Downtown Voices will be publishing essays about downtown from candidates in the Ward 7 City Council race, which people are voting on now through November 7th. You can find information on how to vote here. Ward 7 includes Loring Park and the majority of the downtown core. If you want more coverage of City Council races, you can read candidate interviews and coverage of debates from Southwest Voices, or catch up on our elections partnership with MinnPost, including a voter guide and a campaign mail tracker.
I often refer to Minneapolis as the shoulders of our state. When people go to a concert, play, or sporting event they are often headed to downtown Minneapolis. We also have the distinction of being the hub of the art scene in Minnesota. Downtown populations continue to grow at some of the fastest rates in the city. Minneapolis is standing at a crossroads and we can’t afford to fail. By applying ourselves ambitiously, creatively and with determination we can re-envision downtown as a vibrant, inclusive and sustainable area that the whole state can be proud of. While Ward 7 contains a large portion of downtown, a thriving urban core is something the entire City Council needs to be working on.
Public safety underpins nearly every challenge facing Minneapolis. We demand a transformed police department that protects and serves every resident and visitor in our city. We have begun this process and we need to keep taking big swings at ambitious goals. Alongside a transformed police department we need complementary responses from mental health professionals like our Behavioral Crisis Response Team, violence de-escalation experts and other related professions. We need a safe and enticing destination for tourists, conventioneers, suburbanites and Minneapolitans alike. On an MPD ride-along on a busy Friday night, I was amazed how a limited number of officers amplified their presence and moved with agility to head off trouble before it got out of hand during bar closing time. I witnessed MPD trying to
overcome staffing shortages by using some amazing technology.
The Downtown Improvement District’s ambassador program is one of the most effective programs operating on downtown streets and in skyways. I would love to find a way to expand or replicate this program into the Loring Park neighborhood. It works and it eases the burden on our police. Neighborhood walking groups are effective and demonstrate how deeply the citizens of our downtown neighborhoods care. Our neighborhood associations, likewise, are valuable resources.
Minneapolis’ nationally-known brand is creativity and the arts. We have earned our reputation as a national arts and culture leader, and we need to rely on that to re-animate downtown. By investing in our cultural economy and supporting the arts ecosystem, we distinguish our city in a way most cities cannot. All people need to see themselves in our cultural assets, and we have an amazingly diverse community of artists in town; let’s invest in and promote them. I spoke with Ben Johnson, Director of Minneapolis’ newly created Arts & Cultural Affairs Department. We both envision a city-wide arts and culture grants program to invest sustainably in our arts culture. The funding could come from a portion of the existing downtown entertainment tax, from cannabis revenue, state earmarks, or MN Tourism. I envision this as a public-private partnership.
The Mayor’s proposed budget highlights some ways we can demonstrate our unique position as a creative leader by designating the area around Harmon Place an arts incubation zone. Let’s fill vacant downtown storefronts and buildings with works of art. We can invite artists to develop events like dance, music, sculpture, film, theater, food, fashion, visual art or spoken word. I will push property owners to use their spaces in this way. John Kistler & Norman Kulba Jr. who own 300 Clifton, a local BnB, have started Minneapolis Trolley Tours. It makes moving around downtown fun, and it would be great to see a trolley arts tour.
For downtown dwellers and visitors alike, being able to safely walk, ride and roll is of paramount importance. Living downtown and not depending on a car is completely possible for many people. Improvements along Washington Avenue have made it easier for pedestrians to safely cross and for bicyclists to ride. I see that happening and support it. In addition, our transit system needs security enhancements to encourage ridership and facilitate the movement of people to and from downtown.
There is an invisible barrier between the Mill District and the Central Business District, and another between the warehouse district and the CBD. People don’t naturally flow between these parts of downtown, and the part of town that suffers is the CBD. We need to open up pathways for people to move easily throughout downtown. One of the smartest ideas comes from Sherman Associates with their proposal to partner with the Fhima family and redevelop the Wells Fargo block creating Harmonia, a group of primarily residential buildings which will create just such a connector. The name Harmonia pays tribute to Harmonia Hall that stood on the site from 1884 to 1962.
I am not alone in seeing what is possible, there are people working to transform the most overlooked parts of downtown. In the vicinity of Grant & Nicollet, Sam & Dion Turner run Roxy’s Cabaret, the Nicollet Diner and two other businesses. Over on LaSalle Ave, Ethan Applen and Derrick Taylor have Lakes & Legends Brewing. These businesses are great examples of how small businesses are the heart and soul of our local economy. They deserve your business. Meanwhile we have the disappointing closure of the downtown YWCA and the abandoned Speedway on Grant St that is ugly, fenced and symbolic of what needs to change. I reached out to Speedway’s corporate HQ in Ohio to find out what needs to be done to identify a new owner for that location. If there is a Council role in this I am anxious to perform it.
As downtown adapts to a new environment in which less office space is needed and residential populations continue to grow, our city government will need to be flexible and open-minded to support new and different ideas. Our city is loaded with creative and ambitious people. I am running for council because I refuse to give up on Minneapolis, and I want to be a partner in defining the new downtown, and the new Minneapolis.