Downtown Storefronts Workgroup recommendations

Mayor Jacob Frey last month presented recommendations from his Vibrant Downtown Storefronts Workgroup. He was joined by City Council Members Goodman and Rainville, Workgroup Co-Chairs Steve Cramer, President and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council and Downtown Improvement District, and Gabrielle Grier, CIO of the African-American Leadership Forum, along with Workgroup members, City staff, and local business and community leaders. 

The volunteer Workgroup examined opportunities to reinvent the storefront experience in downtown Minneapolis in light of local and national trends that could be applied at both the street and skyway levels.  

“Right now, we have the opportunity to be on the cutting edge to change the trajectory of where our downtown is going,” said Mayor Frey. “Things are changing dramatically, and these recommendations will help us change with them. Minneapolis will continue to lead and be a city that others look to as a model for success. I am so grateful to this group of experts who dedicated their time and energy to research and recommended new, creative ways we can re-imagine downtown space. This is just the beginning of our efforts, and I look forward to bringing our downtown to the next level.” 

 “As we confront the challenge of vacant storefronts, the opportunity is to build a unique, experiential downtown that reflects our strengths as a community. Our recommendations lay out a roadmap for achieving that vision,” said Co-Chair Steve Cramer, President and CEO of Minneapolis Downtown Council and Downtown Improvement District.

African American Leadership Forum executive Gabrielle Grier, said, “I will be pushing to ensure inclusion for Black and folks of color, artists, designers, and business owners, developers, and entrepreneurs as the reinvigoration of our downtown takes place.” 

The Workgroup’s primary purpose was to develop specific, implementable recommendations with the following core intentions: 

  • Invest in and prioritize people first and foremost 
  • Catalyze activation that sticks 
  • Embrace an organic downtown, with strategic solutions 
  • Create a welcoming and inclusive experience for all people that keeps them coming back downtown  

Key takeaways from the Workgroup’s recommendations include:   

  • City-Business Partnership: Create an independent facilitator/concierge role through the Minneapolis Downtown Council/Downtown Improvement District (MDC/DID) who will use knowledge, space inventory, and relationships to match building owners with potential businesses, entrepreneurs, and artists.  Pair this facilitator with a City staff person dedicated to strategically catalyzing downtown revitalization. Fund and institutionalize this partnership.
  • Ease of Doing Business: Evaluate current regulations related to land use, zoning, signage, and permitting, licensing, and fees, and seek new ways to be flexible and make doing business with the City even easier. Focus deliberately on the specific needs of downtown. Be open to new ideas and business models and provide more technical assistance. Continue developing strong partnerships between City staff and business and property owners.
  • Nicollet Mall: Evaluate the future of Nicollet Mall as a pedestrian-only zone.  Explore alternative options for transit service elsewhere through downtown and engage stakeholders to understand the full range of impacts.  Brand Nicollet Mall as the “best winter street in the nation” and explore legislation to allow open containers on Nicollet Mall and in other specific areas downtown.  As a first step, consider consolidation of the northernmost block (3rd Street to Washington), joining RBC Gateway Plaza and Cancer Survivors Park as a demonstration project. 
  • Incentivize Activation: Implement assessment practices that incentivize active, reduced- or non-revenue uses of commercial retail space as an alternative to vacancies.  Recognize that providing lower cost and more flexible leases to emerging businesses and artists reduces rents and property values, while recent (pre-2020) rents and valuations no longer reflect reality and incentivize building owners to keep spaces vacant as opposed to filling them at reduced rents. 
  • Focus Resources: Allocate energy and resources towards implementing interventions at focused intersections to maximize success and build momentum.  The Warehouse District, with its history as an entertainment node, adjacency to the lively North Loop, and historic buildings more readily converted to residential uses, should be a starting point for additional study and intervention.  
  • Budget: Beginning in the second half of 2023, invest $75,000, in partnership with MDC/DID, for a total of $150,000, to begin this work.  In 2024, invest an allocation of $750,000 to support the ongoing revitalization of downtown Minneapolis and budget this as an annual expense.

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