The most extensive connected skyway system anywhere is a unique asset for our downtown. Relating the second-level downtown economy to the goal of ever-improving street vibrancy demands a “both and,” not an “either or,” response. Many in the business community are hard at work on this.
One focus is enhancing the skyway experience through longer and more uniform hours of operation, upgraded signage, including where street-level connections exist, and a wayfinding “app” that guides users through the system using Bluetooth beacon technology.
Another priority is making the pedestrian experience better throughout downtown, with a particular emphasis on Nicollet Mall where key design principles of the project under construction highlight walkability and “greening” the street. The Downtown Improvement District has also dedicated significant resources to new livability initiatives downtown.
As for retail, a recent Wall Street Journal headline points out the real challenge downtown faces: “Store closings accelerate; pace of shutting retail locations has doubled this year.” Minneapolis is not immune to the trend.
Yet even in the face of this overall decline, several retail and restaurant openings will fill vacant spaces on Nicollet Mall before year end, with more to come. And the new ownership group of the former Dayton’s building is a well-capitalized and highly experienced development team that recently presented plans for maintaining skyway-level connectivity to committees of the Downtown Council. Food and retail will be a part of the redevelopment plan for this downtown landmark.
Retail in the core is in transition, and a council-formed retail task force will soon be issuing its recommendations to help guide us on the path forward.
By many other measures, meanwhile, downtown is experiencing unprecedented growth.
• During the past six years, some 60 companies have relocated downtown or announced plans to, including internationally recognized brands like Amazon, Pandora and Weber Shandwick; fast-growing local firms like YA and Calabrio, and prominent employers like Select Comfort, Jack Link’s and Arctic Cat.
• Several office building transactions have set the record for per-square-foot sales price, most recently Mayo Clinic Square.
• More new hotel rooms have come online recently than in the previous two decades.
• The downtown residential population increased by 25 percent since 2012, now exceeding 40,000 people.
• With the completion of Target Center’s renovation this year, continued upgrades to Target Field, and the inaugural season of U.S. Bank Stadium in 2016, downtown is home to the most modern set of professional sports venues of any city.
• Commons Park is entering its first full year of operation, and plans are advancing for significant additional development of recreational and visitor attractions in the Central Mississippi Riverfront as well as renovation of Peavey Plaza.
• And, yes, the new Nicollet Mall will be substantially completed and fully open this November! An upgraded Washington Avenue between Hennepin and 5th Avenue will be finished even earlier.
While these and other advances for downtown are significant and should be celebrated, plenty of work remains. Public safety is always a top-of-the-list priority. Other regions we compete with are prospering in part because of their investment in transit infrastructure, a policy priority our Legislature has not yet found a way to advance. Workforce shortages loom, economic and social disparities persist, and the challenge of maintaining a competitive business climate in the city is ongoing. So this is no time to rest on our laurels.
But the first step in fashioning any solution is to correctly define the problem. The dictionary defines a non sequitur as an inference that does not follow from the premise. The notion that skyways are the root cause of challenges we face downtown qualifies.
Let’s not chase down the rabbit hole. Let’s instead recognize successes, and build on them by tackling our real issues with creativity and resolve.
Steve Cramer is president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council and Downtown Improvement District.