Jan 29, 2021

Axios Twin Cities

🥳 TGIF. We can't believe we've made it through week one!

  • 💌 We love all the story ideas and tips you're sending so far — keep them coming by replying to this email.

⚡️ Situational awareness: Prosecutors are asking the state Court of Appeals to intervene and delay the Derek Chauvin trial until summer. Go deeper.

Today's newsletter is 971 words, a 3 1/2-minute read.

1 big thing: Downtown Minneapolis in hibernation

llustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Most of the 218,000 people who worked in downtown Minneapolis before the pandemic still have jobs — they're just working remotely.

Why it matters: Restaurants, retailers and hotels have been hit hardest by the lack of office workers, and years' worth of momentum for downtown has halted.

  • While workers will return, it's unlikely to be at pre-pandemic levels —at least anytime soon.

By the numbers: Only 15.8% of office workers are going to their downtown job, according to the Minneapolis Downtown Council.

  • Sales tax revenue in the city was down more than 40% from March to the fall.
  • With corporate travel curtailed, hotel occupancy in downtown finished 2020 at 21.8% compared with 33.3% for the broader Twin Cities metro, according to STR, a hospitality benchmarking firm.

The state of play: The Downtown Council warned in August that several companies were considering moving their offices to the suburbs due to concerns about public safety — but no such moves have been confirmed.

  • "The dynamic of a largely vacant downtown and the aspect of increases in crime is not unique to our city. It is something that we've seen in almost every major city nationwide," Mayor Jacob Frey told us.
  • In fact, Frey said that he’s encouraged by Deluxe Corp.’s decision to move more than 500 jobs from Shoreview to downtown.

The bottom line: "We are not out of the woods yet, but there has not been a huge exodus by any means. It will take a year or two to more fully tell the tale," Downtown Council President Steve Cramer said.

2. 🌟 Sneak peek: A future bright spot

This rendering shows what the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel in Minneapolis will look like. Photo: Smallwood Architects

What will be Minnesota's only five-star hotel is under construction in downtown. Developer United Properties shared this not-yet-publicized rendering of the Four Seasons lobby with us.

  • The 222-room hotel is part of the 37-story RBC Gateway Tower office-retail-condo project at Nicollet and Washington, the largest current development in the Twin Cities at a cost north of $400 million.

Luckily for United Properties, the hotel won't open until May 2022, when people are hopefully traveling again.

3. New proposal to overhaul MPD

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The Minneapolis Police Department would be replaced with a new entity responsible for "various public safety functions" under a draft ballot measure introduced by three council members.

  • The proposed charter amendment would maintain a division with police officers but remove a requirement to maintain a minimum head count based on population.

How we got here: The lawmakers who drafted the measure — Phillipe Cunningham, Steve Fletcher and Jeremy Schroeder — were among those who vowed to "begin the process of ending" MPD following George Floyd's killing.

  • Schroeder said the revised approach will "expand our public safety toolbox," making the city "safe and equitable for all.” 

The other side: Frey told The Star Tribune he's concerned the change would "dilute accountability by having the head of public safety report" to both him and the 13-member council.

What's next: The proposal is subject to review by the council and the city's Charter Commission before appearing on the November ballot.

  • Authors say this year's timeline means the proposal can move ahead with or without the commission's support.
  • Ultimately, voters would have to sign off.
4. 📚 From the archives: St. Paul Winter Carnival pics

Participants gather in 1916. Photo: Minnesota Historical Society

The St. Paul Winter Carnival is celebrating its 135th year.

  • The Minnesota Historical Society has a trove of photos from over the decades, including some fun vintage buttons.

Search the archives.

The Ice Palace in 1937. Photo: Minnesota Historical Society
5. The state of play: Where the governor's race stands

Clockwise (from top left): Karin Housley, Paul Gazelka, Scott Jensen, Pete Stauber, Matt Birk, Mike Lindell. Photos: Getty Images

Former U.S. Senate candidate Karin Housley is the latest Republican to acknowledge she's weighing a run against Gov. Tim Walz next year.

  • "We're talking about it," Housley, a state senator from St. Mary's Point, confirmed to Torey. "We haven't completely ruled it out."

The state of play: Torey checked in with other GOPers speculated to be considering a bid ...

  • State Senate Leader Paul Gazelka won't make a final decision until the state budget is done: “Ask me in the summer."
  • Former Sen. Scott Jensen is "strongly considering" it and expects to decide in the next three months.
  • U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber told WCCO he's focused on Congress but "keeping all options open." His campaign said that's still the case.
  • Former Viking Matt Birk, said to be considering a run more seriously than in years past, declined to comment.
  • MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell won't decide until his fight to prove his baseless claims of widespread voter fraud is resolved.

Wild card: Some speculate that state Sen. Tom Bakk, a former DFL leader who left the party, could run as an independent. But the Iron Ranger says he's not even sure if he'll run for Senate again.

  • "Who knows?" Bakk told Torey, adding that undergoing open heart surgery, as he did last year, "makes you think about how long you want to keep working."
  • But Bakk, who ran in the 2010 DFL primary, thinks there's a path for someone to run as an independent.
  • "All of this really tough rhetoric, both sides retreating to the base, is leaving a pretty gaping hole for someone that wants to try running down the middle."

Worth noting: While he's expected to run for a second term, Walz hasn't announced a re-election bid. He told Torey he's focused on the pandemic and will make his decision later.

6. Map: Some good COVID-19 news
Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

COVID-19 case rates are on a downward trend here in Minnesota and across the nation.

But, but, but: Experts, including Minnesota's Dr. Michael Osterholm, warn that new variants could make the next six to 14 weeks the "darkest" of the pandemic.

7. Your top sledding hills, revealed

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

If you're anything like us, you're in the market for new sledding spots to get your thrills in this winter.

  • With that in mind, we asked you to share your favorite hills across the metro. Here are some of your recommendations (in no particular order):
  1. Como Park in St. Paul
  2. Aquila Park in St. Louis Park
  3. Newton Hill (51st and Newton) in southwest Minneapolis
  4. The hill at Wayzata East Middle School
  5. The hill at 32nd & Louisiana in Crystal

🛷💨 Expert take: The sled gurus at Warroad's Northern Toboggan Co. suggest Beard's Plaisance next to Lake Harriet.

And that's a wrap! We hope you have a fantastic weekend.