As a kid who grew up in the Twin Cities during the ‘90s, some of my fondest memories are going downtown for Holidazzle and Pride parades and daylong visits to my Auntie Barry’s apartment near the massive post office.
After moving away for about a dozen years, I returned to Minneapolis in mid-2021 and got to know a downtown much different than the one from my childhood. Since then, I’ve had countless conversations about downtown – the reverberating impact of George Floyd’s murder at the start of a yearslong global pandemic, the slow but steady progress that’s happened citywide since then, and what’s still to come.
These conversations are happening across Minnesota, through both positive and negative lenses, and it’s up to the people who actually frequent downtown Minneapolis (and care about its health) to reclaim the narrative.
Now, as the first editor of Downtown Voices, I hope this new publication will fill the void in community news centered around downtown Minneapolis and serve as a resource to all of its neighborhoods: Downtown West with the central business district, Downtown East and its Mill District, the North Loop, Nicollet Island – East Bank, East Town, Loring Park, and Elliot Park.
Contrary to certain misconceptions, downtown Minneapolis isn’t a ghost town plagued with crime and disinvestment, nor is it doomed to become such. It’s the state’s economic engine, so it’s not going anywhere.
Downtown does need more people to show up – whether it’s to live, work or play – and participate for it to be successful, though.
Over the past few months, events like the Twins’ playoff games and Taylor Swift’s concerts provided much-needed boosts to downtown’s overall vitality, exposing glimmers of its past and future. Big-scale events that attract people from near and far will continue to happen, and that’s wonderful, but one-offs aren’t enough to encourage visitors to keep coming back on a regular basis. So, downtown needs to focus on long-term ideas to spur tourism, as well as give residents more incentives to hang out in their own neighborhood.
People need compelling reasons to spend their time and money in downtown Minneapolis, even if it's just a happy hour with coworkers after a mandatory in-office day. Downtown needs attractions and experiences that can’t be had in other parts of Minnesota, or perhaps in other parts of the country.
Yes, downtown has significant office and retail vacancies, especially along Nicollet Mall. And, as always, there’s a silver lining: more room for reinvention.
The reality is, every city experiences challenges, and eventually, they figure out remedies. Cities adapt as the world spins forward.
Now, I’m a city girl through and through. I’ve always loved taking public transportation into the heart of a city and basking in its energy. I grew up in the southwest Twin Cities ‘burbs, but I’ve traveled a lot and spent most of my adult life (prior to moving to Minneapolis, of course) in Chicago and Detroit, two great Midwestern metropolises whose reputations run the gamut depending on who you ask, much like Minneapolis. So, I think it’s fair to say I know a thing or two about what makes a city great.
In my opinion, sprawling greenspaces, defining bodies of water and world-class museums are at the top of the list.
Obviously, there aren’t dozens of undeveloped acres lying around downtown waiting to be put to use, but the city could further invest in Loring Park, Elliot Park or The Commons near U.S. Bank Stadium. What about an outdoor amphitheater for concerts, movie screenings and other performances, similar to Chicago’s Millennium Park?
Sure, Minneapolis isn’t bordered by an ocean or a Great Lake, but it does have the mighty Mississippi River and Saint Anthony Falls, right downtown. There’s also the Stone Arch Bridge and the Hennepin Avenue Bridge, offering picturesque views of the skyline from the water, as well as connections to some of the city’s best walking and biking trails.
The city should get more serious again about buying the post office that blocks downtown from the riverfront and redeveloping the property, like it did with the former Kmart building on Lake Street that bifurcates Nicollet Avenue.
Maybe the 90-year-old Art Deco building could become an art, science or history museum. I think there’s room for another one, since Mill City Museum is technically the only museum downtown. How about a museum dedicated to the Native tribes that lived along the Upper Mississippi River Valley long before Minneapolis was incorporated as a city?
Downtown already has other good things going for it, too.
It’s the home of the Vikings, Timberwolves, Lynx and Twins. Not every major U.S. city, let alone its downtown, can claim nearly all of its state’s professional sports teams.
Downtown Minneapolis boasts an impressive collection of internationally-acclaimed restaurants and venues.
Plus, it’s the city’s fastest-growing neighborhood, with nearly 60,000 residents and many more on the way, following the completion of the latest residential projects.
To that point, however, there’s a need for more neighborhood amenities throughout downtown, particularly those where residents can access basic needs without traveling to other parts of the city.
Downtown needs to address disparities between its north and south neighborhoods, with an emphasis on making retail and entertainment offerings as robust in Loring Park and Elliot Park as they are in the North Loop, Mill District and certain pockets of the central business district.
Downtown’s few supermarkets (Whole Foods, Lunds & Byerlys and Trader Joe’s) are all on the far northeast and northwest edges, and they’re known for having steeper prices than their competitors. The areas further south could really use a more budget-friendly grocer, like Aldi or Cub Foods.
Target on Nicollet Mall is the lone retailer selling groceries in the central business district, as well as the only option in all of downtown for buying perishable food alongside other necessities, like clothing, toiletries and household items. The store recently expanded its hours, but it still closes two hours earlier (8 p.m. most days) than it did before the pandemic.
Downtown could also benefit from additional service-based businesses, namely childcare centers, hardware stores and pharmacies.
Our goal with Downtown Voices is to inform and uplift the people who live, work and spend time in downtown Minneapolis.
Downtown Voices’ first weekly newsletter will be out on Wednesday. You can sign up by scrolling to the bottom of the page and entering your email address.
Through each one, we hope to amplify the voices of residents who deserve more from their neighborhood, the workers who require more motivation to commute to their offices and the visitors who need an extra reason to go to a concert, game or play.
And we want to know how we can help make all of that happen.
Together, we can play an active role in the reimagination of downtown Minneapolis, and ensure the people who rely on it the most have a seat at the table.