Mayor Frey Unveils Downtown Revitalization Proposals
Mayor Jacob Frey took reporters on a walk down Nicollet Mall on June 6. Dan Niepow

Mayor Frey Unveils Downtown Revitalization Proposals

A workgroup convened by the mayor has released a list of recommendations aimed at making downtown Minneapolis livelier.

Could a bus-free Nicollet Mall help rejuvenate downtown Minneapolis? How about laxer liquor laws allowing open containers during major events?

Those are two of several proposals put forward by a workgroup convened by Mayor Jacob Frey late last year. Standing at a podium in the Dayton’s Project on Tuesday afternoon, the mayor formally unveiled a list of recommendations from his “Vibrant Downtown Storefronts Workgroup.”

“Downtowns around the country—and in fact around the world—are going to be changed forever, and we’re going to have to change with them,” Frey told reporters Tuesday.

The workgroup’s report acknowledges that times have indeed changed downtown. “The days of Nicollet Mall serving as a regional shopping destination with multiple department stores are long gone,” the report stated. “Retail trends continue to challenge brick-and-mortar businesses, which were exacerbated due to the challenges of the last three-plus years and have taken a toll on the remaining retailers.”

But the group now recommends that the city take a more active role in helping new businesses take root downtown. The group’s report calls for the creation of an “independent facilitator/concierge role” that could match building owners with potential business owners, entrepreneurs, or artists.

Unsurprisingly, the report echoed the mayor’s ongoing calls for downtown business to bring workers back into the office. The report said that the mayor “can encourage public and private employers to maximize back-to-work initiatives and office occupancy.”

In addition, the workgroup recommended restoring consistent hours in the skyways on both weekdays and weekends.

For now, all of the group’s proposals are just recommendations; to put them into motion, many will still need approval from the city, state, or other relevant agencies. But, for the first time, the workgroup is asking the city to provide dollars for downtown revitalization efforts. The report suggests that the city invest $75,000 in the second half of this year, with a matching investment from the Minneapolis Downtown Council.

Next year, though, the workgroup recommends that the city provide $750,000 for downtown efforts. The group also recommends to “budget this as an annual expense.”

That money would go toward things like hiring a business facilitator and continuing the city’s “Chameleon Shoppes” program, which gives BIPOC entrepreneurs space to sell their wares downtown.

To be sure, the city and the Minneapolis Downtown Council have already been experimenting with some of these proposals. For instance, as part of the council’s big summer programming push, buses will be routed off Nicollet Mall every Thursday starting June 8.

Frey said the vision is to turn downtown into a “playground” – a term that he said is being used by mayors and planners across the country. “A city as a playground does not just mean a bunch of bars and restaurants,” Frey said. “A playground means a place where you feel comfortable, you feel safe, and you can have a lot of fun.”

Part of the mayor’s overarching strategy also involves using otherwise underutilized spaces. As an example, he pointed to Cancer Survivors Park at the north end of Nicollet Mall. For now, it’s an open public green space that sees surprisingly few visitors. But in the future, the city could knock down the park’s retaining wall and expand it across Nicollet Mall to RBC Plaza, Frey said.

“What we can do is provide a prime example of what this space could look like if it didn’t have automobile traffic,” Frey said.