Meet Minneapolis, the city's marketing and tourism organization, plans to open a 5,000-square-foot visitor center this spring inside the former Neiman Marcus building on Nicollet Mall. It will mark the first time in nearly a decade that the city has had such a facility in a central location, and officials hope it will become an information hub for both out-of-towners and locals looking for new activities or information on commuting and using public transit.
"The one thing we really want to do with this is give it a Minneapolis feel," said Bill Deef, Meet Minneapolis' vice president of international relations and tourism. "We're looking at it as an interactive space, and we want it to be the place where a walking tour would start."
Deef said the yet-to-be-named visitor center will also include a space for events, like readings, musical performances or cooking demonstrations.
It will have space set aside for a "social media command center" where staff members can post information and answer questions, particularly during major events. Meet Minneapolis created a similar real-time social-media operation during last summer's Major League Baseball All-Star Game, even enlisting the help of celebrity tweeters like Mayor Betsy Hodges.
Deef said Meet Minneapolis hopes to open the information center by Memorial Day, in time for the summer season. The facility's operating budget will be $230,000 per year, and Meet Minneapolis intends to hire additional staff.
The visitor center will be on the ground floor of a building soon to be occupied by CenterPoint Energy. The company signed a deal on the 100,000-square-foot building in 2013, and plans to move in with about 300 employees in April. Most of those employees currently work in leased space in the LaSalle Plaza Building.
CenterPoint had to get special approval from the city to limit the amount of retail space in the building to Meet Minneapolis' 5,000-square foot area. The city typically requires buildings in the area to have at least 60 percent of ground floor space reserved for retail sales, but CenterPoint was granted an exception.
Rebecca Virden, a spokeswoman for the energy company, said Meet Minneapolis' plans were attractive to CenterPoint, which has a long history with the city of Minneapolis. "This has created a closer partnership, and we're going to be supporting some of their events and activities," Virden said.