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Study: $50M Nicollet Mall makeover could generate $100M in spending

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A new study says a $50 million facelift for Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis will more than pay for itself – spurring $106 million in additional spending and creating 860 jobs, the Downtown Journal reported.

City leaders in Minneapolis envision a reinvention of the popular pedestrian and transit corridor in an effort to maintain it as an economic hub downtown, where 150,000 people work. The shininess of the mall's last makeover, in the 1980s, is fading, and its well-trod granite pavers are cracking, its supporters say.

The city last year held a competition to seek out creative resigns for the mall, and ultimately chose New York-based urban design firm James Corner Field Operations. The firm unveiled a plan for Nicollet from Washington Avenue toward Loring Park. Its features include plans for more trees and gardens along the northern stretch of the mall, an area to be dubbed “Mississippi Woods.” (You can see a nice overview of the plan with photos here.)

But it won't be cheap, so city leaders for several years have been prodding lawmakers for state money.

Gov. Mark Dayton has backed a plan for $20 million in state investment, as part of a much broader bonding bill for capital improvement projects statewide. (The city also aims to raise another $25 million for Nicollet with an assessment levied on property owners near the mall, although details of that proposal haven't been finalized, the Star Tribune notes.)

The new $15,000 study, conducted by St. Paul-based Donjek and Anton Economics, seems to offer ammunition to project supporters. (See a copy of the report posted by the Downtown Journal here.) The report argues that a Nicollet redesign would raise downtown property values and lure new money-spending visitors.

"As our funding request makes its way through the Legislature, these numbers tell the story that the project is well worth the investment,” Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said in a statement.

But for now, lawmakers are chewing over Dayton's bonding bill, so the Nicollet project's funding is up in the air.

Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, a key legislator who chairs the House Capital Investment Committee, said Wednesday she still has concerns about the project, the Star Tribune reports. “In meeting after meeting, I’ve listened and listened, and I can’t tell what the concept is. ... It’s been something of a moving target.”

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