Nicollet mall redesign prompts skyway debate

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- The redesign of Nicollet Mall is underway with design details expected to emerge later this month.

The nearly $40 million dollar facelift comes with the goal to make Minneapolis' main street one of the vibrant places in the country, but in this cold winter a heated discussed is underway over whether the city's signature skyways should stay.

"Just by simple math it pulls people up into the skyway even on the nicest days of the year. It takes life off the streets and that's too bad," said urbanist Sam Newberg, owner of Joe Urban consultant business and regular blogger at

Newberg proposed tearing down skyways on his most recent blog post, which admittedly spurred quite a reaction.

"Are you crazy? Has this guy ever been to Minneapolis?" he said, of some of the feedback, but this Minneapolis native says hear him out.

"My generational suggestion is to tear down one skyway per year until they gone and when they are gone we won't miss them anymore. That's 50 years out or something," said Newberg.

Nicollet Mall was built in 1965 and renovated again in the late 1980s. Today the 12 blocks along the mall serve as thoroughfare for more than 140,000 Minnesotans daily. Newberg says if the city wants to make Nicollet Mall one of the most vibrant public space in America, a redesign isn't enough. He believes it needs better buildings connected to the street, but moreover people.

"There is definitely a love hate relationship here with the skyways in the Twin Cities," admits David Frank, Minneapolis' Director of Transit Development.

Frank says Newberg makes great and valid points but says the city is not considering getting rid of skyways at this time.

"I think it's not likely to happen. The skyways crossing the Mall, like the one we are standing in now, will go away anytime soon. And so, as part of the redesign effort we are working on ways to make it easier for people to go up and down from street to skyway and from skyway to street," said Frank.

Crowds in the skyways in this single digit winter nearly unanimously in favor of the skyway system.

"If it's below zero I will definitely be in the skyway. I don't think it hinders where I'm going or what I am buying, I would say, got to leave them up," said Michael Irei, doing shopping on his lunch break.

"For older people it helps them a lot because they don't have to worry about ice and snow and cold," said Lana Carlson, who works at a nearby dental office.

Newberg still worries the skyways create a civic casualty and prevent Minneapolis from growing to its full potential.

"I am not here to argue that the skyways aren't warm and comfortable this time of year but the fact is every day of the year they pull people off the street. We have to call into question how that affects civic life in the city," he said.

The public will soon have a chance to hear the latest plans for the Nicollet Mall redesign, including ideas on how the skyways will be better connected to the street.

A public meeting will be held on February 19th at Pohlad Hall at the Central Library from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Around 5:15 p.m. the public will hear from the designers themselves - the James Corner Field Operation team out of New York - along with Julie Snow Architects and Coen + Partners. The designers will answer questions submitted by the public.

For more information on the project, visit


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