The long process of reopening Nicollet Ave. at Lake St. took another step forward this month. City planners released design concepts for the public areas planned for the 10-acre site where a surface parking lot and vacant and boarded building sit today.
Reconnecting Nicollet has been in the works for over a decade, and the city has spent over $20 million on the project so far. The demolition of the former Kmart buildings is expected to occur in the first quarter of 2024. A contractor to do the work could be approved in November.
The new street reconnecting Nicollet is scheduled to be built in 2025, with future development slated to include housing, retail, and outdoor park spaces.
Earlier this year, city planners gathered input on priorities and uses for the roadway and potential parks and used it to help draft four different design options for the new street and three ideas for new park space. These were presented at an outdoor open house on Oct. 10, 2023 that was attended by more than 500 people at the site.
According to Sarah McKenzie, a spokesperson for the city, they also had already received over 1,200 responses to an online survey about the design options as of Oct 12.
Community partners at the open house and assisting the city with community engagement include the Whittier Alliance, Phillips West, CANDO, the Lyndale Neighborhood Association, Lake Street Council, FRAYEO and NEOO Partners.
Two separate teams of consultants have been hired, as well. The street design team includes Short Elliott Hendrickson, Inc. (SEH), Toole Design Group, Zan Associates, Olson & Nesvold Engineers (ONE), HZ United, Hess Roise, Henning Professional Service and HFTE, among others. The public park team includes TEN x TEN, Whittier Alliance, NEOO Partners, 4RM+ULA, Forecast Public Art, and Barr Engineering.
“With the reconnection project and the opportunity for public comment, we as neighbors get the chance to imagine what kind of destination would serve our needs, and make the surrounding neighborhoods more vibrant,” said Soren Stevenson. He lives three blocks from the site and is running for the Ward 8 City Council seat. “The immediate surroundings of the Kmart site have large Somali and Hispanic populations, among others. It would be a huge addition to our city if those communities immediately adjacent to the site were able to see themselves reflected in the new developments.”
“The selection of where the big chunks of open space go feels like a much more important discussion than what the street layout looks like on Nicollet Avenue,” said Tim Springer, who was at the open house. Springer is a southwest area resident and former director of the Midtown Greenway Coalition.
Ideas for parks
The first park concept shows a long rectangular park along the Midtown Greenway on the north end of the site that would serve as a gateway to and from the stretch of Nicollet known as “Eat Street.” It incorporates the proposal to move the Midtown Greenway access ramp from Nicollet to 1st Ave., to construct an ADA-compliant ramp, and allow for the greenway to be widened.
The second option would add a long rectangular park along the new Nicollet Ave, mostly on its west side. It includes spaces for gathering, gardens, and sports, as well as extra sidewalk space along Lake Street for pedestrians, greening, and bikes. It adds some park area where a new Nicollet bridge will be built to replace the old one over the greenway.
The third park option consists of a corner park and diagonal pathway. This design shows a park area the size of a typical small neighborhood bordering the greenway in the northeast quarter of the site with a pedestrian path and bikeway going from the greenway entrance on 1st to the Blaisdell and Lake St intersection. Smaller green gathering spaces are included along the diagonal pathway.
“I like the scenario that puts a large open space immediately south of the Midtown Greenway on the east side of Nicollet Avenue,” said Springer. “This scenario would allow space for a rail transit platform (likely serving streetcars) and place-making around it down in the Greenway, as well as setbacks of buildings to the south so as to allow sunshine there.”
Springer would also like to see open space south of the Greenway and west of Nicollet. He wants the project to “allow for future pedestrian circulation east-to-west crossing underneath Nicollet Avenue and vertical circulation from the Greenway up to Nicollet on both sides of Nicollet.”
The Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority owns the Midtown Greenway corridor and in past planning efforts, rail have been proposed for both the Greenway and on Nicollet as part of a Nicollet-Central Ave streetcar line. “Such transit could co-exist with the bikeway that is there now, and it is a good idea for Minneapolis and the planet,” added Springer.
Designs for streets
The four street designs include a variety of sidewalk, street and boulevard widths, as well as uses on the new roadway. None of the options include a dedicated bike path.
Kelsey Fogt is the city planner leading the street redesign effort. She said that with the dedicated bike paths on Blaisdell, the Greenway and soon-to-be built two-way protected bikeway on 1st Ave., dedicated bike space on the roadway did not seem necessary.
All the design options would allow emergency vehicles and metro transit buses. Currently the well-used number 18 bus goes around the area using 1st or Blaisdell. Three of the four designs would allow private vehicles, and two also provide on-street parking.
“I favor the Nicollet Avenue streetscape scenarios that have continuous strips of seating areas rather than seating areas and greenspace in alternating chunks,” said Springer.
Concept one includes transit, private and emergency vehicles on the roadway. There is alternating parking and green space with no dedicated bike facility. This concept also features 10-foot-wide sidewalks and sections of 20-foot-wide green spaces or “furnishing zones” with trees.
The second and third designs include transit and private vehicles on the roadway with a median in the center. Concept two allows parking with alternating green space. Concept three provides no on-street parking.
The fourth design would only allow transit and emergency vehicles on the street and provides no dedicated parking.
Sarah Larrson, a southside community member who was also at the open house, wondered why there wasn’t an option that prohibited all motor vehicles and created a pedestrian only street like she has experienced in other cities.
“I like the concept of prohibiting private vehicles on the Nicollet roadway,” said Springer, “but I have a concern the area would feel lifeless except when an occasional bus goes by, as I don’t believe the area will be teaming with pedestrians all the time as pictured in the drawings.”
Having bus service on the street is also a clear priority for Metro Transit, and one person there said it would improve bus service and reduce travel time for the number 18 bus.
“A transit-only scenario makes more sense to me when there are streetcars on Nicollet, as I like the idea of dedicated space for streetcars, so they don’t experience the same delays as car traffic,” said Springer. “I hope planners anticipate future streetcars on Nicollet Avenue in their design.”
“We will continue to gather community input on the public space framework and new Nicollet Ave concept options until mid-November,” said McKenzie. “After this round of community engagement, the project teams will develop a preferred concept for the public space framework, and the new Nicollet Ave concept layout based on community feedback, project goals, city policies and standards, and technical analysis.”