It's fitting -- and a tribute of sorts -- that Sam Grabarski's successor as president of the Minneapolis Downtown Council is Mark Stenglein, a 15-year member of the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners.
When Grabarski left the State Arts Board to take the president's job in 1996, he recalled in a recent interview, the downtown employers who headed his organization barely knew the members of the county board. They had not many more ties with the Minneapolis City Council, and little connection with the city's legislative delegation. The working relationship between business and government leaders was several notches less than optimal.
Grabarski changed that -- and that's something in which he can take pride as he ends a 16-year stint at the Downtown Council on Thursday. The fact that Stenglein will succeed him underscores the importance the business community now attaches to public-private partnerships in solving problems at the region's core.
As business and government worked together, problems were indeed solved on Grabarski's watch. Target Field was built, anchoring the baseball Twins in Minnesota. Downtown gained thousands of new residents. Crime rates dropped. The state property tax rate structure was made fairer to businesses. Greater MSP was formed to promote the region to potential investors around the world. The new business-funded Downtown Improvement District is chipping away at nuisance issues, such as getting trash collected on the weekends.
And this month, the Legislature approved a new downtown stadium for the Minnesota Vikings. That eliminates a big item on the "to-do" list Grabarski will hand to Stenglein.
The list remains long. The council's Downtown 2025 plan, released six months ago, is full of proposals to make the metro core healthier and, in turn, make the region more prosperous. The commitment with which his organization's business leaders and their government partners are jointly tackling the Downtown 2025 proposals is "the biggest ray of hope I see for this region," Grabarski told me. For helping to create that hope, Grabarski can take a bow.