National Guard soldiers will soon pack up the beige trucks dotting the Twin Cities. Workers will begin to take down barbed wire and tall fencing surrounding government buildings. Business owners and building managers will carefully remove plywood covering shop windows and office tower lobbies.
Public safety officials on Wednesday described plans to defortify the Twin Cities, citing calmed tensions and decreased threats of civil unrest after a jury found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd.
Many of the 3,000 activated Guard members will be demobilized and state troopers and others who have been guarding locations such as the State Capitol will be reassigned. Residents can expect a dramatic decrease in law enforcement presence by the end of the week, officials said during a news conference about the Operation Safety Net security plan, put in place for the verdict in Chauvin's case.
"Our employees and members are ready to go home and eager to go home," State Patrol Col. Matt Langer said, though he and others said that some extra security measures would remain until officials feel comfortable removing them.
Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson said the barricades and fencing surrounding the government center where the trial took place will come down "within the next few days or weeks." They could return later this summer, before the trial for the other three former officers charged in Floyd's death.
Many business owners and commercial building managers said they were eager to start removing their barricades and welcome customers and workers back.
"I want us to get the boards down as quickly as possible because this is not representative of who and what we want to be as a city," said Alexis Walsko, owner and founder of Lola Red PR.
She waited until the very last minute to board up her downtown Minneapolis public relations firm Tuesday, right before the announcement that a verdict in the Chauvin trial had been reached. Walsko said she hoped to get the boards down from the windows and doors at her First Avenue office as soon as she could this week: "I don't think it's good for a city to be boarded up."
In the last few weeks, downtown Minneapolis and other swatches of the Twin Cities have turned into fortified zones with blocks of businesses boarded up out of worry for possible riots related to the Chauvin trial. More than 1,500 businesses in the Twin Cities sustained damage during the unrest that followed Floyd's death nearly a year ago, causing an estimated $500 million in losses.
The fortification this year didn't sit well with some residents, activists and city officials, who said the barriers were intimidating and made it feel like officials were implying that marches would be violent.
But with a guilty verdict reached Tuesday, demonstrations remained peaceful and celebratory, providing confidence that physical barriers could be removed for now.
Bob White, owner of the Hubert White men's clothing store at the IDS Center, said he was looking forward to building managers removing boards blocking views from Nicollet Mall, though he didn't have an exact date.
"When you are in the store right now … it's a very closed-in feeling," he said.
The store has had boards in place after rioters smashed glass last August following false rumors of a police shooting that was actually a suicide.
"Getting the boards down is big," White said.
Managers of numerous downtown office buildings, including the IDS Center and Capella Tower, said they plan to start removing plywood from windows, some as soon as Thursday.
Property management at Fifth Street Towers intends to remove its barrier wall after the weekend.
Jim Durda, general manager of the City Center, said boards will come down this week that were erected in front of the complex's Fogo de Chão and Fhima's Minneapolis restaurants. Some barriers will remain in the meantime, including those around the still-closed Saks Off 5th store and an empty space on Nicollet Mall and 7th Street that will soon get a new tenant.
"At the end of the day downtown is going to look a lot more fresh," Durda said.
Kevin Lewis, president and chief executive of the Greater Minneapolis Building Owners and Managers Association, said he was under the impression that most property managers throughout downtown Minneapolis were beginning to assess timelines for removing the boards from their first-floor lobbies and storefronts, important progress as more people are anticipated to work downtown again.
"They want their buildings to be as welcoming as possible and not this visual of 'Uh oh, something can happen at anytime,' " Lewis said.
As building owners and property managers have dealt with the COVID crisis and public safety concerns over the past year, they have updated their security plans and enhanced communication between property management, security teams and tenants — improvements that will continue for the long term, Lewis said.
After the verdict, there was a marked shift in sentiment about safety, said Steve Cramer, president and chief executive of the Minneapolis Downtown Council and Downtown Improvement District. By Wednesday morning, the group had redeployed its green-clad city ambassadors to keep streets clean and help visitors with directions.
Despite the positivity, Cramer said many building managers have decided to keep their plywood and other barriers in basements or other storage areas in case they need to be used again. Some places have also considered installing metal shutters or window films to help prevent glass from shattering in case of a riot.
Jas Singh, owner of Greenway Liquors on the edge of downtown in Loring Park, said he planned to take the plywood down from his windows and door next week and replace them with $35,000 to $40,000 metal shutters that roll down, after rioters hit his store last summer. "We are going to see some sun out there finally," Singh said, as he rang up customers Wednesday afternoon.
Walsko said she plans to keep a part of the barrier she erected last year as a memento of sorts: Somebody drew a detailed picture of a flower with the words "Dream Forever 2020" on it.
"I'm going to have it framed to live with us," she said.