It’s clear the downtown Minneapolis Macy’s is closing, but the fate of the bustling skyways that funnel pedestrians past stacks of sweaters and displays of fancy chocolates there is now up in the air.
“One of my first e-mails today was exactly that question from the general manager at [the IDS Center],” said Minneapolis Downtown Council President Steve Cramer. “A lot of people are wondering.”
The skyway system is largely owned and maintained by downtown building owners. Though pieces of the skyway system cross city streets, much of it draws pedestrians through private buildings.
The investment firm buying the Macy’s site, New York-based 601W Companies, plans to convert it into office space with retail on the ground and skyway levels.
It’s not yet clear how that transition will affect skyway access. Representatives of 601W have not returned calls for comment on the purchase.
Macy’s is one of downtown’s biggest skyway hubs, providing a crossing over Nicollet Mall and connections to the IDS Center, US Bancorp Center, Highland Bank Court and City Center.
Peter Bruce, a consultant who tracks pedestrian traffic, said Macy’s is one of the busiest spots in the skyway with an estimated 15,000 trips a day.
Pedestrians rely on the skyways most between October and April, Bruce said. With the store scheduled to close in March, he said, it’ll be important to have signs in place to help pedestrians find their way around any closures.
“If the building is closed or the skyway route is made less attractive than normal … people will need to be reminded of what’s a block or two away,” Bruce said, “because they won’t have the natural inclination to just walk through Macy’s and just see what they find.”
Leslie O’Brien has worked downtown for 13 years, and said she uses the skyway year-round — especially with the ongoing Nicollet Mall reconstruction. On Thursday afternoon, she was eating lunch at the Macy’s cafe.
“I can’t say I’m an avid shopper,” she said, “but I go through the skyway all the time.”
North Loop business owner Eric Dayton has been an advocate for getting pedestrians out of the skyways and onto downtown streets. Changes to the skyway as a result of the Macy’s closure could spur that.
“The fact that so many people probably saw Macy’s as a through-way to get to wherever they were going is, in my opinion, a big reason why they’re closing,” said Dayton, whose great-great-grandfather founded the department store that first occupied the Macy’s site. “People were cutting through Macy’s but they weren’t shopping there. They weren’t supporting it.”
Details about 601W’s plans for the skyway should emerge next week when company representatives meet with city officials and the Downtown Council, Cramer said. The hope is for minimal skyway disruption, he said, similar to when Block E closed in 2012. When it was recently renovated, pedestrians could walk through but areas under construction were blocked off.
“Clearly, the city and the business community is going to have an interest in working with [601W] to try to accomplish this,” Cramer said, “because that is a key crossroads.”