Jun 2, 2022 - News

The new normal for downtown Minneapolis

The downtown Minneapolis skyline
Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Downtown Minneapolis boosters are on a public relations blitz to entice people back into the center of the city this summer.

Driving the news: A "Minneapolis Momentum" PR campaign, paid for by several business groups, launched this week.

  • It's aimed at attracting suburban residents by asking people to share their Minneapolis photos and stories, putting some of them on billboards.

State of play: A new normal is setting in for downtown Minneapolis. People are back, businesses have reopened, and with the added crowds comes more feeling of safety.

  • I've visited downtown a couple times over the past two weeks and found it's a much more lively vibe than the previous two summers.

Reality check: Downtown is certainly not a "dystopian hellscape," but it remains a shell of its former self, and anything resembling a full rebound appears years away, if it ever happens.

  • That's because the downtown core has been dependent on office workers for decades, even while the residential population explodes on the fringes of downtown.
  • An entire skyway system of hundreds of restaurants and shops has catered to the downtown worker crowd almost exclusively. Many of those storefronts remain dark.

By the numbers: While the Minneapolis Downtown Council says more than 50% of office workers are back downtown, the organization does not have data on how many days per week those employees are coming into the office.

  • "As we survey we find that Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday are the biggest days where people are choosing to come back into the office," said Leah Wong, vice president of external relations for the council.

Between the lines: One strong indicator is parking revenue from city-owned meters and garages.

  • Parking revenues from this January-March were still down 40% compared to the same period in 2019, though they're up 50% compared to last year.

Zoom out: This is not a problem unique to Minneapolis. A recent survey of HR leaders by nonprofit business research group The Conference Board found that only 4% of companies are requiring their workers to return to the office full time and less than half are requiring workers in the office five days a week.

  • Another new study found that the Twin Cities actually had one of the highest return-to-work rates in the country.

The other side: None of this is to say downtown is doomed. Developers like Hines and Sherman Associates, which have been building in downtown for decades, are placing big bets on the future of the city with new office, residential and retail developments.

  • The Downtown Council says 400 downtown restaurants and retailers are open, including the new Four Seasons restaurants, Mara and Socca Café, by chef Gavin Kaysen.

What to watch: The Downtown Council is promoting a lineup of hundreds of events to guests all summer, with the hopes of changing perceptions about downtown.

  • "When they start to come back with more regularity, they say, 'yeah, it's not what it was, but it's sure better than what I expected,'" Wong said.

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