New ideas, new spirit needed downtown – Star Tribune

Opinion editor’s note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
What was once the bustling core of downtown Minneapolis retail will be home to even more empty storefronts in the coming weeks.
Late last week, Marshalls discount store said it is moving out of the large space it has occupied for 30 years in the lower level of City Center on Nicollet Mall. At the same time, Ameriprise Financial confirmed that it will leave its 29-story skyscraper headquarters and consolidate 4,600 office workers (many of whom work remotely at least a couple of days a week) in another building it owns nearby.
And just last month, Nordstrom Rack closed its store diagonally across Nicollet and 7th Street from the Marshalls site, in yet another blow to the general area that has been the heart of downtown commerce for generations.
But too much has been invested in the mall and other downtown development and infrastructure to let the key area remain unoccupied. Those spaces can and should be repurposed and revitalized. That’s what a work group convened this week will wisely study. Mayor Jacob Frey announced the launch of the city’s “Vibrant Downtown Storefronts Workgroup,” a coalition of stakeholders who will recommend ways to keep the area thriving.
The task force will be co-chaired by Steve Cramer, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council and Downtown Improvement District, and Gabrielle Grier, managing director of the nonprofit Juxtaposition Arts.
Frey told an editorial writer that he is not prescribing what the group should recommend. But he said he has long believed that big box, downtown department stores were phasing out here and in other major cities around the nation. Downtowns, he added, must transition with the times to provide what customers want:
“Retail as a whole is not dead — it’s just changed. Just check out North Loop; that’s where people will go for the experience. They’re crushing it.”
Frey said a “diversity of experiences” should be brought to downtown. Possible examples of uses for the spaces include things like small service operations and day care for those who work downtown. There might be more storefronts that allow you to try on items like jeans or shoes, purchase them and have them delivered to your home within 24 hours. That type of store doesn’t need loads of storage space to stock up on inventory.
Even before the pandemic, empty retail space was a problem downtown, with vacancies as high as 20%. Now that vacancy rate has grown to nearly 35%, according to real estate industry figures. At the same time, retail vacancy rates are dropping in other parts of the city.
A total of 21 work-group members has been confirmed so far; they include City Council Members Lisa Goodman and Michael Rainville, chef David Fhima and leaders at several leading commercial real estate brokerage firms. The group is expected to begin meeting in January and to make recommendations to the city in the spring.
“This expert work group will play a critical role in helping the community understand current trends and factors affecting downtown retail and storefront uses and charting a course forward,” said Cramer, who recently addressed downtown revitalization ideas in a Star Tribune commentary. “We face a challenge, but by addressing that challenge head-on we can reinvent this important aspect of the downtown economy.”
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