vestige of the original 1960s mall returning in the latest overhaul. The timepiece’s moving interior hasn’t operated since 2002.
Elwood said the city is planning an opening event for the new mall in mid-November. The statue of Mary Tyler Moore, which has been temporarily housed in the Meet Minneapolis visitor center during construction, will be returned to the mall in time for the event.
The city has said the project will be “substantially complete” by Nov. 30. Elwood said Metro Transit may have to install some bus shelters after that, and two pieces of art will be installed in 2018.
“From the public’s perspective, we’re going to be done,” Elwood said.
Staff writer Rick Nelson contributed to this report.
Eric Roper • 612-673-1732