Axios Twin Cities

Picture of the Twin Cities skyline with MSP written across it.

Good morning! Thanks for starting your week with us.

  • Instant September! A cold front has moved in and we probably won't make it to 70 today.

We're back from vacation mode with full newsletters again this week.

Today's newsletter is 902 words, a 3 1/2-minute read.

1 big thing: The Minneapolis hotel problem

Data: STR/Greater MSP; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Hotel rooms in downtown Minneapolis are still very empty, even as other cities enjoy a rebound in tourism.

State of play: Downtown's tourism struggles are a big reason why the overall Twin Cities metro has been one of the worst-performing large hotel markets in the country.

  • Hotels in the Twin Cities had a 42.5% occupancy rate in April and a 43.5% occupancy in May, which ranked 24th and 25th of the 25 largest markets, according to global hospitality benchmarking firm STR.
  • Downtown Minneapolis' occupancy was 22% in April and 24% in May, according to STR. Meanwhile, St. Paul's occupancy was 45% and 48% those months.

Why it matters: Tourism brings money to restaurants, retailers and other businesses in the city. And the city uses hotel tax revenue to pay off debt on U.S. Bank Stadium, Target Center and the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Between the lines: While our metro has faced many of the same challenges others have during the pandemic, the state's tighter COVID restrictions and the Derek Chauvin trial have kept tourists and most business travelers away.

Yes, but: Public safety, both real and perceived, is a factor, said Ben Wogsland, director of public affairs for the trade group Hospitality Minnesota.

  • Some hotel operators are having a hard time getting employees to work downtown, he said.

Threat level: A May survey of Minnesota hotel and motel operators found that 57% said they would be insolvent within a year under current conditions.

What to watch: In a letter to Mayor Jacob Frey, Hospitality Minnesota CEO Liz Rammer asked the city to use federal relief money for grants to hotel operators. The organization cited a $30 million Washington, D.C. program that gave direct payments to operators.

  • Frey has proposed $500,000 to Meet Minneapolis, the city's convention and visitors bureau, for incentives to attract conventions and another $500,000 boost for a marketing campaign.

Go deeper.

2. St. Paul workers want to get back downtown

The downtown St. Paul skyline as seen from Harriet Island
Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

St. Paul workers want to come back to their offices in some capacity, according to a recent survey by the Saint Paul Downtown Alliance and St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce.

How it works: The groups surveyed 272 workers, residents and patrons of St. Paul from April 20-May 7. It was part of a larger study by the International Downtown Association.

Key findings:

  • 70% of surveyed St. Paul workers want a hybrid model in which they can work some days at home and some in the office.
  • 54% of those surveyed said their organization is going to adopt a hybrid approach; 14% will go back to the same model as before the pandemic and 3% will go fully remote. The remainder don't know yet.
  • 75% of workers have either returned to the office or expect to do so by fall.
  • 64% said they feel less safe downtown than before the pandemic, which is why the Downtown Alliance has started a #WelcomeBackStPL campaign with events and activations.

3. Our long 35W headache is almost over

Dirt and rocks lay on 35W during construction in 2018
Interstate 35W in Minneapolis has been under construction since 2017. Photo: Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via Getty Images

The [email protected] project that has whitened knuckles for the past four years is coming to an end, likely around Sept. 9, according to Minnesota Department of Transportation spokesman Dave Aeikens.

Driving the news: MnDOT has long said the $239 million project would end in the fall of 2021. The good news is the completion is coming as a wave of workers who have been working remotely will return to their offices.

  • The project has largely stayed on schedule despite the pandemic and riots around the Lake Street portion.

Yes, but: There will still be some landscaping and touch-up work, but nothing that will cause major closures or lane reductions, Aeikens said.

The bottom line: The project replaced 11 aging bridges and will improve access to Lake Street, including a much desired exit for southbound traffic on 35W. Several new design features will reduce congestion, Aeikens said.

  • The project includes a new transit station that will also open this fall and eventually serve the Orange Line rapid bus line that runs from Burnsville to downtown.

4. Catch up quick: Reparations in St. Paul; our water is hot

Melvin Carter speaks at a podium
Melvin Cater is pledging a reparations program for St. Paul. Photo: Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via Getty Images
  • St. Paul's Melvin Carter is one of 11 mayors who pledged to pay reparations for slavery to a small group of Black residents in their communities as a way to show the U.S. government how a national reparations program could work. (Associated Press via Pioneer Press)
  • Fox 9 has promoted Marian Davey from news director to general manager of the Eden Prairie TV station. (Star Tribune)
  • Water in Minnesota lakes has warmed to temperatures not usually seen until late summer, and there's already reports of blue-green algae blooms as far north as Grand Rapids and Brainerd. The blooms are actually bacteria and can make people sick. (MPR News)

5. 🎵 Black Music Month: We asked. You answered.

Gary Hines wears a black shirt on stage
Gary Hines of The Sounds of Blackness performs at Paisley Park for the 2021 Billboard Music Awards. Photo: Stephen Maturen/BBMA2021 via Getty Images

In celebration of Black Music Month, we asked about your favorite Black artists from the Twin Cities. You delivered, and our playlists thank you.

Here are some of your responses:

  • "Annie Mack!"
  • "Jevetta Steele"
  • "Nur-D is a great young, Black rapper from Minneapolis! He released a whole album dedicated to George Floyd (named 38th) and has songs that amplify his own experiences as a young Black man who deviates from typical Black culture by being a nerd — hence his name."
  • "Baby Doo Caston, Irv Williams, and Gary Hines"
  • "Cornbread Harris"
  • "Lizzo! We might have to fight Houston for her, but she rose to fame in Minneapolis, so I think that for sure makes her a Twin Cities artist forever."
  • "George 'Mojo' Buford, a former member of Muddy Waters band who moved to the Twin Cities and played here for decades."

Correction: In Friday's edition we mischaracterized a relief package agreed to by state lawmakers. While riot-damaged businesses are eligible for help from the $80 million package, the dollars are for businesses beyond Minneapolis and St. Paul as well.

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