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Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom. This editorial was written on behalf of the board by Star Tribune Opinion intern Noor Adwan, a 2023 graduate of the University of Minnesota.


It's no secret: Downtown Minneapolis has had a rough few years.

Droves of workers abandoned high rises throughout the pandemic in favor of living rooms, bedrooms or home offices. Perceptions of high crime — though crime is down now — left many wary of venturing into the city for recreation. And, perhaps most devastatingly, the Nicollet Mall farmers market chose not to return this year, ending a more than 35-year run.

But one need only look to the city's Warehouse District to find that downtown is not, in fact, "dead," as some critics are quick to say. The North Loop, a popular destination for dining, entertainment and nightlife, is thriving. Its success can also serve as inspiration to Minneapolis leaders as they navigate post-COVID challenges.

"The North Loop is often seen as one of the best examples of a vibrant urban community in the country, and I think for good reason," Minneapolis Downtown Council CEO Steve Cramer told an editorial writer.

The North Loop, located in the northwest corner of downtown, was once a major industrial hub. Now, many of its historic warehouses and manufacturing buildings have been converted into apartments, offices, restaurants and small businesses. And it's one of Minneapolis' fastest-growing neighborhoods: While the neighborhood had about 650 residents in 1990, that number jumped to more than 7,500 in 2020. Today, North Loop Neighborhood Association President Diane Merrifield said she estimates the neighborhood's number of residents to be somewhere around 10,000.

Cramer attributes the neighborhood's vibrancy in part to the density of housing and the prevalence of mixed-use property. And Merrifield credits its recent population jump to a number of new housing developments.

The North Loop's commercial presence is also comparatively strong. One of the most significant threats facing downtown Minneapolis is high rates of commercial vacancy. While there are vacancies in the North Loop, there are fewer than in Nicollet Mall and the central business district, and some can be attributed to new developments in the area, Merrifield said.

One of those new projects is North Loop Green, a mixed-use property slated to finish construction in 2024 that will include apartments, office and retail space, a rooftop lounge and a park. A number of tenants — including investment firm Värde Partners, accounting firm KPMG and investment bank Piper Sandler & Co. — have already signed leases.

As downtown Minneapolis evolves in response to changes in its daytime worker population and other post-COVID shifts, the central business district is seeing changes that mirror the North Loop's successes, like converting underutilized commercial space — in this case offices instead of warehouses — into housing.

Minneapolis has already seen some office-to-apartment conversions, and more are on the horizon: Developer Sherman Associates announced in May it planned to convert the mostly vacant Northstar Center East in downtown into hundreds of apartments, and Ryan Companies is partway through construction on a 24-story apartment tower near U.S. Bank Stadium, using a space that was originally marketed (with little success) as an office tower.

"That will help this evolutionary transformation of the central business district experience," Cramer said of office conversions. "It won't exactly be the North Loop, but it will begin to mirror that a little bit."

Ultimately, though, what makes the North Loop special might not be its smart use of mixed-use development, its density of housing or even its bustling dining and entertainment scene. There are also a number of intangible qualities that make the area compelling to Merrifield, who's lived in the area for 18 years. It's resilient — as evidenced by the neighborhood's rebound after COVID. It feels safe — people aren't afraid to go for walks at night, Merrifield said. And it's busy — new restaurants and businesses seem to be opening left and right, like Maison Margaux and Puralima Cantina.

"I don't think there's a single person that I've ever spoken with who has not loved living in this neighborhood," Merrifield said.

Editorial Board members are David Banks, Jill Burcum, Scott Gillespie, Denise Johnson, Patricia Lopez, John Rash and D.J. Tice. Star Tribune Opinion staff members Maggie Kelly and Elena Neuzil also contribute, and Star Tribune CEO and Publisher Steve Grove serves as an adviser to the board.