If you build it, they will come. That’s essentially Adam Duininck’s mentality for bringing people back downtown. 

Duininck is only two weeks into his new role as president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council and Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District, but he’s eager to take the lead on safety and vibrancy initiatives of the nearly 70-year-old business association.

The reality is, fewer people are regularly in the downtown core now compared to several years ago. There aren’t as many stores along Nicollet Mall or as many workers in the tallest office buildings to support those that have stayed open. (The North Loop is a different story.)

But, as a whole, downtown Minneapolis still has many strengths that it can play to, Duininck said, namely its array of theaters, stadiums, music venues, restaurants and bars. Some of those attractions elicit nostalgia for many people, he points out, and maybe renewed excitement around downtown’s most iconic landmarks and events will get them to come back.

Though the Holidazzle isn’t happening this year, there are still holiday happenings downtown through the end of the year. Duininck implores everyone to check out all of the pop-up shops and window displays along Nicollet Mall, go to a concert or a basketball game and grab a bite at one of the area's many renowned restaurants.

In a recent conversation with Downtown Voices, he said: “I want us to really start thinking about marketing the downtown area’s full experience: shop, eat and go to an event. We don't want anybody to do just one of those things. We want people to come down here for a five- to eight-hour window of time where they’re doing things, and we have to give them reasons to do so.”

This conversation with Duininck has been edited for length and clarity.

BK: Downtown faces some major hurdles. Is there a particular one that you’re prioritizing?

AD: Safety is paramount to everything. People [need to] feel safe coming downtown at all hours of the day. 

There are also big-picture questions related to the future of work and the residential population. How does the residential outlook integrate with the fabric of downtown? The conversation that's emerged in the last couple of years about office to residential conversions is top of mind. 

Other areas of focus include transit, retail, hospitality and convention business. We’ve seen some good trends in the right directions in the last year, so how can we continue to build on that success?

BK: Other than sharing data, how can we better illustrate to the general public that downtown Minneapolis is safe?

AD: If you haven't been downtown in a while or only visit occasionally, come down and experience it yourself and talk to your friends and family about it. 

I do still hear pretty broadly that the perception is worse than the reality. People who spend a fair amount of time downtown can tell you it's busy, it’s happening, there are things going on. 

Look for reasons to go downtown. The holiday season is always a good time. So, first and foremost, that’s the biggest thing because there's a real important correlation between activation and presence and safety.

BK: To what do you attribute the drop in crime?

AD: I think efforts like Warehouse District Live are a big reason for it. Some people weren't quite sure if that was the right approach, but in the end, the data proved that it was a very successful initiative. 

Generally, it’s due to increased traffic downtown, with more people going out for dinner, going to events, coming downtown to shop, and residents being more active and engaged in the community. So I want to think about what lessons we can learn from things like Warehouse District Live and also try to think outside the box about other ways to engage the residents in the community.

BK: How can the Downtown Council work with downtown’s largest employers to get more workers back into the office?

AD: We've done a fair amount of that in the last year or two and that's why we've seen a great improvement from one or two days a week to a pretty consistent three days a week. I would like to try to push for one more day. I plan to meet with our members to talk to them about it and ask them what they're hearing from their employees.

BK: What kind of incentives can be offered to employers for activating empty offices?

AD: Financial incentives, like free or reduced parking, or certain incentives that just make it easier for someone to afford to come down here. Free lunches or coffees, something of that nature. 

Building community is important for workers, too. Get your teams together, not just in the work that they’re doing, but socially. 

On our end, we can contribute by hosting events like Downtown Thursdays and do what we can for the retail community in the skyways and on Nicollet Mall. Creating that kind of environment and giving some predictability to that is something that will continue that trend of bringing more people downtown.

BK: I understand why companies want to offer flexibility to workers, but they also should contribute to downtown’s rebound. Do you plan to talk to employers that have dragged their feet on returning to the office, like Target and Hennepin County?

AD: Most definitely. I will say, I’m told that Target has done a lot more and its buildings are more active than people realize, but Hennepin County certainly has been pretty vocal about its opposition to bringing people back downtown. I would like to talk with them about that. 

