The downtown Minneapolis economic engine is humming, if not roaring, several hundred attendees learned at the annual meeting of the Downtown Council last week.
For example, developers could pull another $1 billion-plus in building permits in Minneapolis this year, for a record third year in a row.
And more than 70 percent of the construction value, once again, is expected to focus on expanding and renovating downtown, including the Warehouse District.
The meeting, the first under new Downtown Council CEO Steve Cramer, was less glitzy than past meetings, which sometimes resembled festive three-ring circuses complete with sound effects. Cramer’s inaugural included a thoughtful discussion among new Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, architect Julie Snow and U.S. Bancorp CEO Richard Davis, a native Californian who runs a continent-spanning bank but exhibits a lot of enthusiasm for his adopted community.
Cramer, a former City Council member and Hennepin County housing administrator, is a cerebral, even-keeled guy who over the last 10 years grew Project for Pride in Living, the affordable housing and skills-training nonprofit, from $8 million to $38 million in revenue.
“Steve has credibility with business leaders, city and Hennepin County leaders,” said Collin Barr, the Ryan Cos. executive who is chairman of the Downtown Council. “He’s a thoughtful, methodical, big-picture strategic thinker … and he knows how to facilitate action with a wide range of stakeholders.”
Some of the latest developments and challenges for downtown include:
• More than 1,000 people moved downtown during 2013, bringing the population to 37,526. The Downtown 2025 Plan anticipates a doubling of the downtown census to 70,000 by 2025. They will range from retiring baby boomers to singles and young couples. Priorities outlined in the 2025 Plan include the end of street hopelessness, business and residential expansion, increased transit options and less vehicle congestion.
• Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed $20 million in his $1 billion state bonding request toward the rebuilding of the dated Nicollet Mall, estimated to be a $50 million project. An update and discussion of this long-simmering project is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 19 at the Minneapolis Central Library. An overhaul of the 12-block “Main Street” of downtown is a top Downtown Council priority, but remains controversial in some corners.
• Head count at downtown’s 15 largest employers declined slightly to 50,036 over the last year, after an 8,000-employee growth spurt since 2010. Now the buzz is about the growth of residents and small businesses filling vacant spaces, particularly in the Warehouse District.
Minneapolis long has been criticized for being difficult for new and expanding small businesses who have to deal with a plethora of building, health, licensing and other regulations. The Downtown Council, working with the city, later this month is expected to launch a centralized, web-based approach to dealing with city rules.
• Downtown absorbed more than 100,000 square feet of office space last year, even as new space came on line. And the vacancy rate declined overall. Wells Fargo plans to build a $400 million campus on the east side of downtown, and the Minnesota Timberwolves and Mayo Clinic plan a $50 million refurbishment of ailing Block E that will include a practice facility and health clinic. The central business district now accounts for a healthy 37 percent of all office space in the Twin Cities metro area.
• Serious crime was down again in 2013, particularly among repeat offenders, thanks to continued collaboration among Minneapolis Police, business owners and the ubiquitous “ambassadors” of the Downtown Improvement District, financed by Downtown Council members. The ambassadors assist visitors, plant gardens, recycle and call the police when they suspect trouble. Johnny Jackson, an always-upbeat four-year employee, was named “Ambassador of the Year.”
• The number of homeless people on downtown streets has been cut in half to an estimated 157 since 2010, partly due to innovative partnerships between business, police and social service agencies who work to find housing and other assistance.