Downtown Minneapolis received a shot in the arm recently when Deluxe Corp., a century-old Minnesota company, announced it was relocating its headquarters and over 500 jobs to 8th Street and Marquette Avenue. This is a solid vote of confidence that our downtown remains a place for business success now and into the future.
2020 hasn’t been an easy year for any of us, with pandemic-related restrictions reshaping our economic and social lives and the tragic death of George Floyd shaking our community to the core and inspiring important conversations about racial inequities and approaches to policing.
We have seen effects from these unprecedented events downtown. At present only a fraction of the normal employee population is coming to work in office towers. Large crowds that once flocked to Target Field, Target Center, U.S. Bank Stadium, the Hennepin Theater District and other live entertainment venues are nonexistent right now. Convention activity and business travel has slowed to a trickle, reducing hotel occupancy. Without the normal bustle created by workers and visitors, restaurants have seen their business decline dramatically.
Safety downtown is on the minds of many. Because the economy has slowed over the spring and summer, with fewer people around, total crime is statistically reduced this year compared with last year downtown. But that violence that racked the entire city, including downtown, after Memorial Day, and a second night of damage more recently, has shaken confidence. And emptier streets don’t feel as safe.
These conditions are a jarring departure from what had been an amazing renaissance downtown in recent years, measured by job and residential growth, attention grabbing events like Super Bowl LII and the NCAA Final Four, increasing visitors and record investment.
After seven difficult months, some are questioning the future of downtown.
Not us, nor our organizations. The optimism we feel for what’s ahead isn’t born of nostalgia, nor do we downplay the challenges facing downtown. Rather, we know what work is happening now, and the everyday activities that aren’t often in the news, all of which lay the foundation for a strong future derived from a thriving past. Here’s what we see.
The residential population has reached a record high of more than 51,000, and it’s easy to see the positive effect residents have on street life and activity levels in downtown neighborhoods.
Public realm improvements continue throughout downtown. Water Works Park on the Mississippi riverfront is nearing completion, the newly renovated Peavey Plaza has finished its first full summer, the Commons Park is now under management by the Park Board, and a robust public art program is ongoing.
Downtown Improvement District (DID) Ambassadors and other DID programs are constantly present and add a sense of normalcy.
Major projects under construction or recently completed include Thrivent’s headquarters, the Dayton’s Project, Gateway/Four Seasons Hotel tower, the Eleven condominium, Rand building hotel conversion and multiple housing sites, all totaling in excess of $700 million in investment.
More projects are in the pipeline, most prominently a 27-story apartment building at Hennepin and 1st, and several larger-scale affordable housing projects led by the Catholic Charities renovation of a former nursing home near Elliot Park.
Infrastructure improvements that will support economic success for generations are nearing completion, including a new and improved Hennepin Avenue, updates to Interstate 35W incorporating transit, and the Southwest light rail line which recently received a nearly $1 billion federal investment to achieve full funding.
There is a high degree of collaboration and communication with our organizations and downtown employers about their back-to-office planning: sports teams, arts institutions and performance venues preparing for the return of fans and patrons; restaurants and hotels to inspire confidence about their user experience during COVID; law enforcement and community agencies to improve the perception and reality of public safety. These efforts are aimed at bringing the full downtown economy and “vibe” back as strongly as possible.
The economic and social impact of the pandemic was swift, and the compounding effects of social unrest in response to the death of George Floyd were profound. Our bounce back will be slower. But bounce back we will, through steady progress brought about by intentional work on the key challenges we face, and continuation of our tradition of effective public-private sector-community partnerships.
Stakes are high for the work ahead. Returning to economic health downtown is critical to help restore city financial well-being. And a vibrant downtown Minneapolis is a lens through which the entire region is viewed favorably.
Minneapolis is not alone in this journey. Downtowns in cities across the nation face the challenges we confront. For us, the issue isn’t where we find ourselves today, but how we will respond in the months ahead? Knowing our history of progress, and the talent, resolve and leadership at hand, it would be wise to bet on downtown’s success. We certainly are.
Steve Cramer is president and CEO of Minneapolis Downtown Council and Downtown Improvement District. Jonathan Weinhagen is president and CEO of Minneapolis Regional Chamber. Melvin Tennant is president and CEO of Meet Minneapolis. Kevin Lewis is president and CEO of BOMA Greater Minneapolis. Mark Nerenhausen is president and CEO of Hennepin Theatre Trust.