Updated at 4:19 p.m.
Note: This story originally said Christenson would be working at the Minnesota Business Partnership. Christenson's new program will be sponsored by the Partnership, but he will not be employed there.
The head of the city's chief development agency, Mike Christenson, says he is stepping down to create a regional program aimed at improving college enrollment.
Christenson has spent four years as head of the Community Planning and Economic Development Department, which doles out millions to subsidize development projects and advises lawmakers on planning and zoning issues. He has worked for the city since 2003.
He new role will be heading a college enrollment program sponsored by the Minnesota Business Partnership, an organization representing the state's business leaders. He will focus on creating a regional college enrollment program based on the city's Minneapolis Promise, which uses summer jobs, scholarships and college planning to drives youths toward college.
“My passion is to bring economic opportunity to people who need it," Christenson said. "And education is the best delivery system.”
He added: "The state’s challenge here is that we need to draw future college graduates from populations that are right now least likely to attend.”
It remains to be seen whether that new program will be private, public or non-profit. Christenson will leave the city effective Jan. 1. His successor will be determined by the mayor and the City Council.
Lisa Goodman, who chairs the Council's development committee, said Christenson was exceptionally committed to the projects of his department.
“Many of these projects that he worked on … became really a personal mission for him," Goodman said. "He cared about it as much as any councilmember would.”
Once known for multi-million dollar blockbuster projects, CPED has been forced to scale back in recent years. They now celebrate smaller, more targeted investments.
"He is someone who rolls with the punches," Goodman said. "He was very clear that he doesn't set the levy, he doesn't vote on a tax increase, he will play the hand he's dealt and try to make the most of it. And I'm sure its been very hard for him and a lot of people at CPED, quite frankly, to deal with the lack of support."
Christenson said the department has made strides in "the most challenged neighborhoods of the city" during his tenure.
“We have tried to wipe out market failure on commercial corridors like Lake, Franklin, Nicollet, Riverside, Cedar, Broadway," Christenson said. "And we’re almost there as a city.”
On Lake Street, for example, he noted the city's investment in Mercado Central, Plaza Verde and Midtown Exchange.
Photo: 2007 submitted photo