"Construction on Nicollet reaches peak," crowed the City of Minneapolis in an announcement last week.
"… [A]ll 12 blocks of Nicollet [Mall] are under construction," the press release said. "… Sidewalk cafés have returned… for the outdoor dining season and pedestrians will continue to be able to use all 12 blocks of Nicollet as construction progresses. Reconstruction of Nicollet Mall… remains on schedule and on budget."
Count mayoral candidate Tom Hoch among those who were none too impressed with the city's self congratulation.
His beef: Mayor Betsy Hodges has failed to communicate with the public about what's going on with the $50 million overhaul of Nicollet Mall, the 12-block chunk of Nicollet Avenue that knifes through the heart of Minnesota's largest city.
Hoch says he's heard a handful of common refrains from residents about the Mall.
"I'm repeatedly asked by people, 'What's happening? Why is it taking so long? Why are we losing all these businesses? Is it ever going to get done?'"
The reconstruction, which started in 2015, was supposed to be finished in about 18 months. But underground ultility complications and bidding snafus made it closer to a 36-month ordeal.
According to the city's most recent update, the project "is on track to be substantially complete by the end of 2017."
"What does that — 'substantially complete' — even mean?" Hoch asks. "I don't know. Residents don't know."
Hoch's recent criticisms of the reconstruction are nothing new. His mayoral candidacy Facebook has included similar digs, including calling it "possibly the most poorly managed, lengthy, and disruptive high-profile construction project in Minnesota history."
"For many, as Nicollet Mall goes, so goes the city, and the news especially from retailers has been challenging of late," read his April 13 post. "We all know Macy’s closed followed by Barnes & Noble. We lost Dunn Brothers and Masa early on and the total stands at 8 since construction began.… These are real jobs for real people."
Updates on the project website have fallen well short of informing the public, Hoch argues. He alleges "people are left to speculate" about what's going on.
"They see piles of dirt and no people [working] and no movement, or only sporadic movement," he says, "and they don't know what to think, so they think something is amiss with the project. Leaving people to guess is not a successful way to engage the community."
Such a substantial undertaking requires regular press conferences that specifically address the project, according to Hoch.
"It's taken a lot longer than anybody thought it would. Those things happen. But for god's sake, you've got to get out and talk to people about it."
Hodges' spokesperson Eric Fought declined comment for this story.
President and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council Steve Cramer considers Hoch's laments overly harsh.
Downtown residents and businesses, Cramer believes, have been kept in the loop on progress. Moreover, the mayor had no control over problems that private companies experienced with underground ultilities, which extended the timeline.
As for the definition of "substantially complete," Cramer says it means "[Nicollet Mall] will not be a construction site after November of this year. The buses will be back. The construction fencing will be gone. Virtually all of the concepts of the project design will be installed with the exception of some trees that will still need to be planted."
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