Debate begins over design of I-35W bridge in Minneapolis

Some locals push for world-class design as mid-September deadline looms

News Star Tribune August 30, 2007
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For Twin Cities design aficionados, a new I-35W bridge means a chance to build a spectacular design.

However, transportation officials said Aug. 27 that the project won’t be slowed to bring in a big-name bridge designer for the project. Though aesthetics will be a factor in planning the new span, any design will have to come through the teams of contractors already vying to build the new bridge.

A handful of local design fans object. One such fan, real estate consultant Peter Kitchak, has been devoting his time to ensuring that the new bridge is one that is worthy of a world-class city.

The bridge “lies between and within view of Jean Nouvel’s extraordinary Guthrie Theater and Frank Gehry’s amazing Weisman Art Museum,” Kitchak wrote in an Aug. 14 letter to Gov. Tim Pawlenty. “It can and should be an international symbol.”

Kitchak has been working for the past few weeks to recruit world-renowned Spanish designer and architect Santiago Calatrava for the project. Calatrava has designed bridges around the world and recently helped expand the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Calatrava has expressed interest in the project and has done some preliminary work. His son, who works in his firm, visited the bridge site and was given a tour by Kitchak.

A Kitchak employee discussed the idea of bringing Calatrava on board with the four teams currently vying for the project. Kitchak said the reception concerning Calatrava is “lukewarm.”

The deadline for proposals is mid-September, and the four teams indicated that it would be difficult to alter their plans with such a deadline looming.

“I know MnDOT is already putting more weight on aesthetics than I’ve seen in the past,” said Sandra Colvin Roy, 12th Ward council member and chair of the Transportation and Public Works Committee. “I can’t really see us [the city council] pushing for more time for more concentration on design.”

Gov. Pawlenty has been focusing on getting a new bridge designed and built quickly; the target completion date is the end of 2008. Though the office feels bringing in Calatrava would almost certainly delay the project, Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung says the governor favors the idea of a bridge with world-class design.

“We certainly hope that the world’s finest designers will get involved in the process and work with the teams that are bidding,” McClung said.

McClung said that his office has already told MnDOT that design will be a part of the proposals. Aesthetics count for 20% of a proposal’s technical score.

“From our perspective, if any designer is interested in being part of the 35W bridge rebuilding, they have the opportunity to team up with a contractor,” McClung said. “The opportunity is there.”

Tom Fisher, a dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota, concurs that a well-known designer should be involved.

Since the bridge collapse received international attention, “whatever we do there is going to get international attention,” Fisher said. “If you have to hire a bridge designer anyway, why not hire a good one? I just think it’s a no-brainer.”

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