Although there’s still a decade to go to achieve the 10 major goals outlined in the Minneapolis Downtown Council’s 2025 Plan, several objectives have already been met, and work on others is off to a great start. There’s no time for complacency for downtown planners, though, especially on issues such as crime and infrastructure investment.
Among the accomplishments: Construction is underway on a new Vikings stadium. Although the stadium is rising on the site of the torn-down Metrodome, and not grouped with Target Field and Target Center in a stadium district as the 2025 Plan envisioned, something even better has happened: Downtown’s long-neglected east side is seeing an unprecedented building boom, with two Wells Fargo towers being constructed on blocks formerly owned by the Star Tribune, among other buildings. Soon, two more Star Tribune blocks will be turned into a public park called the Commons. The park will be a key component in meeting another 2025 objective — creating and sustaining a green infrastructure.
And it’s not just Downtown East that’s rising, and it’s not just office towers. New residential construction of condominiums and apartments continues at a blistering pace, especially on the north end of Nicollet Mall and Marquette Avenue. These new housing units are key to meeting the objective of doubling downtown’s residential population to 70,000. Current estimates, according the council, are about 37,500, but that number will rise when new estimates are released early next year.
The residential construction on the north end of the mall will be boosted by the impending rebuild of the iconic street, which was another 2025 goal. And many of the units are close to a light-rail station that currently serves the Blue and Green lines and that may someday serve their extensions — the proposed Southwest and Bottineau light-rail lines. They’ll be needed if the 2025 objective of “leading the nation in transportation options” and increasing the share of commuters who use transit to get downtown to 60 percent.
The Downtown Council, and the business leaders behind the organization, need to more aggressively lobby lawmakers to invest in transit. All too often it’s assumed that the business community is anti-rail, and even anti-transit. Downtown leaders will have another opportunity to correct that misperception during the upcoming session of the Legislature.
Another key construction project is Gateway Park, which will advance the general goal of showcasing the Mississippi riverfront. In October, the city issued a request for proposal for an “iconic” building with green space on the block close to the river that borders Washington and Hennepin avenues, Nicollet Mall and S. 3rd Street.
Some 2025 objectives are more subjective, including efforts to create a “consistently compelling downtown experience” and “forge connections to the University of Minnesota.”
Others, however, can be measured. A “festival of ideas and civic engagement” has already been launched. The Minneapolis Idea eXchange (MiX) festival will take place next year. Another 2025 goal is to end street homelessness. Currently, officials estimate that there are 125 people homeless and not in shelters downtown, or 41 percent of the overall homeless total.
Not listed among the 2025 Plan’s concrete objectives are, well, concrete and other materials needed to repair downtown streets that are too often in an embarrassing state of disrepair. As with transit, downtown leaders need to advocate for investing in infrastructure this coming legislative session.
Another key concern is crime. Recent high-profile incidents, including sexual assaults in city-owned parking ramps and violence in nightclubs, perpetuates the perception that downtown isn’t safe.
The council recognizes that this perception is “an Achilles’ heel for downtown growth and vitality,” and it admirably issued a proposed five-step plan to boost ramp safety. The density-building objectives in the 2025 plan should create some safety in numbers, but city leaders must stay focused on the issue.
For now, the postrecession potential of downtown Minneapolis is being realized, increasingly making this the kind of world-class destination to work, live and visit that the Downtown Council envisioned in 2011.