You mentioned the social contract component and there’s also the dollar and cents case. If fewer and fewer people come downtown, we’re going to see an impact on property values and property tax base. We all have incredibly important, vested interest in maintaining the strong vitality of our downtown. Even if you live in Northeast Minneapolis or the south side or you go to school at the U, you benefit from a strong downtown with a strong property tax base. 

Frankly, the rest of Hennepin County benefits from that, as well. So if you're out in the western suburbs, you should think about how the vitality of downtown Minneapolis affects your pocketbook. We’re all in this together.

BK: Workers are the only piece of the puzzle, though. How can we get residents and other visitors to choose to spend time downtown?

AD: It's about building a sense of community and a vested interest in downtown. The thing about downtown is its uniqueness. So how do we communicate that? 

The convergence of culture, hospitality, restaurants, sports, theater and music makes it unlike any other place in the country. We need to continue to market that in a way that really connects to people, especially young people. 

I remember my first Twins game at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome and feeling like a small farm kid in the big city. Those sorts of memories stick with you and make you think about wanting to go downtown. Creating that sense of intimacy and experience at a young age is really important.

BK: I agree. Some of my early downtown memories are Holidazzle and Pride parades. I also remember my first Twins game at the Metrodome.

AD: I remember my first concert at First Avenue when I was like 15 years old. It was an all-ages Fugazi show. It’s a memory I’ll never forget because it’s such an iconic place.

BK: I heard Snoopy is having a moment right now. Maybe we can bring back the Peanut statues. I remember those being a big deal when they first debuted in the early 2000s.

AD: That’s just it – an iconic thing with a Minnesota connection and something that connects to people. Between now and when it warms up again in the spring, we’ll be thinking about things like that to activate the Nicollet corridor.

BK: Do you support a pedestrian-only Nicollet Mall?

AD: I do support a pedestrian-only mall. That’s the vision that the Downtown Council strongly believes. 

I'd like to talk with the Met Council and Metro Transit about getting the buses off once and for all. I think there's some good momentum behind that idea. But when buses are gone, that’s not automatically going to create vibrancy, so we still have quite a responsibility to inject life and energy into Nicollet Mall no matter what. 

Do we think about bringing back a farmers market in a different form? What are some things about Nicollet that will make us have to go there, when there are other corridors downtown that are really attractive and appealing? I think uniqueness is the most important thing that we have to continue to think about because that's why people from around the city, state and hopefully the country will come here.

BK: So the idea is a pedestrian-only Nicollet Mall can be activated in a way that will encourage people to come downtown?

AD: Absolutely. 

BK: Is it possible that the Holidazzle could make a comeback in some capacity next holiday season?

AD: I strongly hope so, and I’m going to work my tail off to make sure that's the case. I would love for it to come back. 

I do think we have to rethink what the event looks like. There are some upsides to continuing to do it at Loring Park. There have been some conversations about an ice rink downtown, too. I want to talk to more people and get a clearer sense of what we want to do moving forward.

BK: It would be great to bring it back to Nicollet Mall.

AD: It was the first thing my wife asked me when I took the job. When are we going to have the Holidazzle parade like when I was young?

BK: Yeah, it’s very nostalgic for a lot of people. Could we have a pedestrian-only Nicollet Mall by next summer?

AD:  I think the earliest it could be is next summer, but our goal should be to start those conversations soon to get a sense for what that would look like.

BK: Your predecessor, Steve Cramer, viewed the role as being an extremely political one, regularly weighing in on electoral campaigns donating directly to candidates and more. Do you plan to take such a political stance?

AD: I think that's something to assess and evaluate. 

It’s not that I disagree with Steve's approach – I think he did it out of necessity. But I do want to give some consideration to making the organization a little bit more civic-minded and less politically-minded. 

That being said, we also are living in some of the most politically-charged times that any of us can remember, so that means we have to have a seat at the table, too. We can't sit out policy discussions. Finding that balance is important. but I think it's a question for the council to consider and think about going forward. 

BK: Do you think you’ll work as closely with city officials, including the mayor, like Cramer did?

AD: Yeah, I think it’s important to have a partnership between our office and the mayor’s office, as well as the transportation, public works, regulatory services and all other departments. 

We want our members to feel like they have a voice and a seat at the table, so I want to do my best to continue a strong partnership with him going forward.