As leaders in downtown Minneapolis, we often get together to celebrate our successes. Nicollet Mall is being redesigned for the next 50 years, and the project is on schedule and on budget. Target Center is being renovated to attract hundreds of thousands of new spectators and fans. Downtown East Commons is about to have its first full spring and summer season. Hennepin Avenue, the heart of our downtown, continues to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, and its marquee lights continue to shine.
Leadership also comes together to help meet our challenges. Recently, we brought together leaders from the public, private, and nonprofit sector to address an issue that has understandably been the source of frustration and anger: an increase in individuals engaging in behaviors on Hennepin Avenue — like public intoxication, fighting, catcalling and, at times, worse — that are unpleasant, unwelcoming, and leave people feeling unsafe.
We are implementing an innovative plan to make sure that Hennepin Avenue is, and feels, inviting, welcoming, and safe for everyone, from every neighborhood, at every time of day. This plan is specific to these daytime behaviors and is a complement to other strategies we — the city of Minneapolis, neighborhood organizations, and other partners — are working on to reduce violent crime at night on Hennepin and downtown, and to transform the nighttime experience in the Warehouse District.
The plan is based on three principles:
First, that we cannot simply arrest our way out of this challenge. Law enforcement is an important part of this plan, but cannot by itself make Hennepin Avenue the safe, inviting destination for everyone that we all want it to be.
Second, that outreach, assistance, and human connection can often be more effective strategies for creating new expectations and a new, welcoming climate than law enforcement alone.
Third, that to increase positive engagement and activation of underutilized spaces will require the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to work together.
The plan we have developed, which is rooted in these principles, went into effect last weekend. It lays out a set of actions in four areas: outreach, activation, legislation and a foundation of law-enforcement presence and effective policing.
It includes outreach in the form of increased presence on the avenue from MAD DADS (Men Against Destruction, Defending Against Drugs and Social Disorder), the Downtown Improvement District Livability Team, Summit Academy, and the Youth Coordinating Board’s outreach team, all of whom join the great work of St. Stephen’s and YouthLink’s outreach workers. In addition, Hennepin County will provide rapid chemical-dependency assessments for people willing to seek help.
It includes activation along Hennepin Avenue from 3rd to 10th streets, including creative place-making projects at bus shelters, bringing back the popular Pianos on Parade, and other engaging programming, including for youth.
It includes legislative changes we support that would allow officers to enforce court orders to restrict some criminal defendants from being in areas where they have repeatedly offended, including downtown.
And it rests on a foundation of law-enforcement presence that includes more beat officers along Hennepin Avenue, soon to be joined by 15 more officers downtown, to continue to enforce the law against illegal behaviors. Police officers will be joined on beats by DID (Downtown Improvement District) ambassadors, Hennepin County juvenile probation officers, and Metro Transit police and Hennepin County sheriff’s deputies will increase their presence from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
What this plan represents is a lively, welcoming avenue that showcases the best of downtown Minneapolis — our restaurants, theaters, shopping, and unique activities, to be certain. Our residents, our employees, our artists, our tourists, our young people all will find a comfortable, safe, inviting downtown because of its implementation.
This is a living, breathing plan: we will be measuring its results throughout the spring and summer to assess its effectiveness, and we will adjust and revise it as needed.
This innovative plan will create welcoming spaces on Hennepin Avenue and set expectations for how we treat one another. There’s a role for all of us to play in making this plan a success and ensuring that Hennepin Avenue continues to be the safe and inviting heart of our thriving, world-class downtown.
Betsy Hodges is mayor of Minneapolis. Jonathan Weinhagen is president and CEO, Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce. Steve Cramer is president and CEO, Minneapolis Downtown Council and Downtown Improvement District. Kevin Lewis is executive director, Greater Minneapolis Building Owners & Managers Association (BOMA). Melvin Tennant is president and CEO, Meet Minneapolis.