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Mary Tyler Moore is still feeling lonely downtown. Photo: Nick Halter/Axios

Downtown Minneapolis appeared more alive last week than it's been in the past 18 months. Yet, the city's central business district remains a shell of its former self, despite workers trickling back into offices all summer.

  • I worked downtown for more than 10 years pre-pandemic, and assessed the streets and skyways last Wednesday.

State of play: Retailers and restaurants that rely on downtown workers had hoped last week would mark a major return, that is until the Delta variant disrupted everything.

  • One employee of a downtown office tower told Axios that building staff prepared for a big wave of workers called back to the office, but then several employers delayed their returns, school bus companies couldn't find drivers and parents grew uncertain about potential outbreaks at schools and day care centers.

By the numbers: About 36% of workers were back in the office as of early September, according to Minneapolis Downtown Council.

  • That's reflected in the skyways, where I counted 76 storefronts and found only 43% of them were in operation. That’s compared with a similar count I did in May, when 39% were in operation.

So who is back? While big employers with hundreds or thousands of workers have put off their returns, small, local companies — think law firms — have been back for weeks or months.

What's new: There are some good signs! Several restaurants had long lines, including both Green & The Grain locations, Jimmy John's and Skyway Wok. A Caribou Coffee shop in Fifth Street Towers had a sign on the window saying it would re-open on Sept. 15 for the first time since the pandemic hit.

  • With less competition, some of the restaurants that are open are seeing strong business — though it's uneven, as several had few customers.
  • People are moving back. The apartment vacancy rate in downtown had shot up to 10.4% early this year, but the Star Tribune reported this week that it’s back down to 7.2%.

Yes, but: While there was action in the skyways, the streets were eerily empty, considering the beautiful weather.

  • And who can blame people when so many street-level restaurants have remained closed and the food trucks that used to fight for parking spots are nowhere to be found?
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Go deeper

Sep 17, 2021 - Axios Des Moines

Des Moines approves food truck expansion

515 Pi and Banh Me food trucks in Des Moines. Photo courtesy of 515 Pi

Food trucks are now allowed on Des Moines' streets during special events under a new rule approved by the City Council this week.

Why it matters: "Receptions on wheels" are becoming a big thing for weddings and other special gatherings.

  • Ordinances that limited the trucks to specific zones and parks were suppressing our party life.

State of play: The ordinance change was prompted by the Des Moines Heritage Center, a downtown events venue centered around an historic depot. It's located just outside of zones that allow food trucks and that was limiting its options, Councilperson Carl Voss told Axios this week.

  • Special event permits now allow food trucks to operate on public streets in commercial or mixed-use locations that are outside of the zones.

🗯 Our thought bubble: We hope this means we see Pho Wheels and Sushi a bit more frequently.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
43 mins ago - Energy & Environment

China vows end to building coal-fired power plants abroad

Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo: Mary Altaffer - Pool/Getty Images

Chinese President Xi Jinping told the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday that his country "will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad" and plans to boost support for clean energy in developing nations.

Why it matters: The pledge, if maintained, would mark a breakthrough in efforts to transition global power away from the most carbon-emitting fuel.

House Democrats strip Iron Dome money from government funding bill

Photographer: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

House Democrats on Tuesday stripped $1 billion for Israel's Iron Dome defense system from its short-term government funding bill after backlash from progressives, people familiar with the decision tell Axios.

Why it matters: There has never a situation where military aid for Israel was held up because of objections from members of Congress. While the funding will get a vote in its current defense bill, the clash underscores the deep divisions within the Democratic party over Israel.