Target's decision to significantly downsize its office footprint is one of the first COVID-19-related blows to downtown Minneapolis, but it likely won't be the last.
The pandemic experience has shown many businesses that having employees work remotely can be efficient. That's understandably prompting many employers here and nationwide to re-evaluate office space needs.
But Minneapolis companies have another factor to consider: public safety. If downtown expects its 50,000 workers to return, thousands of residents to stay and visitors to keep coming the city must address the crime concerns that have plagued downtown even before the pandemic and last year's civil unrest.
Target says that its decision to give up nearly 1 million square feet of leased office space in City Center and move 3,500 employees is because the offices are no longer needed. The retailer will remain downtown's largest employer, with 8,500 workers.
In an e-mail exchange with an editorial writer, a company spokeswoman said that the company needs less space as it adopts a hybrid model of remote and on-site work. "However," she added, "we are closely monitoring the safety of downtown Minneapolis as we evaluate and adjust our plans for a return to headquarters offices."
No doubt many other downtown employers are doing the same assessment. That's why city, county, law enforcement and transit officials must double down on efforts to keep downtown safe. That goal isn't helped by misguided efforts by some on the City Council to shrink the Police Department. Mayor Jacob Frey and Chief Medaria Arradondo need community support to both reform the department but also ensure it has adequate resources.
Once the fencing and barricades set up downtown to secure the Derek Chauvin trial are removed and downtown returns to a new summer normal, public safety must remain a key focus for the city. That means a healthy police presence and more community ambassadors working on violence prevention.
Following the Target announcement, Frey told the Star Tribune that he expects downtown's vitality to return, in part because of the dynamic atmosphere that cannot be recreated "on a Zoom from your couch."
That's true, to a point, but Minneapolis Downtown Council President Steve Cramer knows the comeback will not be easy. "There is a difference between a collapse and an expected economic reset, and I believe this is a reflection of an economic reset and not a collapse," he told a reporter, adding that Target's 8,500 employees will still be working in the city, just not every day.
Thousands of other downtown workers and their employers now know they have a viable workplace alternative, while those who work in restaurants, bars and entertainment venues must rely on customers to come back — including from downtown's workforce.
Downtown Minneapolis is at a critical crossroads, and it will take leadership from City Hall and the business community to restore faith in its future. And that means a safe downtown must be a priority.