Rendering courtesy of Nicollet Project
Nicollet Mall rendering
Rendering/daydream of Nicollet Mall, post-construction
Leave it to Target CEO Brian Cornell to address the elephant in the room at the Minneapolis Downtown Council’s annual meeting in February.
“While some have questioned the future of retail and other stores are closing, we’re doubling down on downtown Minneapolis,” Cornell said. As Macy’s and Barnes & Noble exit Nicollet Mall this spring, Target is embarking on a $10 million renovation of its Nicollet Mall store that is supposed to update all aspects of the two-level space: new lighting, wood plank walls, a new Starbucks, and an expanded pickup area on the second floor—an effort to connect with online shoppers.
It’s yet another reminder of how integral downtown’s largest employer is to the vitality of the city. But Target can’t save Nicollet Mall alone. When the remodeled store is completed this fall, Nicollet Mall will still be under construction.
We’re just about two years into the improvement project that has turned downtown’s main commercial artery into a bulldozer parking lot, with dirt mounds where buses should run, barricades where benches should be. The Minneapolis Farmers Market has had to move off Nicollet. Metro Transit rerouted the buses. There was a period of time when Hubert White, one of Nicollet Mall’s most enduring local stores, couldn’t use its main door and had to direct customers in through the IDS Crystal Court.
“It hasn’t been that bad during the week, but it’s really hurt Saturdays. Big time,” says Bob White, the third generation to run his family’s menswear store. “Business is down this year. It’s hard to maneuver. It isn’t attractive.”
To be fair, Nicollet Mall’s decline as a shopping district started long before the construction. Humans now old enough to match their own clothes weren’t even alive when Crate & Barrel fled. Nicollet Mall is where we’ve said farewell to Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Polo Ralph Lauren, Gap, Ann Taylor—the list reads like the directory of, well, a suburban mall. But it’s hard not to wonder if the seemingly endless construction was the final nail in the coffin for Barnes & Noble, which just built a brand new store at the Galleria in Edina. Upscale Mexican restaurant Masa pointed to construction as a big factor in its 2015 closure.
Believe it or not, the Nicollet Mall improvement project is right on schedule, says Don Elwood, the city’s director of transportation engineering and design. Hard as it is to understand why beautifying a city street takes longer than building four new bridges over Highway 100, Elwood says the project is more complicated than appearances would suggest, with a good portion of the work happening underground. “There’s not a lot of room logistically to store materials, dirt, to excavate. And we’re doing all the work while keeping everything open. We’ve got thousands of people walking across the mall at all times. It’s very complicated.”
Much of the work isn’t visible to the average passerby: moving water lines, new electrical. “As soon as the frost is out of the ground, you’re going to see a lot of activity on the mall,” Elwood promises. Once the concrete is replaced, we’ll start to see the payoff: wider sidewalks, new planters, lights, and seating.
The project is finally expected to be complete by the end of 2017, and there’s no pushing that deadline—in case you haven’t heard, the Super Bowl is coming!
As for this spring and summer, it could get worse before it gets better. “We’re going to make every effort to have as much of an outdoor café season available as possible,” Minneapolis Downtown Council president and CEO Steve Cramer says. “It’s going to be on a block by block basis.”
While there’s talk that the new owner of the Macy’s (can we go back to calling it Dayton’s?) building is considering street-level retail and dining, and the Barnes & Noble space will go to something “complementary,” the only confirmed new retailer is Nordstrom Rack, opening in IDS this fall.
The council has a retail task force working on recommendations, and I hope they are proactively going after unique, interactive retail experiences that would give people reason to go downtown again. Just because you build up the mall does not mean they will come.