Carter Averback's heartfelt lament, and the Editorial Board's comprehensive, no-holds-barred discussion of public safety over the past two Sundays ("Downtown's dilemma,' Sept. 17; "Zone of concern," Sept. 24), constitute a clarion call for aggressive action to address challenges facing our downtown. I don't know a business or civic leader who would disagree. Facing these challenges with clear eyes is important. So, too, is understanding several positive points that round out the picture about our growing and vital downtown. Here are a few:
Public realm and programming investments to improve the experience downtown are top priorities. I take issue with one assertion from Averbeck, that Nicollet Mall "needed no makeover." The old mall was literally coming apart at the seams. And below ground, early 20th century infrastructure required replacement. It's been a long slog, but the dynamic mall design is becoming more evident every day and will be a tremendous asset for years to come.
The new Commons Park hosted a magnificent performance by the Minnesota Orchestra last week enjoyed by thousands of adults and children. Peavey Plaza's renovation is next. A design is nearly complete, and millions from public and private sources have already been committed. Exciting improvements along the Mississippi River from north Minneapolis through downtown are in the works. And speaking of the Mississippi, this year's Aquatennial fireworks were stunning; just ask any of the 250,000 people who were there.
Residential and commercial development continue at a record pace. Late last week, Minneapolis, led by downtown projects, exceeded $1 billion in construction permits for a sixth straight year. Our downtown residential population is steadily growing. New employers as large as Sleep Number (900-plus new downtown workers) and as small as scrappy tech startups are fueling positive job growth.
Entertainment and cultural venues downtown, simply put, are world class.
Retail in the core of downtown has been buffeted by trends affecting stores everywhere. But with the revitalized Target at 9th and Nicollet, the opening of Nordstrom Rack in the IDS Center, new restaurants and transformative plans for the former Dayton's building including three levels of retail, food and entertainment at our "100 percent" corner downtown, we are on the upswing.
No business organization has been more focused on addressing safety issues than the one I lead. But as problematic as parts have become, vastly larger areas of downtown are as safe as anyplace in the city. This reality means we can focus like a laser on the conditions and geography that must be brought under better control.
The hard-hitting words published recently in these pages are an effective pre-emption of any temptation to view the reality of downtown Minneapolis through rose-colored glasses. By the same token, focusing only on problems to the exclusion of obvious strengths can also distort the picture. There is plenty of work to do to make our downtown even more extraordinary, and plenty to work with to achieve that result.
Steve Cramer is president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council and Downtown Improvement District.