May 4, 2023 - Business

Charted: Minneapolis' slow downtown recovery

Mobile device activity in select downtown areas compared to pre-pandemic levels
Data: University of Toronto; Chart: Alice Feng/Axios

Foot traffic in downtown Minneapolis is recovering more slowly than other big cities.

  • That's according to anonymized mobile device connectivity data analyzed by researchers at the University of Toronto's School of Cities.

Why it matters: Minneapolis' downtown economy has historically relied on commuting workers who spend money before, during and after their daily 9–5s.

How it works: Researchers essentially treated smartphones and other mobile devices as a proxy for their owners. If a device pings a nearby cell tower, it's a good bet that's where the device's owner is.

Zoom in: Activity was down nearly 60% this winter compared to the same period of 2019–2020.

  • Minneapolis ranked 59th out of 63 cities measured by researchers. St. Paul was not included in the study.

Zoom out: In a few U.S. cities, downtown activity has returned to β€” or even exceeded β€” pre-pandemic rates, but most are still struggling to attract the foot traffic they once did.

Of note: For this analysis, "downtown" is defined as areas of a given city with the highest employment density. In Minneapolis, it doesn't include the bustling North Loop, which has become a job hub of its own.

  • It also doesn't include Target Center, Target Field and the Convention Center. The Minneapolis Downtown Council says sporting events have been driving visitors back to the city.

Yes, but: Businesses and political leaders are increasingly trying to curtail remote and hybrid work, which could boost recovery levels.

What they're saying: Minneapolis may be lagging in part due to companies here being more flexible with worker schedules, Downtown Council CEO Steve Cramer told Axios. The largest downtown employer pre-pandemic, Target, has no in-person requirements.

  • The perception of public safety is another factor, Cramer said.
  • "Our downtown ... is lot more safe than many of the downtowns that get measured on these indexes, but then you have to factor in perception, and we've been battling that."
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