Sep 8, 2023 - Business

Why New Horizon opened a daycare in downtown Minneapolis

The play area at New Horizon Academy in downtown Minneapolis. Photo: Nick Halter/Axios

With just a fraction of downtown Minneapolis workers back in the office most days, opening a daycare in the center of the city seems like a wild idea.

Yes, but: New Horizon Academy did this week, opening the doors to its third downtown school, at 655 Fifth Ave. S.

Why it matters: New Horizon's decision represents a big bet on the future of the city center and an eventual return to the office for many employers.

What they're saying: CEO Chad Dunkley told Axios last spring he knew filling the school would be a long-term project.

  • "It's maybe not the smartest decision we've ever made in the company, but I believe in Minneapolis," Dunkley said. "It's a dynamic place and at some point, people are going to come back."

Flashback: New Horizon in 2019 signed a letter of intent to open the daycare on the ground floor of the new Moment apartment building. At the time, Thrivent was close to debuting its 1,000-plus worker headquarters next door, but since the pandemic, it's had no in-person requirement for headquarters employees.

Of note: A letter of intent is not binding, but New Horizon stuck with the project."We made a promise and we keep our promises," Dunkley said.

The latest: On a tour this week, staff showed off the gleaming school, which has rooms for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, plus indoor and outdoor play areas.

  • While there's capacity for 124 kids, on the first day this week only a handful had started.

State of play: More and more downtown employers are calling workers back into the office, at least a couple of days a week. New Horizon staff expect a bigger uptick in January, which is when a lot of families tend to start care.

The bottom line: Minneapolis Downtown Council CEO Steve Cramer said New Horizon is making a reasonable bet.

  • The center is next to Hennepin County Medical Center, where employees have to be in-person.
  • It's in the middle of the fast-growing Downtown East neighborhood, where thousands of new apartment units are opening.
  • And, Cramer noted, Wells Fargo is relocating its South Minneapolis workers to Downtown East and requiring more in-person work.

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