Minneapolis leaders create task force aimed at revitalizing downtown

After some headline-grabbing store closures and office consolidations, Minneapolis government and business officials said Wednesday it's time to get serious about revitalizing downtown's storefronts.

Mayor Jacob Frey created a 21-member work group of business officials, City Council members, and downtown boosters to analyze vacancies on the street level and in Minneapolis's skyways. Frey has charged the group with talking to building owners about their needs and asking officials in other cities what they're doing.

Nearly three years after the COVID-19 pandemic sent most downtown office workers home, many businesses remain in hybrid or remote work schedules. That hurts shops and restaurants that rely on daytime foot traffic from office workers.

"I don’t think any of us are interested in wringing our hands and hoping for what we had," said Steve Cramer, head of the Minneapolis Downtown Council and the co-chair of the new work group. "We’re also not interested in ignoring the current situation and just hoping for the best."

 A sample of downtown offices showed 61.7% building occupancy, according to data released by the Downtown Council earlier this month. The same survey showed downtown's restaurants are serving 64% of diners compared with before the pandemic. Hotel occupancy stands at 53.3%, below pre-pandemic levels. A more comprehensive accounting of vacancy rates is underway, Cramer said.

Nicollet Mall, the hub of downtown's shopping experience, has lost several retailers. Most recently, Nordstrom Rack shuttered its doors on the ground floor of IDS Center in November.

"Undoubtedly, Nicollet Mall will be a primary focus," Frey said, when reporters asked about the work group's plans. "Maybe not the primary focus but a primary focus."

Frey said he wanted to promote the conversion of vacant office space into residential units. He also said downtown needs more daycare options as a convenient incentive for workers to return to the office.

"Speaking as a parent who has a kid in a downtown daycare, it’s really convenient," the mayor said. "I want to make sure that convenience is broadly available to everyone."

The work group's recommendations are due in April. Frey said a funding request to the state Legislature was on the table, as was a proposal in his 2023 city budget plan.