It’s been two years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery in downtown Minneapolis has been slow. Alpha News took a stroll through the eerily empty downtown to find out if the once-bustling district will ever return.
On the corner of South 10th Street and Nicollet Mall, offices remain bare and crowds that used to spill out onto streets and sidewalks are no longer present.
“I don’t like it because I used to go dancing every weekend and not only that, but you have to watch if a place is going to be open if you want to go eat and stuff,” said Denice Myhre of Coon Rapids.
“There were a lot of people having fun down here. Ever since COVID passed, it got dull,” said Noumoon Pinkins, a supervisor of Mad Dads.
‘Reanimating’ downtown Minneapolis
Minneapolis Downtown Council President and CEO Steve Cramer said of the 215,000 that work in downtown, less than half have returned. He added that most employees have a flexible work schedule which will have an impact on downtown.
While foot traffic is slower than normal, Cramer anticipates a revitalization of downtown Minneapolis. He said more than 300 businesses are open across downtown. Soon more restaurants will open their doors and minority-owned businesses will fill vacant spaces to diversify the area, Cramer explained.
“We’ve seen all the events coming back to downtown last year and of course that will continue this year: professional sports, theater, live music,” Cramer said.
The reawakening of downtown appears promising but crime seems to be threatening to unwind those efforts at every turn.
Chaos in the heart of the city
In September 2020, 10 rounds of ammunition were fired within eight seconds during a shootout outside a pizza place in downtown. Just days earlier, security cameras rolled as a man fired shots at a downtown gas station. In July of last year, some captured a car plowing through a crowd of people near a Nice Ride bike rack. In October, an innocent bystander was hit and killed by vehicles that were involved in a gun battle in the North Loop.
It’s just a few of the tragedies that took place in the heart of the city during a global pandemic.
“It’s rough. Going into a local Target downtown, people running in and out stealing. Nobody’s doing nothing to stop them, so we’re getting ridiculous. It’s almost to the point where it’s just like we’re making our own rules,” Brianna Hervey said.
Hervey has lived downtown for years and witnessed the turmoil that trailed the George Floyd riots, followed by a more than 50% reduction in police patrol numbers. Since the looting, the downtown Target has reduced its hours.
“It’s like you’re ruining our city that you live in, it’s ridiculous,” Hervey said.
The city reports a 60% increase in thefts downtown since this time last year. Gunshot victims have more than doubled since this time last year and assaults are up 13%.
“Young ones get into fights. We break it up all the time, it’s pretty normal,” said Pinkins.
Danger from streets to skyways
Commotion not only strikes on the streets but it now overruns places that were typically untouched by crime.
“Basically you’re seeing more loitering and violence and more drugs in the skyways,” said Albin Andolshek, founder and president of BRICK.
Andolshek’s office is located off of 5th and Hennepin. Safety concerns have been a major issue for some of his staff.
“There have been multiple people in this building who have been robbed, assaulted, stolen from. We’ve been robbed in this building 3-4 times over the course of our time in this building. I’ve had my identity stolen from those robberies,” Andolshek explained.
Alpha News spotted a sign in a skyway that spelled out “No loitering,” “No trespassing,” and “No sleeping.”
Andolshek blames part of the public safety problem on city and state leaders. He believes law enforcement is not receiving support from those at the top, including the mayor and city council.
“It’s just becoming more clear to more and more people that they do not want to work here, they do not want to come here after hours, they do not want to come here for entertainment. And we see it,” he said.
Extra patrols have been added to hotspot areas like Nicollet, according to Cramer. The downtown council is working with police and a number of community agencies to address safety issues.
“We’re working hard with the Minneapolis Police Department, with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, with Metro Transit Police and a number of community agencies to fashion and implement, as we always do, a very comprehensive state safety program for everyone who wants to come and work and enjoy downtown,” Cramer explained.
Last year, downtown Minneapolis had more than 300 robberies and 13 homicides. Despite the crime statistics, not all downtown workers see the area the same way.
“It’s very, very safe,” claimed Ali Hansen, a bartender at Ties Lounge & Rooftop.
Hansen has high hopes for downtown, saying it’s not the scary place it’s made out to be.
“Everything is coming back now after the pandemic and it is like this entire resurgence of downtown and it’s been incredible and it’s only going to go up from here,” she said.
Pinkins told Alpha News he also believes the once-thronging downtown will return.
“I mean, we go bad and then we get better. I just feel like that’s the cycle of life,” Pinkins said.
Others aren’t as optimistic, stating serious change starts within.
“It starts with community. If we all can literally just be as one, that’ll be the biggest change that we’ve ever had in life history, but it starts with us,” Hervey said.