Watch the City Come Alive

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Let’s face it: Whether you’re a city dweller or decamped to the burbs long ago, we all have a stake in downtown. It might feel personal, like a sentient page in the scrapbook of our lives where some of our fondest memories were made, or serve as the home base of where we work, shop, and recreate. When downtown looks good, it’s safe to say the rest of us feel good. But “looking good” is more than just a feeling—it’s what’s achieved when the ecosystem of entertainment, shopping, green space, residential, transportation, and business is beating once again.

Clean Bill of Health

“Minneapolis continues to bounce back at a steady pace, and it’s because we are a community that believes in the importance of our downtown,” says Steve Cramer, president and CEO of mpls downtown council (mdc). “Our city and region depend on a thriving downtown; it is how our community is viewed nationally and internationally, and it is the economic engine of our region.”

 However Minneapolis registers on the gauge for vibrancy is a telling indicator of the health of our communities—or, as mdc calls it, the reanimation of downtown.

The key metrics that make up the downtown reanimation dashboard—like hotel usage,  employee occupancy of downtown’s largest buildings, light rail ridership, and seated diners—serve everyone from CEOs, as they continually reboot back-to-office plans, to Metro Transit employees and hospitality businesses, as they navigate the significant headwinds and tailwinds wrought by the pandemic’s fluctuating nature.

“Minneapolis continues to bounce back at a steady pace, and it’s because we are a community that believes in the importance of our downtown.”Steve Cramer, president and CEO, mpls downtown council

This spring, more than 56 percent of downtown employees were back in office in some capacity. That, coupled with downtown’s unparalleled events scene, makes for a busy summer. Whether the destination is Target Field or Target Center, the Armory or Orchestra Hall, the Sculpture Garden or the riverfront, downtown will again welcome millions of people to play in 2022.

“We know from our reanimation work that once someone returns, they are far more likely to come downtown regularly,” says Leah Wong, vice president of external relations at mdc. As a steady trickle of businesses returns, so do their workers, stimulating business travel, restaurant traffic, and nightlife.

“United action has been critical,” says Wong. “We are seeing organizations rally around returning to the office and supporting events that drive people downtown. We are continuing to work on building converging events to help bring our community together for collective urban experiences.”

Residential Renaissance

Minnesota has always been known for fostering an entrepreneurial spirit, and while small businesses were hit hard during the pandemic, many of them—scrappy as they are—cultivated unique ways to stay somewhat unmarred, like taking residence in empty retail spaces. There is, for example, Uniquely Global in Gaviidae Common, TiAngy Designs in IDS Center, B’YOUtique in Baker Center, and Coconut Whisk Café in Young-Quinlan.

“These businesses have all opened over the past year, diversifying the retail scene in our downtown core,” says Cramer. While it predates the pandemic, Chameleon Shoppes, a private-public group that aims to transform empty retail spaces into business opportunities, is stronger than ever in its support for locally owned and minority-owned businesses.

“We know from our reanimation work that once someone returns, they are far more likely to come downtown regularly.” Leah Wong, vice president of external relations, mpls downtown council

Downtown markets and collective retail spots like The Departments at Dayton’s combine with other on-street (and on-grass!) activations that visitors and residents can expect to see, including Pride, Stone Arch Bridge Festival, and Rock the Garden.

“A year ago, Aquatennial was one of the first major events back and drew huge crowds to the CenterPoint Energy Torchlight Parade and Target Fireworks,” says Wong. “The Minnesota Twins also led the way back with fans in seats.” This summer, Wong says mdc is excited to welcome people back with a packed lineup of things to see/do/try, like outdoor movies and live concerts at The Commons.

Expect to see Pianos on Parade this June; programming at Peavey Plaza; and a variety of yoga, markets, and performances throughout downtown.

By the Numbers: 

(from 2019 to 2022)

56% Return to Office Occupancy

50% Restaurant Goers

5.6% Population Growth

This article originally appeared in the June 2022 issue of Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. Read more on downtown Minneapolis, 2022 summer-style, sponsored by the mpls downtown council, here.

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