With a goal to double the number of downtown Minneapolis residents by 2025 and 3,000 housing units already underway in and around the city’s central core, Minneapolis is going to get a lot more crowded.
And this increased density is likely to have profound effects on downtown, affecting how businesses recruit and retain out-of-town talent, how workers use transportation and whether new employers will locate there.
In a bid to garner support from downtown business leaders for civic efforts to transform downtown, two proponents of increased density made their cases Wednesday at the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce’s Executive Women’s Council, urging attendees to get involved with pushes to renovate Nicollet Mall and to develop new parks along the Mississippi riverfront, among other projects.
Gayle Prest, the city’s sustainability director, and Mary deLaittre, president of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, told attendees a future downtown with thousands more residents will be a boon to local business.
Prest touted the Downtown Council’s 2025 Plan, which aims to turn the central core into a “24/7/365” experience by building more housing, attracting retail, redesigning and rebuilding Nicollet Mall and better connecting the business district with a “showcase” Mississippi riverfront.
“You’re starting to see more and more apartments being proposed in the core business sector, so you’ll have more people living in this area,” she said. “This is not just for 2025, it’s happening now. In the next year, there’s going to be a heck of a lot more people living downtown.”
Prest urged Chamber members to support the city’s request for $25 million in state bonding funds for a complete reconstruction of Nicollet Mall, which the city says will provide not only walkability for new downtown residents but also a signature public amenity to help Minneapolis compete nationwide for top talent and businesses.
City backers assert the plan will leverage $2.7 billion in private investment, generate $174 million in direct taxes for the state and trigger creation of more than 13,000 permanent jobs.
Meanwhile, one of the keys to making a denser downtown work for businesses and employers are “connections,” added deLaittre, whose Minneapolis Parks Foundation is working on the 20-year, long-range RiverFirst Initiative.
That effort, being made in conjunction with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, seeks to develop new parks along a 5.5-mile stretch of the Mississippi River, including a new Downtown Gateway Park, which would use new green spaces to connect Nicollet Mall to the Hennepin Avenue Bridge.
“We want to create a city that is very well connected,” she said. “We need to bring things together rather than isolating them. We have many opportunities to do that, such as focusing on the river and modifying the physical environment through parks and other city building projects.”
The Downtown Council and parks efforts, deLaittre said, are vital elements in keeping downtown Minneapolis competitive with other top-tier destinations for business investment because they provide for lifestyle choices for those who live and work there.
“If we want to double our population and if we want to diversify that population, we have to provide choice in our landscape,” she said. “That means choice in terms of different types of modes of transportation, choice in housing, choice in parks.”
Already, there has been an impact on retail with two grocery stores coming downtown. The 2025 plan is also helping to enhance the “vibrancy” of the city by improving perceptions of safety and generating more foot traffic after 6 p.m., Prest said.
Don Jacobson is a St. Paul freelance writer.