As any local resident knows, “what’s wrong with downtown retail” is perennial topic of conversation that seems like it started with the opening of the first of our beautiful suburban malls. Even worse, everyone has an opinion. Unluckily for you, I have the keys to this blog, which means I get to share mine (and force you to read at least this far).
For some time, I’ve wanted to come up with a way to visualize what I see as the main problem: there are large swaths of downtown in which no one lives.
Above you see my rudimentary attempt to outline exactly where people don’t live in downtown Minneapolis. This is all rather non-scientific, as I’m eyeballing things here, but this at least roughly demonstrates that there are almost no homes for people to live in within the oddly-shaped area enclosed by red line.
I say almost because the five green ovals are the exception to the rule. From east to west, they are 52 units for formerly homeless and at-risk youth at the St. Barnabas Apartments, 21 units of condos at Six Quebec, 121 units at the LaSalle Apartments, 55 units at the City Place Lofts, and 32 units at the Stage Apartments. (After having created and uploaded the image, I realized I also left out 70 units for the formerly homeless at the Continental Hotel just inside the line at 12th and LaSalle.)
If I did the math right, that’s 351 housing units, total, within the central business district of downtown. That may not be the only problem for downtown retail, but it is certainly one of the problems. Without the sort of built-in customer base that comes from being the closest available option, downtown retailers face a somewhat unusual obstacle. They have to get almost all of their customers to pass by a closer-to-home option to come shop in their stores.
The good news, of course, is that this is changing a bit. I had initially intended to do a second version of this map that didn’t include more recent developments like the Edition, Soo Line, 4Marq, the Nic, 222 Hennepin, Sexton Lofts, (the planned) Thresher Square, etc. that have been eating in to the boundaries of the No-Home Zone. All of which is great news.
But there will always a be challenge inherent in the fact that we built out the heart of downtown in an era that didn’t require (or maybe even discouraged) mixed use development.