The St. Paul Downtown Alliance is trying to "spark" activity in the area that is recovering from the pandemic more slowly than many were hoping.

It is spending $3 million — $1 million each from American Rescue Plan Act funds, the Knight Foundation and the alliance — to cover rent for pop-up stores, add downtown ambassadors and revitalize spaces with new art.

The Let's Grow economic recovery campaign also will include events to draw people back.

"This next phase of work is aimed at continuing to build on that positive momentum, bringing new activity to our downtown spaces," said Saint Paul Downtown Alliance President Joe Spencer.

While more workers have started coming back to the office this year, they have not come in the numbers many had hoped and not every day. And the businesses that served those workers such as restaurants have felt the effects.

The alliance launched the Welcome Back Saint Paul campaign as the first of workers trickled back last year. The latest efforts are the second phase of the effort to draw people back.

Public events are planned for the 7th Place Mall and by the Wells Fargo Place, officials said.

New and large art installations by Girl Friday, Amanda Lovelee and Emily Stover, will be erected in the next few weeks by the Osborn370 and Securian Financial 401 buildings and other locations.

The city will increase the number of its downtown "Street Team" ambassadors from 12 to 20.

And the alliance will offer six months of free rent to as many as 10 small businesses that will be placed inside now-vacant storefronts. Two businesses — Ramadhan Designs and 2043 SBC — already signed leases and are setting up shop inside the Treasure Island Center on N. Wabasha Street and Wells Fargo Place on 7th Street.

Lee Krueger, president of Krueger Real Estate Advisors, and NEOO Partners Chief Executive D'Angelos Svenkeson are heading the effort to find additional retailers to take over empty shops.

Already, scores of downtown office buildings and property managers waived rents temporarily or offered discounts to help keep restaurant and shop tenants open. Even with that assistance, some closed.

Getting the pre-pandemic energy back is still taking some effort more than two years after the pandemic started.

"This is exactly what the Let's Grow campaign will do," said Jai Winston, director of Knight Foundation's Saint Paul program. "We look forward to seeing how this initiative will empower our entrepreneurs and creatives in making our city even more successful."